If you’ve been following my posts on my upcoming aromatherapy trip to France, you will have read about the various flowers used to make perfumes, in addition to other French-related aromatherapy posts in the past few weeks! One of those flowers that used to used to make French perfumes is lavender, so today I thought I’d take a closer look at the different species of lavender. This article appeared in its original format at Suite101.
There are many types of lavender and not all lavender species are used for the same purposes. Although, in general, lavender species, cultivars and hybrids have the same appearance, there are distinctions between different types of lavender. In aromatherapy use, there are several lavender essential oils in use.
Lavender as a Plant
Lavender is a member of the Lamiaceae plant family. There are approximately 39 species of lavender, although the various species can be further sub-divided into generic lavender family groups. In addition, one particular species of lavender can be known by different names due to the country in which it was grown in; for example true lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) can also be known as English lavender or French lavender. Lavender grows worldwide, in various countries, including the Mediterranean, India, Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Lavender is an annual and herbaceous (including biannual and perennial) plant. Lavender flowers are blue or lilac in color, hence the English name of the plant, “lavender.” Most species of lavender have long, narrow leaves. However, because of the cultivar and hybrid lavenders now available, lavender can vary in color, size, shape and aroma.
How to Use Lavender
Lavender is used medicinally, in culinary dishes and grown as an ornamental flower in the garden. Lavender is used medicinally in aromatherapy as an essential oil and as a plant extract in herbal medicine. Lavender is also found in many culinary dishes including traditional French cooking, lavender honey and as a flavoring in cakes and desserts. Lavender is used in potpourri, in sachets, as dried flower arrangements, and as confetti for weddings.
Lavender Species for Aromatherapy
True lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is the most common species of lavender used in aromatherapy, followed by spike lavender (Lavandula latifolia) and lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia). Both true lavender and spike lavender have a traditional history of medicinal use but lavandin is actually a newer hybrid lavender (developed between a cross of true lavender and spike lavender) with little traditional use in medicine. However, lavandin has similar medicinal properties to true lavender.
The chemical make-up of a lavender species can vary due to the elevation at which is was grown; for example, lavender grown at high altitudes (true lavender) will vary in its therapeutic properties to lavender grown at lower elevations (lavandin). True lavender is antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and balancing; lavandin is similar but is particularly useful for respiratory conditions.
If you are interested in learning more about lavender, take a look at the Sedona Aromatherapie Lavender Aromatherapy short course. This short course is currently available as a PDF file and as a printed booklet via mail. It is also being offered at an incredibly low price for a limited time! It will be available as an online course shortly.
- Lawless, Julia, 1995, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils, UK:Thorson
- Lawless, Julia, 2001, The Aromatherapy Garden, UK: Kyle Cathie Ltd
- Price, Shirley, 2000, Aromatherapy Workbook, UK:Thorsons
- Author’s own experience, training and use of lavender