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Look Up > Herbs > Lavender
  Lavender (English)
Lavandula angustifolia (Botanical)
Lamiaceae (Plant Family)
Lavandulae (Pharmacopeial)
Macro Description
Commercial Preparations
Medicinal Uses/Indications
Dosage Ranges and Duration of Administration
Side Effects/Toxicology
Regulatory and Compendial Status


Lavender is native to the mountainous zones of the Mediterranean where it grows in sunny, stony habitats. Long heralded for its aromatic fragrance, this scented plant is now widely cultivated throughout southern Europe. The oil extracted from the flowers is used primarily in perfumery and, to a lesser extent, in medicinal remedies. The aromatic odor of English lavender is supposedly more delicate than French lavender, rendering the English variety more expensive.

Historically, lavender oil has been touted as a natural remedy for insomnia, nervousness, depression, and mood disturbances. As a tonic for the nervous system, lavender oil is used in aromatherapy or inhalation therapy, to treat nervous debility and exhaustion. A growing number of pharmacological and human serial case studies indicate that lavender essential oil produces significant sedative, calming, and anticonvulsive effects. Several investigations evaluating aromatherapy of the volatile oil from lavender in both test animals and humans subjects have shown unequivocally that this mode of administration yields measurable clinical benefits. According to some research, lavender essential oil may be as effective as certain barbiturates in treating sleep disorders.

Macro Description

Lavender is a heavily branched shrub that grows to a height of 60 cm. Its broad rootstock bears woody branches with erect, rod-like, leafy, green shoots. A silvery down covers the gray-green narrow leaves which are oblong-lanceolate, sessile, and involute.

The small blue-violet labiate flowers have a characteristic scent due to the presence of volatile oil. The flowers are arranged in whorls of 6 to 10 blossoms and form interrupted terminal spikes above the foliage. The amethyst-colored tubular calyx consists of uneven tips that are sealed by a lid-like appendage after the flower unfolds.

Part Used/Pharmaceutical Designation

  • Flowers (fresh, dried)


Volatile (essential) oil (1% to 5%) (v/w) contains linalyl acetate (30% to 40%), linalool (20% to 50%), camphor, borneol, B-ocimene, 1,8-cineoil, terpene-4-ol, beta-caryophyllene, lavandulyl acetate, cineole (eucalyptol). Also contains about 12% tannins unique to Lamiaceae; hydroxycoumarins (e.g., umbelliferone, herniarin, coumarin, dihydrocoumarin); caffeic acid derivatives (e.g., rosmaric acid), triterpenes (e.g., ursolic acid), flavonoids (e.g., luteolin).

Commercial Preparations

Lavender oil is extracted from fresh flower tops and inflorescences through a process of steam distillation. The essential oil is found only in the flowers and lower stalks. The most valuable raw drug consists of dried flowers collected just before the flower has completely unfolded. Raw plant material that contains a substantive amount of stem and leaf is commercially less valuable. Similarly, the value of lavender raw drug material declines if it is adulterated with related species such as Lavendula intermedia (Lavendin) and Lavendula latifolia.

Lavender is sold commercially as dried flower, dried herb, essential oil, and tincture.

Medicinal Uses/Indications

Traditional uses: mild sedative, antiflatulent, cholagogue choleretic (stimulates bile production by liver) and cholagogic effects (stimulates bile flow to duodenum). Used externally as rubefacient (reddens the skin).

Internal use: mood disturbances, sedative (restlessness, insomnia), antiflatulent, functional abdominal complaints (e.g., nervous stomach discomfort, abdominal gas)

External use: balenotherapy used for functional circulatory disorders; liniment used for rheumatic ailments

Conditions: restlessness, insomnia, functional abdominal complaints, rheumatism

Clinical applications: loss of appetite; nervousness, insomnia


Research suggests that inhalation of lavender oil reduces motility in laboratory mice. Motility correlated with serum levels of linalool, one of the main active principles in lavender essential oil. The structure-activity relationship between diminished motility and elevated linalool serum level offers experimental support for folk medicinal claims about the sedative properties of this essential oil. In this study, lavender oil completely blocked caffeine stimulation while its active constituents, linalool and linalyl acetate, abrogated caffeine stimulation by 50% in mice. Lavender oil administered I.P. to test animals receiving electric shock produced anticonvulsant activity. Recent findings on the anticonvulsive effects of inhaling lavender oil suggest that the mechanism underlying the sedative and calming effect may involve the neurotransmitter GABA.

In a human study, volatile oil of lavender flowers was evaluated for its effects on lipid peroxidation-antioxidant defense and lipid metabolism in bronchitis patients. The essential oil helped normalize total lipids levels, as well as the ratio of total cholesterol to its alpha-fraction. In other research, inhalation of lavender oil significantly lowered selective EEG potentials associated with vigilance, expectancy, and alertness in seven human subjects. In contrast to nitrazepam, lavender essential oil did not affect reaction time or heart rate. In addition, it showed relaxing and sedative properties when compared to other substances.

Four geriatric patients who had discontinued their use of benzodiazepines and neuroleptics for sleep disorders were given lavender oil aromatherapy after a two-week "washout period." Although their sleep time initially decreased after stopping the synthetic medication, they showed significant improvement, including prolonged sleeping time, during aromatherapy with lavender oil.

While the mechanism of action of lavender oil has not been fully elucidated, there is experimental evidence available for the calming and relaxing effects of lavender flowers and lavender oil.

Dosage Ranges and Duration of Administration

Internal use:

  • Tea: 1 to 2 tsp. whole herb per cup of water
  • Lavender oil: 1 to 3 drops may be taken on sugar cube (however, other authorities advise against taking lavender oil internally)
  • Tincture (1:4): 20 to 40 drops tid

External use:

  • Inhalation: 2 to 4 drops in 2 to 3 cups of boiling water; inhale vapors for headache, depression, or insomnia.
  • Topical application: lavender oil is one of the few oils that can be safely applied undiluted. For ease of application, add 1 to 4 drops per tablespoon of base oil.

Side Effects/Toxicology

None reported, although there is a slight risk for sensitization in certain individuals.


None reported when administered according to designated therapeutic dosages. The volatile oil possesses a weak potential for sensitization. Caution with internal use of lavender oil.


No clinically significant interactions between lavender and conventional medications are known to have been reported in the literature to date, including the German Commission E monograph (Blumenthal 1998).

Regulatory and Compendial Status

Lavender flower is listed as an approved herb in The Complete German Commission E Monographs. 


Atanassova-Shopova S, Roussinov KS. On certain central neurotropic effects of lavender essential oil. Bull Inst Physiology. 1970;8:69-76.

Blumenthal M, ed. The Complete German Commission E Monographs. Boston, Mass: Integrative Medicine Communications; 1998.

Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary. 25th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: W.B. Saunders; 1974.

Gamez MJ, Jimenez J, Navarro C, Zarzuelo A. Aromatherapy: evidence for sedative effects of the essential oil of lavender after inhalation. Z Naturforsch. 1991;46c:1067-1072.

Grieve M. A Modern Herbal. Vol. I. New York, NY: Dover; 1971.

Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C. PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company; 1998.

Guillemain J, Rousseau A, Delaveau P. Effets neurodepresseurs de l'huile essentielle de Lavandula angustifolia Mill. Ann Pharmaceutiques Francaises. 1989;47:337-343.

Hardy M, Kirk-Smith MD. Replacement of drug treatment for insomnia by ambient odor. Lancet. 1995;346:701.

Lis-Balchin M, Hart S. A preliminary study of the effect of essential oils on skeletal and smooth muscle in vitro. J Ethnopharmacol. 1997;58(4):183-187.

Schulz V, Hansel R, Tyler V. Rational Phytotherapy: A Physicians' Guide to Herbal Medicine. 3rd ed. Berlin, Germany: Springer; 1998.

Siurin SA. Effects of essential oil on lipid peroxidation and lipid metabolism in patients with chronic bronchitis. Klin Med (Mosk). 1997;58(4):43-45.

Thomson WA, ed. Medicines from the Earth: A Guide to Healing Plants. Maidenhead, England: McGraw-Hill Book Company; 1978.

Yamada K, Mimaki Y, Sashida Y. Anticonvulsive effects of inhaling lavender oil vapour. Biol Pharm Bull. 1994;17(2):359-360.

Copyright © 2000 Integrative Medicine Communications

This publication contains information relating to general principles of medical care that should not in any event be construed as specific instructions for individual patients. The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds currently marketed or in investigative use. The reader is advised to check product information (including package inserts) for changes and new information regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed herein.