Lavender is a very old household remedy, used for everything from perfuming linen to cleansing the air in a sickroom. The herb contains essential oils, which give it its characteristic fragrance. Lavender essential oil, like most essential oils, has antibiotic and antiviral properties, and it works as an anti-inflammatory and soothing agent when applied to skin injuries and burns. Inhaled, lavender's fragrance can soothe a headache away as well as calm anxieties and promote a good night's sleep.
Lavender water, either in the form of a tisane or as a hydrolate, which is a by-product of the distillation process in which lavender essential oil is produced, has many of the same healing properties as the herb's essential oil. Historically, lavender water was often used in sickrooms, both to cleanse the air and to comfort the sufferer, as described in the following snippet from Georgette Heyer's novel "Lady of Quality". Lady Annis has contracted influenza, and is being tended by her old nurse:
"Do you lie quiet now till I come back, and don't get into the high fidgets, fancying the house will fall down just because you're knocked up with all the trouble you've had, and mean to recruit your strength by staying in bed today, because it won't!" She sprinkled lavender-water lavishly over the pillow, drenched a handkerchief with it, which she tenderly wiped across Miss Wychwood's burning forehead, assured her that she would be as right as a trivet before the cat had time to lick her ear, and hurried away, first to send the page-boy scurrying down the hill with an urgent message to Dr. Tidmarsh, and then to inform Lady Wychwood, who had not yet left her room, that Miss Annis was laid up, and that she had sent for the doctor. "I don't doubt it's nothing worse than the influenza, my lady, but she's in a raging fever!" she said bluntly.
The lavender water Lady Annis's nurse is using in this snippet is most likely made from lavender blossoms steeped in boiling water, as described here. The other method of creating lavender water, which is commonly used today, is to distill lavender blossoms and leaves in a process to extract the essential oils contained in the plant. This process yields a by-product, a watery solution of active ingredients other than the essential oils, which has many of the same healing properties as the essential oil, though it does not carry lavender's characteristic fragrance.
Lavender water is used in modern hospitals to soothe patients' fears and headaches and to promote sleep. Here is a brief article describing some of the hydrolate's properties.
The University of Maryland Medical center states that research has confirmed that lavender produces slight calming, soothing, and sedative effects when its scent is inhaled.
Thus, the lavish application of lavender water in the above snippet may soothe away Lady Annis' headache and help her sink into a much-needed healing sleep. Whether it'll also clean the air in
the sickroom to protect the patients' visitors from contracting the influenza is doubtful, but in any case, it can't hurt, can it?
*** Please note: This blog is not intended as medical advice. ***
Do not try this at home.
(Or at least, don't use any of the remedies described here this without consulting your physician first.)