Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

Is Lavender Just a Pretty Smell or Something More?

June 20th, 2013 · 7 Comments · Natural Health

lavender essential oil purity

Why are there so many different prices when you start shopping for essential oils?

There are lots of reasons, from prettier marketing jacking up prices to discount quality pulling them down, and you’ll find each brand has something to say about why their products are the best and/or why they are so expensive.

It can be hard to wade through all the information when it’s coming from companies with something to sell, so I’ll try to share just a little slice of fact with you today that can help you determine what you want to buy when shopping for lavender essential oil, one of the most popular and versatile oils out there.

I’ll do my best to avoid commercial sources, although honestly, that’s really hard to do since every variation of a Swagbucks search I can think of comes up with 90% essential oil companies in the results. Many of the journal articles I want to read are unavailable to me because I’m not affiliated with an educational/research facility, so I can only read the abstract and guess at the rest. Sad smile  (top photo source)

Full disclosure: This post is generously sponsored by Plant Therapy, but other than a two-line email when I asked a question, the information isn’t coming from them. They’re just as much about getting information out there as I am, and I’m grateful for the incentive to follow up on this question.

What is Lavender Good For?

lavender

(photo source)

Let’s start with the basics: why bother buying lavender essential oil anyway?

  • Antibacterial properties: this study proved lavender essential oil to be effective against 4 deadly bacteria, include e. coli and staph. It killed 100% of the bacteria once it was at a high enough concentration.
  • Calms nerves, decreases blood pressure – aromatherapy is a good stress management technique (source)
  • Anti-inflammatory properties (source)
  • Commonly known to be effective to soothe burns and insect bites
  • Antioxidant properties, one reason it’s great in natural sunscreen and for sunburn management when you screw up outside. (source)
  • Headaches, depression, colic, asthma, athlete’s foot, scars, whooping cough and more. (source)
  • Analgesic, deodorant, diuretic (source)
  • Essential oils in general, lavender included, are shown to be both effective at impacting humans physiologically, and also non-toxic this article determined that essential oils are “interesting, pharmacologically active, nontoxic substances worthwhile for further investigation.” The abstract if from the International Journal of Essential Oil Therapeutics, which seems to be reputable according to stats here (although I feel like I’m reading Greek looking at the charts. English major, people!).

An opposing view: the National Cancer Institute shares research that demonstrates that aromatherapy has some impact, but they question that different oils can actually have unique impacts, or that pure EOs are any better than synthetic fragrances. Citing over 50 sources, they conclude that there is a “lack of significant research addressing this topic,” and therefore that much of the information about the effectiveness of essential oils on actual health is theoretical.

Many people, professionals and moms who have seen results, however, will say differently. I can’t imagine that synthetics would have the same effect, even aromatically but especially topically, since the compounds are completely different, and this source agrees.

This journal article comes to the conclusion that there simply isn’t enough continuity in lavender oil preparation, and that although “there does seem to be both scientific and clinical data that support the traditional uses of lavender,” we need to define what exactly lavender essential oil IS before we can rightly say what it does, scientifically, every time.

Is Lavender Essential Oil “Real?” Is it “Natural?”

natural lavender essential oil pure

(photo source)

The test for “real food” is usually two fold:

  1. Does it come from a source in nature?
  2. Starting with that source, can you make the food at home?

If we apply the same reasoning to oils, the answer is…pretty much.

You can make lavender extract at home or infuse oil with lavender and both will have the aromatic properties of lavender (they smell good) and also the antibacterial properties (although to a lesser degree, but perhaps good for cleaning).

When companies make a real essential oil, they steam distill the plant in question, capture the steam, and condense that down such that the oil floats on top of the water, creating a tiny bottle of very potent oil. With the right equipment, I think you could manage it at home…but I’d rather pay someone else to do stuff like that for me. Winking smile Note: some companies use solvent extraction processes instead of steam distillation, or they may distill the same plant multiple times, yielding a weaker and weaker product, which can be one reason the oils are less expensive.

This journal article describes how lavender’s properties change by the season and year, one reason you won’t always find lavender essential oils smelling the same. There was also a full page of over 40 chemical compounds determined in lavender essential oil. Mind-boggling. Clearly, when  you seek a natural life, you can’t avoid chemicals. It’s just the wrong word to use.

However, that chart does prove that there are definite compounds in an essential oil, many of which have proven benefits in the body.

Unlike many things, getting a great deal isn’t always the way to go if it means something synthetic or less potent.

The Difference Between the Lavenders

how to find pure lavender essential oils

When shopping for lavender essential oil, you can get all sorts of prices, from $16 for 4 fl. ounces to to $30 for 15 mL (one ounce is about 30 mL, so the second example is about 15 times more expensive than the first).

What’s the deal?

Sometimes, it’s as simple as what plant is used or how it’s blended. (Other times it has to do with a carrier oil being added or a synthetic oil.)

You can get Bulgarian, French, Spanish, and South African lavenders. If you’re looking for a consistent scent, like for making soaps or lotions, you want to look for “40/42 lavender.” It is a mix of different lavenders, balanced to get a consistent fragrance. It has some therapeutic properties, but not as much as “lavender population,” which Plant Therapy also sells for just a bit more money.

For me, even if I was making soap or homemade lotion, I’d use the population oil because why NOT get the additional benefits of an oil delivered as it is in nature? Most people readily admit that we don’t know all that much about the balance of properties in the natural world and how they might work together, which is why most of the time, when we try to extract just one quality and take it in a supplement, for example, it doesn’t work as well as the whole food.

I am pleased that Plant Therapy is very up front about the difference between 40/42 and population lavender. On the site, they say, “its therapeutic levels are the lowest.” All their lavender is sourced from France, and 40/42 is the most popular, but perhaps we kitchen stewards can change that, now that we are a bit more knowledgeable!

I like this gal’s explanation of natural, standardized, or synthetic oils.

Does Lavender Essential Oil Cause Hormonal Problems in Boys?

Although the 2007 study that will forever put lavender and tea tree oils in question is not the purpose of this post, it can’t really be ignored.

You can read about the initial National Institute of Health description of the issue here, and I draw the same conclusion that Heather at Mommypotamus draws: Not a large enough research sample and not enough information about either the other ingredients in the suspect products or the quality/source of the essential oils themselves.

Ultimately, even if the research is true, there were no permanent effects whatsoever, so if you’re not seeing breasts on your boys already, you are probably not in the “risk” group for avoiding tea tree and lavender.

Thanks again to Plant Therapy for spreading the information via Kitchen Stewardship!

Plant Therapy essential oils

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Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Plant Therapy. Swagbucks will help me earn more bucks if you sign up under me. See my full disclosure statement here.

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7 Comments so far ↓

  • Christina

    I love lavender. I have very curly hair and don’t use shampoo on it. I often cleanse it with lavender water. It’s excellent for that, but I now spritz it on everything else, including the dog when she needs to freshen up but I don’t have time to give her a bath:)
    (If there are any other curly heads out there, I strongly recommend the natural hair treatment found in Curly Girl: The Handbook. It’s saved my hair:)

    [Reply to this comment]

    Rachel Reply:

    I’ve read that book too. It’s why I only use conditioner on my curly girl’s hair. And use a lavender spritz to freshen it up.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Julie

    How do you enter the giveaway for the essential oils?
    Also, the Camping book is showing $0.99 on Amazon…not free…and I used the link in the email that I received.
    I thought you would like to know.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Julie,
    The giveaway isn’t up yet – Monday most likely. I am waiting on one piece of information from the sponsor.

    The camping handbook was human error (mine), such a bummer, BUT it is free all day today, Saturday June 22nd. Thanks for your interest! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Wendy

    I didn’t see mentioned, so thought I’d pipe in, lavender oil is also good for bruising. I’m kind of clumsy, so when I whack myself on something, I rub on some lavender oil. Depending on how bad the bump is, I may have no bruising or relatively little. The spot is still somewhat tender, but no discoloration is sure nice!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Kim

    One consideration I didn’t notice in your article is the source of lavender and whether it was grown in certified organic fields and using organic methods. Young Living is the only one I know of who does this, and who actually owns all their own lavender to insure its pure quality. A year ago all the lavender in France was ruined by a blight, yet we never saw production by other essential oil brokers go down, so that causes me to seriously wonder where the oil is truly being harvested and how it is being extended. (Companies who buy distilled oils are merely brokers, not truly essential oil companies.)

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    That’s a very good question, Kim…I wouldn’t have thought to doubt when a company says their lavender is “French” or whatever. Hmmm…
    :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

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Welcome!  Meet Katie.

I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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