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The upshot on lavender: mixed

| August 27, 2020 1:00 AM

Bias upfront: I hate lavender.

Yet for two decades and counting, a bunch of lavender remains tacked to our kitchen wall.

It was a gift from the local farmers market, presented by my then-future stepson. Taking it as a sign of acceptance in that new relationship, I was naturally effusive in my thanks - although unlike most people, the smell of it literally turns my stomach. So effusive, in fact, that the lavender kept coming for years until I finally came clean.

Reading Tuesday’s story about a lavender farmer in the latest Business Journal of North Idaho, (see Bit.ly/3ho7tp4), I paused to gaze fondly at that dusty dried bunch, again wondering what all the lavender fuss is about.

Beyond its appealing scent to everyone but me, lavender has been credited with helping an array of ailments from toothaches and “women’s troubles” to cancer and depression. Call me a skeptic, but I consulted medical sites and studies in search of evidence, including the National Institutes of Health, WebMD, and Medical News Today.

Results are mixed.

Overview. First, while it does have some anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties, lavender – like many popular herbs – is not FDA-approved for medical use. Nor is it only found in flower vases, lotions and supplement bottles. As fancy foods aficionados may attest, lavender is also a flavor component in foods and drinks.

Some evidence suggests it may be helpful with:

Mood. Temporary effects of aromas on human moods is broadly accepted (hence the popularity of scented candles). Lavender tends to have a relaxing feel.

Anxiety. Limited data including a 2013 joint German-Iranian study and a 2018 research review indicate lavender may improve anxiety symptoms in some patients, especially in combination with other treatments.

Cramps, muscle, and labor pain. Some studies suggest lavender oil aromatherapy massages or inhaling lavender essence for a few minutes every few hours may reduce some types of muscle pain.

Sunburn. While no large-scale studies have been done, several small ones indicate lavender oil may help mitigate the sun’s effects on skin.

But probably not cancer. As we’re currently dealing with cancer ourselves, it’s almost comical how many things people claim will cure cancer or alleviate its pain. Research so far hasn’t indicated significantly more help with lavender than without it.

Or blood pressure? A small 2012 Korean study of 40-somethings with high BP found an aromatherapy mixture of lavender, lemon, and ylang ylang reduced systolic blood pressure (the top number) in some subjects, but not diastolic (the bottom number).

Aging issues? Among the more unusual applications not yet well-investigated include lavender diffusers for dementia patients (possibly reducing agitation) and fall prevention (oil on the neckline reduced risk in a 2012 Japanese study of nursing home patients).

The jury’s still out on the rest. More research is needed to amass credible evidence one way or another on other claims, including topical applications for hair loss, eczema, canker sores, colic, killing lice, restless leg syndrome, toothache, gas, arthritis and migraines. Also acne, digestion and appetite, and insect repellent.

Might as well toss in the kitchen sink. But then it would smell like lavender.


Sholeh Patrick is a skeptical columnist with the Hagadone News Network who really isn’t against complementary medicine. Contact her at Sholeh@cdapress.com.