Lotions, potions, and perfumes scented with lavender oil can soothe restless nerves and help you drift off to dreamland. Here's how to use this aromatic herb to calm your senses and relax your mind.

The strong and distinct scent of lavender originates in the essential oils found in every petal of the plant's colorful flowers. These oils have been used for centuries to treat everything from viruses and hair loss to insomnia and depression. Although it isn't a cure-all, using lavender as a relaxant and sleep aid is one treatment that has some scientific back-up. And studies have shown positive effects from using both the scent of lavender as a form of aromatherapy and the oil extract as a dietary supplement.

A 2008 study performed at the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami found that babies who were bathed in lavender oil-scented water were more relaxed, cried less, and spent more time in a deep sleep state following their baths, than babies who were bathed in plain water. The moms of the lavender babies were also more relaxed, and smiled and touched their babies more often than the moms who washed their babies with plain water.

Several studies from the Medical University of Vienna, published in International Clinical Psychopharmacology and other professional journals in 2010, found that an experimental oral supplement containing lavender oil significantly reduces mild anxiety and improves both the quality and duration of sleep in people who suffer from insomnia due to anxiety.

For now, aromatic lavender is available in the form of oils, gels, lotions, and soaps.  Dried lavender buds are stuffed into sachets that can be placed in closets and drawers and under pillows. Whole dried flower stems can be bunched together and used to scent an entire room. You can relax with a cup of lavender tea, and some innovative chefs and lavender growers use the flower to flavor specialty food items, such as lavender sugar cookies and lavender ice cream. To make tea at home, the University of Maryland Medical Center recommends 1 to 2 teaspoons of whole dried lavender per cup of hot water, steeped for up to 15 minutes.

Although lavender is an accepted form of alternative or complementary medicine, allergic reactions are possible from breathing in the scent or rubbing the oil on your skin. If you have any reaction from dried lavender or a lavender product, discontinue its use. If you are considering using lavender for medicinal purposes, speak to a doctor or other qualified health professional who specializes in complementary and alternative medicines to make sure you choose products that are safe and right for you.



University of Maryland Medical Center: Lavender 12 Mar 2009. Web. 2 May 2011

Field, T. et al; "Lavender Bath Oil Reduces Stress and Crying and Enhances Sleep in Very Young Infants."  Early Human Development, 2008 Jun;84(6):399-401

Kasper, S; "Silexan, an Orally Administered Lavandula Oil Preparation, is Effective in the Treatment of ''Subsyndromal' Anxiety Disorder." International Clinical Psychopharmacology 2010 Sep;25(5);277-87

Kasper, S; "Efficacy and Safety of Silexan, a New, Orally Administered Lavender Oil Preparation, in Sub-threshhold Anxiety Disorder." Wiener Medizinische Wochenschrift 201 Dec;160(21-22):547-56.