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Definition: lavender from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Sweet-smelling purple-flowering herb belonging to the mint family, native to western Mediterranean countries. The bushy low-growing species L. angustifolia has long, narrow, upright leaves of a silver-green colour. The small flowers, borne on spikes, vary in colour from lilac to deep purple and are covered with small fragrant oil glands. Lavender oil is widely used in pharmacy and perfumes. (Genus Lavandula, family Labiatae.)



lavender cultivation

Summary Article: LAVENDER from Medical Toxicology of Natural Substances: Foods, Fungi, Medicinal Herbs, Plants, and Venomous Animals

(Lavandula Species)


In ancient Greece and Rome, lavender was an antiseptic and a fragrance for baths and cleansing agents. The ancient Egyptians used linen soaked in asphalt and oil of lavender to wrap mummies before drying the casts in the sun.1


For cosmetic and medicinal purposes, the most common variety is L. angustifolia. Other species of lavender include Lavandula burmanni Benth., L. dentata L., L. dhofarensis A.G. Miller, L. lanata Boiss., L. latifolia Medikus (broadleafed lavender), Lavandula X intermedia Emeric ex Lois. (lavandin), and L. stoechas L. (French lavender). Lavandin is a sterile hybrid of English lavender (L. angustifolia) and broadleafed lavender (L. latifolia). Currently, the two most common cultivars in the French lavender industry are Grosso and Super.

  • Common Name: English Lavender

  • Scientific Name: Lavandula angustifolia P. Miller (L. officinalis, L. vera)

  • Botanical Family: Lamiaceae (menthes, mints)

  • Physical Description: English lavender is an evergreen plant with a round, compact shape and opposite leaves that reach 2 in. (5 cm) in length. Small, fragrant, purple flowers appear in summer as interrupted spikes.

  • Distribution and Ecology: Although lavender (Lavandula spp.) is a native plant of the Mediterranean region, the Arabian Peninsula, Africa, and Russia, this plant is cultivated throughout the warm areas of the northern hemisphere.


Typically, lavender oil is a steam distillation product of the leaves and flowers of lavender species (L. angustifolia, L. latifolia, L. stoechas, L. x intermedia). For medicinal purposes, the flower is the most commonly used part of the lavender plant because the essential oil from this part of the plant is sweeter and more aromatic than the oil from other plant parts. Perfumes and cosmetic products with lavender usually contain essential oils of Lavender species (e.g., L. angustifolia) with relatively low camphor and high linalyl acetate content, whereas insect repellants with lavender typically contain essential oils from Lavender species (e.g., L. stoechas) with relative high camphor content. The constituents in Lavender products are not standardized in the United States.

Medicinal Uses

Lavender has a long history of use as a fragrance and medicinal herb. Linen bags containing lavender were placed in pillows for soporific effects. Traditionally, this herb has been used as an expectorant, an antidepressant, carminative (smooth muscle relaxant), antispasmodic, sedative, antimicrobial agent, and healing agent for burns, insect bites, and other wounds.


The essential oils of lavender are common fragrances in a variety of products including soaps, candles, perfumes, shampoos, massage oils, colognes, and lotions. In food manufacturing, these essential oils are flavoring agents in ice cream, candy, beverages, chewing gum, and baked goods. Medicinal applications of lavender oil include use as anxiolytic agent (aromatherapy),2 soporific agent (aromatherapy),3,4 oral antispasmodic, topical antibiotic,5 soothing agent for perineal discomfort after childbirth, adjunctive therapy for mild depression,6 treatment for alopecia,7 and chemotherapeutic agent.8 There are few well-controlled clinical trials supporting the use of lavender for these indications. The weight of the evidence suggests a small positive effect of lavender aromatherapy for relaxation,9 but the studies are not well designed and the strength of the evidence is weak.1 A small, preliminary (phase I) trial suggested that a constituent of lavender (perillyl alcohol) is a safe chemotherapeutic drug in doses up to 1200mg/m2 4 times daily, but the efficacy of this compound as a chemotherapeutic agent remains unproven.10


In the United States, lavender is regulated as a dietary supplement with GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status, when used in recommended amounts. Linalool, a constituent in lavender, is approved as a food additive (GRAS). This compound is used in fragrances, soaps, perfumes, beverages, ice cream, candy, gelatins, and chewing gum.

Chemical Composition

Lavender contains over 100 compounds, including linalool, linalyl acetate, camphor limonene, tannins, triterpenes, cyclic monoterpenes (cineole, perillyl alcohol), hydroxycoumarins, and flavonoids. The main components of lavender oil are linalool (CAS RN: 78-70-6, 3,7-dimethyl-1,6-octadien-3-ol), linalyl acetate, 1,8-cineole (eucalyptol), β-ocimene, terpinen-4-ol, and camphor.11 Figure1 displays the chemical structure of linalyl acetate (CAS RN: 115-95-7, C12H20O2). In a study of nine Australian samples of lavender essential oil derived from steam distillation, the approximate concentrations of the main components were as follows: linalool (23–57%), linalyl acetate (4–35%), 1,8-cineole (0.1–20%), β-ocimene (27%), terpinen-4-ol (0.1–3%), and camphor (0.1–7%).12 Major volatile components of the leaves and flowers of Lavandula species include camphor, 1,8-cineole, and compounds with a necrodane structure, as measured by direct thermal desorption/gas chromatography/mass spectrometry.13

The chemical composition and fragrance of lavender essential oil depends on the extraction process, the cultivars, cultural practices, growing conditions, harvesting season, and species. Table1 demonstrates the variability in linalyl acetate, linalool, camphor, and cineol content in four Lavandula species. Analysis of a sample of L. angustifolia essential oil by solid-phase trapping solvent extraction demonstrated linalyl acetate concentrations of 35.44% compared with 4.04% for reduced pressure steam distillation and 2.63% for simultaneous steam distillation-solvent extraction.14 For linalool, the yields for these three extraction methods were 18.7%, 36.8%, and 43.5%, respectively. Analysis of a Turkish sample of lavender essential oil (L. stoechas) demonstrated the following major constituents: pulegone (40.4%), menthol (18.1%), and menthone (12.6%).15 Typically, oils derived L. lanata and L. stoechas have higher camphor and lower terpene (e.g., β-phellandrene) and sesquiterpene (e.g., caryophyllene) concentrations than oils derived from L. angustifolia or L. dentata.16 The concentrations of linalool and linalyl acetate are higher in the essential oil than in volatile fraction of lavender, whereas sesquiterpene compounds are higher in the volatile fraction than in the essential oils.

Chemical structure of linalyl acetate.

Concentration of Major Components in Four Lavandula Species as Determined by Solid-Phase Trapping Solvent Extraction and Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry


L. stoechasa

L. dentatea

L. angustifoliaa

L. heterophyllaa

Source: From Ref14.

aNormalized peak area (%) ± relative standard deviation (RSD) for three samples by solid-phase trapping solvent extraction for each Lavandula species; ND, not detected.

Linalyl acetate

0.5 ± 1.6


35.4 ± 3.7



0.1 ± 1.8

4.4 ± 2.7

18.7 ± 2.1

1.4 ± 2.0


53.4 ± 2.9

5.7 ± 4.1

0.5 ± 5.3

20.4 ± 9.5


12.5 ± 1.9

47 ± 0.6

5.9 ± 6.3

50.1 ± 2.5

Physiochemical Properties

In studies on rats, constituents (e.g., cineole, perillyl alcohol) in lavender essential oil reduced cholesterol synthesis.17 Linalool, linalyl acetate, and L. angustifolia essential oil (0.25% volume/volume) are cytotoxic to human skin cells (endothelial cells, fibroblasts) in vitro.18 Table2 lists some of the physical properties of linalyl acetate.

Mechanism of Toxicity

The active ingredient and mechanism of action of lavender oil is not well defined. Lavender essential oil has some spasmolytic activity on guinea pig ileum and rat uterus in vitro along with reduction in skeletal muscle tone in phrenic nerve-diaphragm preparations.19 However, the clinical significance and mechanism of action remain poorly defined.


Recommended adult doses of lavender include the following: tea, steeping 10 g (10 mL) of the leaves in 250 mL boiling water for 15 minutes; aromatherapy, inhalation of the vapors from 2–4 drops in 2–3 cups boiling water; message therapy, 1–4 drops per 15 mL of base oil; bath additive, 6 drops of lavender oil in bath.1 In refractory cancer patients receiving perillyl alcohol as a chemotherapeutic agent, the maximum tolerated dose was 1200mg/m2 4 times daily.8 Gastrointestinal toxicity (nausea, vomiting, satiety, eructation) was the dose-limiting factor.

Physical Properties of Linalyl Acetate

Physical Property


Melting Point

<25 °C/77 °F

Boiling Point

220 °C/428 °F

log P (Octanol-Water)


Water Solubility

8.200mg/L (25 °C/77 °F)

Henry's Law Constant

1.74E-03 atm-m3/mole (25 °C/77 °F)

Atmospheric OH Rate Constant

1.16E-10 cm3/molecule-second (25 °C/77 °F)


Lavender contains a variety of compounds, and the active ingredients have not been identified. Animal studies suggest that linalool is rapidly absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract and undergoes excretion in the bile and in the urine after metabolism.20 The absorption of perillyl alcohol is relatively rapid with peak plasma concentrations occurring within 2 hours following ingestion.21 Metabolites of limonene and perillyl alcohol include perillic acid, cis-dihydroperillic acid, and trans-dihydroperillic acid. In clinical trials using doses of perillyl alcohol up to 1600mg/m2 4 times daily, the major metabolite was perillic acid and <1% of the dose of perillyl alcohol appeared in the urine unchanged.8 Lavender contains a variety of coumarin compounds, and theoretically these compounds could increase the effect of anticoagulants, but the clinical significance of this potential interaction remains unclear. Theoretically, lavender oil or aromatherapy could increase drowsiness caused by some drugs (e.g., benzodiazepines, narcotics, ethanol), but the clinical significance of this potential interaction is also undetermined.


Side effects of the use of lavender oil include headache, nausea, vomiting, anorexia, constipation, chills, drowsiness, and confusion. Occasional case reports indicate that sensitization to lavender can occur after the use of lavender as a soporific agent on pillows (acute contact dermatitis, eczema),22 as a shampoo by hairdressers,23 or as aromatherapy (allergic airborne contact dermatitis).24 Clinical features of these allergic reactions include erythema, lichenification, eczema, vesiculation, and local irritation.25,26 Case reports also associate the chronic use of lavender oil with photosensitization27 and alteration of skin pigments.28 In general, local allergic reactions to lavender oil is relatively rare. However, a Japanese review of the positivity rate of patch tests to lavender oil indicated that this rate increased as lavender aromatherapy became more popular.29


Extraction techniques for the determination of constituents in lavender essential oil include hydrodistillation, supercritical-fluid extraction, headspace solid-phase microextraction, solid-phase trapping solvent extraction, reduced pressure steam distillation, and simultaneous steam distillation-solvent extraction. Solid-phase trapping solvent extraction is a superior extraction technique because of effectiveness of this technique for the determination of linalyl acetate, which is an important measure of the quality of lavender essential oil.14 Quantitation of constituents of lavender oil typically involves gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS).13,14 The use of multidimensional GC allows the qualitative and quantitative determination of enantiomers of various constituents in lavender.12


Treatment of adverse reactions to lavender oil is supportive.

  • 1. Basch, E, Foppa, I, Liebowitz, R, Nelson, J, Smith, M, Sollars, D, Ulbricht, C. Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia Miller). J Herb Pharmacother 2004; 4: 63-78.
  • 2. Field, T, Diego, M, Hernandez-Reif, M, Cisneros, W, Feijo, L, Vera, Y, Gil, K. Lavender fragrance cleansing gel effects on relaxation. Int J Neurosci 2005; 115: 207-222.
  • 3. Lehrner, J, Marwinski, G, Lehr, S, Johren, P, Deecke, L. Ambient odors of orange and lavender reduce anxiety and improve mood in a dental office. Physiol Behav 2005; 86: 92-95.
  • 4. Lewith, GT, Godfrey, AD, Prescott, P. A single-blinded, randomized pilot study evaluating the aroma of Lavandula angustifolia as a treatment for mild insomnia. J Altern Complement Med 2005; 11: 631-637.
  • 5. Takarada, K, Kimizuka, R, Takahashi, N, Honma, K, Okuda, K, Kato, T. A comparison of the antibacterial efficacies of essential oils against oral pathogens. Oral Microbiol Immunol 2004; 19: 61-64.
  • 6. Akhondadeh, S, Kiashani, L, Fotouhi, A, Jarvandi, S, Mobaseri, M, Moin, M, et al. Comparison of Lavandula angustifolia Mill. tincture and imipramine in the treatment of mild to moderate depression: a double-blind, randomized trial. Prog Neuro-Psychopharmacol Psychiatr 2003;27: 123-127.
  • 7. Hay, IC, Jamieson, M, Ormerod, AD. Randomized trial of aromatherapy. Successful treatment for alopecia areata. Arch Dermatol 1998; 134: 1349-1352.
  • 8. Ripple, GH, Gould, MN, Arzoomanian, RZ, Alberti, D, Feierabend, C, Simon, K, et al. Phase I clinical and pharmacokinetic study of perillyl alcohol administered four times a day. Clin Cancer Res 2000; 6: 390-396.
  • 9. Buchbauer, G, Jirovetz, L, Jager, W, Dietrich, H, Plank, C. Aromatherapy: evidence for sedative effects of the essential oil of lavender after inhalation. Z Naturforsch [C] 1991; 46: 1067-1072.
  • 10. Ripple, GH, Gould, MN, Stewart, JA, Tutsch, KD, Arzoomanian, RZ, Alberti, D, et al. Phase I clinical trial of perillyl alcohol administered daily. Clin Cancer Res 1998; 4: 1159-1164.
  • 11. Flores, G, Blanch, GP, Ruiz del Castillo, ML, Herraiz, M. Enantiomeric composition of studies in Lavandula species using supercritical fluids. J Sep Sci 2005; 28: 2333-2338.
  • 12. Shellie, R, Mondello, L, Marriott, P, Dugo, G. Characterisation of lavender essential oils by using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry with correlation of linear retention indices and comparison with comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography. J Chromatogr A 2002; 970: 225-234.
  • 13. Sanz, J, Soria, AC, Garcia-Vallejo, MC. Analysis of volatile components of Lavandula luisieri L. by direct thermal desorption-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. J Chromatogr A 2004; 1024: 139-146.
  • 14. Kim, N-S, Lee, D-S. Comparison of different extraction methods for the analysis of fragrances from Lavandula species by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. J Chromatogr A 2002; 982: 31-47.
  • 15. Goren, AC, Topcu, G, Bilsel, G, Bilsel, M, Aydogmus, Z, Pezzuto, JM. The chemical constituents and biological activity of essential oil of Lavandula stoechas spp. stoechas. Z Naturforsch [C] 2002; 57: 797-800.
  • 16. Cavanagh, HM, Wilkinson, JM. Biological activities of lavender essential oil. Phytother Res 2002; 16: 301-308.
  • 17. Clegg, RJ, Middleton, B, Bell, GD, White, DA. The mechanism of cyclic monoterpene inhibition of hepatic 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl coenzyme A reductase in vivo in the rat. J Biol Chem 1982; 257: 2294-2299.
  • 18. Prashar, A, Locke, IC, Evans, CS. Cytotoxicity of lavender oil and its major components to human skin cells. Cell Prolif 2004; 37: 221-229.
  • 19. Lis-Balchin, M, Hart, S. Studies on the mode of action of the essential oil of lavender (Lavandula angustifolia P. Miller). Phytother Res 1999; 13: 540-542.
  • 20. Parke, DV, Quddusur Rahman, KM, Walker, R. The absorption, distribution and excretion of linalool in the rat. Biochem Soc Trans 1974; 2: 612-615.
  • 21. Zhang, Z, Chen, H, Chan, KK, Budd, T, Ganapathi, R. Gas chromatographic-mass spectrometric analysis of perillyl alcohol and metabolites in plasma. J Chromatogr B 1999; 728: 85-95.
  • 22. Coulson, IH, Ali Khan, AS. Facial "pillow" dermatitis due to lavender oil allergy. Contact Dermatitis 1999; 41: 111.
  • 23. Brandao, FM. Occupational allergy to lavender oil. Contact Dermatitis 1986; 15: 249-250.
  • 24. Schaller, M, Korting, HC. Allergic airborne contact dermatitis from essential oils used in aromatherapy. Clin Exp Dermatol 1995; 20: 143-145.
  • 25. Rademaker, M. Allergic contact dermatitis from lavender fragrance in Difflam¯ gel. Contact Dermatitis 1994; 31: 58-59.
  • 26. Varma, S, Blackford, S, Statham, BN, Blackwell, A. Combined contact allergy to tea tree oil and lavender Oil complicating chronic vulvovaginitis. Contact Dermatitis 2000; 42: 309-310.
  • 27. Fisher, AA. Patch testing with perfume ingredients. Contact Dermatitis 1975; 1: 166-168.
  • 28. Nakayama, H, Harada, R, Toda, M. Pigmented cosmetic dermatitis. Int J Dermatol 1976; 15: 673-675.
  • 29. Sugiura, M, Hayakawa, R, Kato, Y, Sugiura, K, Hashimoto, R. Results of patch testing with lavender oil in Japan. Contact Dermatitis 2000; 43: 157-160.
Copyright © 2008 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.

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