The People's Perspective on Medicine

Will a Whiff of Lavender Ease Your Anxiety?

Mice given a whiff of lavender rich in the compound linalool act less anxious without becoming uncoordinated.

Many people think of lavender as a calming herb. Research in mice now shows that this reputation goes beyond folklore. A whiff of lavender has anti-anxiety effects.

How Do Mice React to a Whiff of Lavender?

When scientists exposed mice to the fragrant component linalool from lavender, they found that the mice acted less anxious (Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, Oct. 23, 2018). Unlike a benzodiazepine such as alprazolam that also reduces anxiety, linalool does not affect the animals’ ability to move around.

Sniffing a Whiff of Lavender:

Linalool works through the sense of smell, since animals with an impaired sense of smell did not respond to linalool. The investigators hope their linalool research will lead to better anxiety treatment for humans. People facing surgery or other frightening situations could certainly benefit from an anxiety treatment with fewer side effects than current medications.

Other Uses for Lavender:

Visitors to this website have been using lavender as a home remedy for a range of problems. Some people are enthusiastic about lavender oil for restless legs syndrome. Others report that applying lavender oil eases foot and toe cramps. Readers and researchers both report that a whiff of lavender can help people fall asleep more easily. One person found that applying lavender oil resolved a persistent itch.

Downsides of Lavender Oil:

Those who plan to apply lavender oil rather than simply taking a whiff of it should be forewarned that some components of this essential oil have hormonal effects. Blocking the action of male hormones may have undesirable side effects for boys and men. In addition, up to 20 percent of Americans may develop an itchy rash (contact dermatitis) when they apply lavender oil (Dermatitis, Sep/Oct. 2017).

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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I have been researching and making all natural products for 16 years, and pure lavender oil is my first aid in a bottle. In talking with my customers, I have learned many ways they use it.
It is used for migraine headaches, joint pains, mosquito bites, chigger bites, poison ivy, and shingles. It is also used to remove Plantar’s warts and skin tags. It will help prevent scaring and relieve the pain of burns and promote faster healing. I don’t know that all lavender sold as pure lavender will accomplish the same results. My lavender comes from France, and I only sell 100% pure oil. I will be making a new product for fire ant stings that will help with the pain and prevent infection.

For leg cramps, putting a bar of Yardley English Lavender soap under the bed sheet was recommended on your site and I was skeptical but desperate. I have been amazed. A fitted sheet helps keep it in place. I rarely have symptoms any more, but when I do, just using my leg to move the soap to the problem point stops the pain. This may be psychosomatic but to me it’s simply miraculous.

Does it really help?

Many hospitals around the country are beginning to use aroma therapy as an adjunct therapy. For example, to reduce anxiety preoperatively, to facilitate pain medication, relieve gastric distress, etc.
Western Medicine, meet Eastern Medicine. You two can work well together!

do air freshners with lavender have the same effects as directly applying the oil?

Cathy, I suspect that many air fresheners at your average local store rely heavily on laboratory created scents that can be supplied far more cheaply than the natural plant based ones. Check ingredients before buying. Since air fresheners are not made to be consumed, they many have proprietary ingredients they don’t wish to reveal. They may not list any ingredients at all. Even if it says it “contains real lavender oil”, it may be only a minimal amount. If you do look for an air freshener, you are more likely to find those with natural ingredients at health food or organic food stores, whether online or in your area.

I’ve been sprinkling lavender on my pillow every night for years; I’ve found it very soothing and relaxing. It works less well lately, possibly because my body is just accustomed to the scent. But it definitely has been sleep inducing for me. Zero side effects. We also used this to help calm my late mother’s anxiety after she came home from rehabbing a broken hip. Again, zero side effects.

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