For many years lavender, the purple shrub loved by grandmas everywhere, has been hailed as a wonder plant for its supposed ability to help heal, clean, and induce sleep. Now a study has gone one step further in suggesting that the smell could be used to help reduce anxiety.
Always a valuable commodity, lavender was used as far back as Roman times to scent bathwater and wash clothes (it repelled moths, lice and fleas – nice). Ancient Greeks supposedly used it for sleep, Queen Elizabeth I used it to treat migraines, and The Cut notes that in 1640, herbalist John Parkinson claimed that lavender was "of especiall good use for all griefes and paines of the head and brain."
Today, lavender is used widely as a sleep aid. From health food stores to local supermarkets, shelves are packed with lavender sprays, oils and diffusers all touted to save millennials from what's been termed a "sleep epidemic". Scientific studies into the effectiveness of the scent of lavender on sleep hygiene are generally positive.
But how does this relate to anxiety?
A new study from Kagoshima University in Japan has found that mice who inhaled linalool, an alcoholic extract of lavender, experienced "anxiolytic effects" – or effects similar to anxiety-suppressing drugs like diazepam (minus any motor impairment). Mice who were unable to smell, however, experienced no change – suggesting that it is the scent of linalool which holds the calming power.
According to Dr Hideki Kashiwadani, the co-author of the study, these findings "bring us closer to clinical use of linalool to relieve anxiety – in surgery for example, where pretreatment with anxiolytics can alleviate preoperative stress and thus help to place patients under general anesthesia more smoothly. Vaporized linalool could also provide a safe alternative for patients who have difficulties with oral or suppository administration of anxiolytics, such as infants or confused elders."
Further study is needed before lavender's calming effects can be proved in humans but the good news is that lavender is no longer the expensive and much in-demand commodity it was back in the day. So go forth and buy yourself a cheap bunch, or an oil, or a spray, and inhale deeply – it might just bring a bit of relief to your hectic lifestyle.