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Complementary & Alternative Medicine
Index of Herbal Medicines, Supplements and Therapies
The decision to use products containing or claiming to contain lavender should be carefully considered.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Be aware that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and dietary supplements. There is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of products containing or claiming to contain lavender. Decisions to use herbs or supplements should be carefully considered. Individuals using prescription drugs should discuss taking herbs or supplements with a pharmacist or health care professional before starting.
Scientists have studied lavender for the following health problems:
Lavender aromatherapy is traditionally believed to be relaxing. Several small studies reported that it helps relieve anxiety. In one larger study, patients undergoing cancer radiotherapy were randomly assigned to several aromatherapy groups, including one containing lavender. The study showed no significant benefit in reducing anxiety. Overall, the scientific evidence seems to suggest a small benefit, but because of conflicting study results, further well-designed studies are needed to prove effectiveness.
Small studies of patients with severe dementia in nursing homes have found that lavender aromatherapy or pinning a cloth with the oil on it to the patient may help to decrease agitated behavior. Further well-designed studies are needed in this area before a firm conclusion can be drawn.
Alopecia, hair loss
Small trials have shown that patients who massage essential oils (thyme, rosemary, lavender and cedarwood) into their scalps daily have some improvement. More research of lavender alone is need before a recommendation can be made.
Early evidence has shown that lavender oil in combination grapeseed oil used in a bath may help to increase well-being. More research is needed to confirm these results.
Low back pain
Early research suggests that the impression of pain intensity and unpleasantness may be reduced after treatment with lavender therapy. Other research has shown that lavender aromatherapy may be effective when used with acupressure for short-term relief of lower back pain. Further research is needed before firm conclusions can be drawn.
Perineal discomfort after childbirth
Lavender has been evaluated as an additive to bathwater to relieve pain in the perineal area (between the vagina and anus) of women after childbirth. Preliminary poor-quality research reports no benefits. Better research is needed before a firm conclusion can be drawn.
Rheumatoid arthritis pain
A small study of people with rheumatoid arthritis reports no pain relief after massage with lavender aromatherapy. However, patients in this study used fewer painkillers after the massage, which suggests they may have felt less pain. It is not clear if this benefit was because of the massage or the aromatherapy. Therefore, there is not enough scientific evidence to recommend lavender aromatherapy for rheumatoid arthritis pain.
Animal studies suggest that an ingredient in lavender called perillyl alcohol may help treat cancer when taken by mouth. Research has focused on cancers of the breast, pancreas and intestine. Small studies have been done in humans, but there is not enough evidence to recommend lavender for any type of cancer.
One small, short, randomized controlled trial compared lavendula tincture with imipramine (a prescription antidepressant) and with a combination of both products for treating mild to moderate depression. Imipramine alone was found to be more effective than lavendula alone, but the combination of the two was better than imipramine alone. Further investigations are needed before recommendations can be made.
Small randomized controlled trials looking at the effects of lavender aromatherapy on patients with dementia (i.e., Alzheimer's disease) have conflicting results, in that they showed no reduction in resistive behaviors and modest efficacy in agitated behaviors. Larger well-designed studies are necessary before conclusions can be drawn.
In a small study, essential oils were used in combination with massage to treat childhood atopic eczema with negative results. More study of the effect of lavender essential oil alone is needed before any firm conclusions can be made.
Lavender has been suggested for many other uses, based on tradition or on scientific theories. However, these uses have not been thoroughly studied in humans, and there is limited scientific evidence about safety or effectiveness. Some of these suggested uses are for conditions that are potentially very serious and even life-threatening. You should consult a health care professional before using lavender for any unproven use.
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Discomfort after childbirth
Low blood pressure
Menstrual period problems
People with allergies to lavender may have skin irritation after contact.
Nausea, vomiting, headache and chills are sometimes reported after inhaling lavender or absorbing it through the skin. These effects, as well as constipation, appetite loss, confusion and drowsiness, have been reported after large doses of lavender or perillyl alcohol, an ingredient in lavender, are taken by mouth. The essential oil of lavender may be poisonous if taken by mouth. Lavender may cause skin rashes and sun sensitivity. Drowsiness is rarely reported with lavender aromatherapy. Some cancer patients have experienced low blood cell counts (neutropenia) after high doses of perillyl alcohol.
Pregnancy And Breast-Feeding
Lavender is not recommended during pregnancy or breast-feeding. Lavender may cause women to start menstruating (having their period) if taken in large doses by mouth.
Interactions with drugs, supplements and other herbs have not been thoroughly studied. The interactions listed below have been reported in scientific publications. If you are taking prescription drugs, speak with a health care professional or pharmacist before using herbs or dietary supplements.
Interactions With Drugs
Lavender may increase the amount of drowsiness caused by some drugs. Examples include seizure drugs; benzodiazepines, such as lorazepam (Ativan); barbiturates, such as phenobarbital; narcotics, such as codeine; and alcohol. Caution is advised while driving or operating machinery. In theory, oral use of lavender may increase the risk of bleeding when used with anticoagulants or antiplatelet drugs. Examples include warfarin (Coumadin), heparin and clopidogrel (Plavix). Some pain relievers may also increase the risk of bleeding if used with lavender. Examples include aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (Naprosyn, Aleve, Anaprox). In theory, lavender may add to the cholesterol-lowering effects of other drugs. Lavender may have additive effects when used with certain antidepressants, such as imipramine.
Interactions With Herbs And Dietary Supplements
Lavender may increase the amount of drowsiness caused by some herbs or supplements, such as valerian.
Caution is advised while driving or operating machinery. In theory, oral use of lavender may increase the risk of bleeding when used with products such as Ginkgo biloba
). In theory, lavender may add to the cholesterol-lowering effects of other herbs or supplements, such as garlic.
The doses listed below are based on scientific research, publications or traditional use. Because most herbs and supplements have not been thoroughly studied or monitored, safety and effectiveness may not be proven. Brands may be made differently, with variable ingredients even within the same brand. Combination products often contain small amounts of each ingredient and may not be effective. Appropriate dosing should be discussed with a health care professional before starting therapy; always read the recommendations on a product's label. The dosing for unproven uses should be approached cautiously, because scientific information is limited in these areas.
Adults (Aged 18 Or Older)
Aromatherapy: Two to four drops of lavender oil have been added to two to three cups of boiling water, followed by inhalation of the steam once per day.
Bath: Six drops of lavender oil or 1/4 to 1/2 cup of dried lavender flowers may be added to bath water.
Massage: Add one to four drops of lavender to a base oil and use for massage.
Children (Younger Than 18)
There is not enough scientific evidence to recommend lavender for children.
Lavender aromatherapy may help relieve anxiety and restlessness. Scientific evidence does not support the use of lavender for any other health problems. Lavender is not recommended by mouth because of its possible side effects, especially for pregnant or breast-feeding women, for people at high risk of bleeding and for children. People taking anticoagulants or drugs that cause drowsiness should use lavender with caution. Consult a health care professional immediately if you experience side effects.
The information in this monograph was prepared by the professional staff at Natural Standard, based on thorough systematic review of scientific evidence. The material was reviewed by the Faculty of the Harvard Medical School with final editing approved by Natural Standard.
- Natural Standard: An organization that produces scientifically based reviews of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) topics
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM): A division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services dedicated to research
Selected Scientific Studies: Lavender
Natural Standard reviewed more than 155 articles to prepare the professional monograph from which this version was created.
Some of the more recent studies are listed below:
- Akhondzadeh S, Kashani L, Fotouhi A, et al. Comparison of Lavandula angustifolia Mill. tincture and imipramine in the treatment of mild to moderate depression: a double-blind, randomized trial. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry 2003;Feb, 27(1):123-127.
- Burnett KM, Solterbeck LA, Strapp CM. Scent and mood state following an anxiety-provoking task. Psychol Rep 2004;Oct, 95(2):707-722.
- Dale A, Cornwell S. The role of lavender oil in relieving perineal discomfort following childbirth: a blind randomized clinical trial. J Adv Nurs 1994;19(1):89-96.
- Diego MA, Jones NA, Field T, et al. Aromatherapy positively affects mood, EEG patterns of alertness and math computations. Int J Neurosci 1998;96(3-4):217-224.
- Dimpfel W, Pischel I, Lehnfeld R. Effects of lozenge containing lavender oil, extracts from hops, lemon balm and oat on electrical brain activity of volunteers. Eur J Med Res 2004;Sep 29, 9(9):423-431.
- Dunn C, Sleep J, Collett D. Sensing an improvement: an experimental study to evaluate the use of aromatherapy, massage and periods of rest in an intensive care unit. J Adv Nurs 1995;21(1):34-40.
- Graham PH, Browne L, Cox H, Graham J. Inhalation aromatherapy during radiotherapy: results of a placebo-controlled double-blind randomized trial. J Clin Oncol 2003;Jun 15, 21(12):2372-2376.
- Gray SG, Clair AA. Influence of aromatherapy on medication administration to residential-care residents with dementia and behavioral challenges. Am J Alzheimers Dis Other Demen 2002;May-Jun, 17(3):169-174.
- Holmes C, Hopkins V, Hensford C, et al. Lavender oil as a treatment for agitated behaviour in severe dementia: a placebo controlled study. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry 2002;Apr, 17(4):305-308.
- Hardy M, Kirk-Smith MD, Stretch DD. Replacement of drug treatment for insomnia by ambient odour. Lancet 1995;346(8976):701.
- Kane FM, Brodie EE, Coull A, et al. The analgesic effect of odour and music upon dressing change. Nurs 2004;Oct 28-Nov 10, 13(19):S4-S12.
- Romine IJ, Bush AM, Geist CR. Lavender aromatherapy in recovery from exercise. Percept Mot Skills 1999;88(3 Pt 1):756-758.
- Saeki Y. The effect of foot-bath with or without the essential oil of lavender on the autonomic nervous system: a randomized trial. Complement Ther Med 2000;8(1):2-7.
- Snow LA, Hovanec L, Brandt J. A controlled trial of aromatherapy for agitation in nursing home patients with dementia. J Altern Complement Med 2004;Jun, 10(3):431-437.
Last updated July 14, 2005
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