Los Angeles Times - - SATURDAY - BY ALENE DAW­SON health@la­

June may be the best month for Cal­i­for­nia laven­der lovers, as fes­ti­vals that cel­e­brate the fra­grant f low­er­ing plant abound dur­ing the next few weeks. But laven­der is cel­e­brated for more than its scent and beauty: Many peo­ple be­lieve the plant, a mem­ber of the mint fam­ily, has ther­a­peu­tic and medic­i­nal uses.

Mood enhancer

“Laven­der is per­haps best known for its calm­ing and seda­tive ef­fects,” says Dr. Peter Lio, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of clin­i­cal der­ma­tol­ogy at North­west­ern Uni­ver­sity Fein­berg School of Medicine.

He cites a 2014 study link­ing laven­der to re­duc­ing anx­i­ety in den­tal clinic pa­tients. “Many spas use this same idea to help re­lax clients and make them feel at ease…. It has also shown some pos­i­tive ef­fects in de­pres­sion,” says Lio, who adds that laven­der, in­haled via aro­mather­apy, “has even been linked to al­le­vi­at­ing men­strual pain.”

Laven­der is also said to help with ner­vous­ness, mi­graines, toothaches and sprains.

It may be an an­timi­cro­bial

“Laven­der also ap­pears to have some an­timi­cro­bial ef­fects that could ex­plain some of the folk and tra­di­tional uses for other con­di­tions,” says Lio. “In ve­teri­nary medicine, laven­der oil has been used to treat don­key lice, sug­gest­ing it may have anti-par­a­sitic ef­fects as well.”

Laven­der grower and dis­tiller Holly Adams-Kauff­mann, who prac­tices aro­mather­apy and holis­tic heal­ing at the Ojai Val­ley Inn & Spa north of Ven­tura, says, “My 98-year-old mom lives with me, and I use laven­der hy­drosol on her hair and scalp when she gets itchy.”

Hy­drosols are the herbal and f lo­ral dis­til­lates that are usu­ally the byprod­ucts of mak­ing es­sen­tial oils.

Says Lio: “Fur­ther re­search is needed, but in der­ma­tol­ogy, there is also a very com­pelling pa­per that demon­strates how a mix of es­sen­tial oils in­clud­ing laven­der can help with alope­cia areata, a form of au­toim­mune hair loss that can be dev­as­tat­ing.”

Drink­ing and eat­ing laven­der

You might see laven­der pop up as a f la­vor in ar­ti­sanal ice cream par­lors, but are there health benefits to ingest­ing it?

“Laven­der may have some pos­i­tive di­ges­tion and an­tiox­i­dant ef­fects, but the fla­vor is very strong, so you’ll want to use it in small amounts,” says Dr. An­drew Weil, direc­tor of the Cen­ter for In­te­gra­tive Medicine at the Col­lege of Medicine at the Uni­ver­sity of Ari­zona.

Read the f ine print

Just be­cause laven­der smells dreamy and looks beau­ti­ful doesn’t mean you get a free pass to douse your­self with a laven­der es­sen­tial oil; those oils are typ­i­cally con­cen­trated and should be di- luted be­fore us­ing. And any medicine, even a nat­u­ral one, can have real side ef­fects.

“Most com­monly, al­lergy to laven­der can oc­cur, typ­i­cally in the set­ting of aro­mather­apy and as a mas­sage oil,” says Lio, who also men­tioned a 2007 New Eng­land Jour­nal of Medicine study sug­gest­ing a pos­si­ble con­nec­tion be­tween the use of laven­der and gy­neco­mas­tia in pre-pubescent boys.

“While other pa­pers have shown pos­si­ble mech­a­nisms for such hor­monal ef­fects, this seems to be a very rare side ef­fect and prob­a­bly re­quires sig­nif­i­cant amounts of the oil left on the skin over long pe­ri­ods of time.”

Ex­perts also urge cau­tion for any­one who is al­ready tak­ing seda­tives and pre­scrip­tions con­nected to high blood pres­sure.

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