The lavender plants used in aromatherapy derive from Mediterranean countries with the ideal growing conditions for this bushy but airy plant that grows 2 to 3 ft. in height. Lavender prefers sunny, somewhat rocky terrain with a sandy loom in an area over 2,000 ft. in elevation. The leaves are lanceolate shaped with smooth edges and grow up to a few inches long. The leaves can vary in color from various shades of green to a silvery-gray color, and the purple flowers bloom from June through July.
In terms of essential oil production, nutrient-rich soil is not desired, as this will actually reduce essential oil production since it will encourage leaf growth instead. Lavender is a hardy, cold-resistant plant but requires good drainage and needs to be protected from excess dampness and cold as well as from strong summer winds which can break-off its flower spikes.
Many distillers market lavender hybrids because their yield of essential oil is far higher. Steam distilled from the fresh flowering tops, true lavender oil (Lavendula angustifolia or “true lavender”) is colorless to pale yellow and has a sweet, floral, herbaceous scent. The scent of true lavender is milder, yet deeper, than that of lavandin. The name lavender derives from the Latin lavare, meaning, “to wash.” This is a reference to ancient use of infusions of lavender leaves and flowers as a perfuming additive to bathwater. Also, it was once a custom to tuck lavender sachets among freshly laundered linen to lend it a quality of freshness. This also protects the linen from moths and other insects. It was also once a common practice to scent leather with lavender. During the Bubonic Plague, lavender was burned in sickrooms to prevent the spread of the infection.
In aromatherapy, lavender oil is considered to be anticoagulant, antiseptic, antispasmodic, sedative, and overall a balancing oil. Some of the conditions and symptoms lavender may treat include: anger; irritability; mental exhaustion; nervousness; stress; anxiety; apprehension; hysteria; delirium; inhibited self-expression; nervous breakdown; depression; moodiness; manic-depression; dementia; shock; panic attacks; insomnia; paralysis; bacterial infections; fungal infections; viral infections; edema; lymphatic congestion; acne; eczema; psoriasis; swelling; abscesses; boils; carbuncles; ulcers; abnormal scar tissue formation; cellulite; burns; gangrenous wounds; lice; scabies; snake, insect and dog bites; varicose veins; hair loss and more.
In Aromatherapy For Healing The Spirit, Gabriel Mojay writes: “The psychological uses of lavender oil stem from its ability to calm and stabilize the chi [qi] of the heart.” Mojay cites 16th century herbalist John Gerard’s observation that lavender “doth help the passion and panting of the heart.” Lavender, primarily via its affinity for the Heart, supports the vitality of shen. Shen is one of the “Three Treasures” of Chinese medicine, and it refers to the spirit.
Lavender oil is a specific for disturbed shen, especially disturbed Heart shen. Disturbed shen will manifest as: an inability to think clearly and organize thoughts, emotional mood swings, speech defects ranging from stammering to muteness as well excess loquacity and inappropriate laughter while speaking. Confused shen may also give rise to nervousness, fearfulness, insomnia, depression and dull, unfocused eyes.
According to the Five Element Theory of Chinese medicine, the Heart is the yin organ of the Fire element. Accordingly, when function is balanced, the spirit will flame-up with inspiration. If the fire is burning low, the individual will be dispirited or depressed. Loss of fire can develop over time if a person’s emotions have not been validated. In contrast, when there is excessive Heart Fire, an individual will laugh excessively, be impulsive and be prone to uncontrolled emotions. Eventually, the person may experience “burn out”, a classic example of hyperfunction which leads to hypofunction as vital reserves are recklessly expended. Shen is stored in the Heart, and it is this spirit that is the true ruler of not only the Heart, but also the whole body, according to classical Chinese medicine.