Many people will recognize lavender for it’s beautiful purple blooms, and unmistakable scent. While it is commonly used to freshen linen closets, aromatize baked goods, adorn gardens, and spruce up lattes, it may be less recognizable as a medicinal plant. In fact, lavender has been used medicinally since ancient times, and its ability to help people struggling with anxiety is supported by modern research.
While there are a number of specific anxiety disorders, this article will focus on generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). GAD is defined as excessive worry and anxiety about a variety of events or activities, that is accompanied by sleep disturbance, muscle tension, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and/or restlessness. Typically, these symptoms would have been present for most of the days in a 6-month period to be classified as GAD. In 2012, 2.6% of Canadians aged 15 or older met the criteria for GAD in the previous 12 months, while 8.7% of Canadians aged 15 or older reported symptoms compatible with the diagnosis during their lifetime. These statistics elucidate how common GAD is in the Canadian population, and how important it is to have a wide breadth of treatment options.
It is common for those with GAD to try various pharmaceuticals, counselling and lifestyle modifications. All of these are useful approaches, but there are other options to consider. For example, there are a number of studies that examine the efficacy of oral lavender in the treatment of GAD. One study found that an oral lavender oil capsule was as effective as lorazepam, a benzodiazepine, in adults with GAD. In addition, the lavender oil preparation was not sedating, and did not have potential for abuse. Another study compared the same lavender oil capsule to the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, paroxetine, and found that it was more effective, and had fewer side effects. A review paper concluded that lavender is effective in the treatment of anxiety, was not associated with adverse effects, and did not cause withdrawal symptoms when discontinued. Based on this information, oral lavender is a viable option for those with GAD.
The aforementioned studies discussed standardized oral lavender capsules, but there are other ways to utilize the healing benefits of lavender. Personally, I use the dried flowers in tea along with herbs like chamomile and peppermint, and use the essential oil in a diffuser.
While this information is very promising, it is important to seek out the advice of a naturopathic doctor before beginning to take any herbs therapeutically, to insure that you are taking a safe and effective dose, and that no other treatment option would be better suited to your case. If you are struggling with anxiety, speaking to a health care professional can enable you to receive a proper diagnosis and learn about treatment options.
 Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders; DSM-5. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing, 2013.
 Statistics Canada, 2013 Canadian Community Health Survey-Mental Health
 Woelk H., Schlafke S. A multi-center, double-blind, randomized study of the lavender oil preparation Silexan in comparison to lorazepam for generalized anxiety disorder. Phytomedicine 17(2):2010.
 Kasper S. et al. Silexan is effective in generalized anxiety disorder – a randomized, double-blind comparison to placebo and paroxetine. Int J. Neuropsychopharmacol. 1 (11): 2014.
 Malcolm B. Essential oil of lavender in anxiety disorders: ready for prime time? Ment Health Clin. 7(4): 2017.