Medicinal Uses of Lavender: a TCM approach
Lavender opens and descends, and what better plant to teach us what that seemingly ambiguous statement actually means. There was a time when I totally discounted Lavender as one of those flowery herbs that kind of relaxes you. That is certainly not the case, and I was suffering from a case of not understanding what Lavender is all about.
Migraines are the first stage on which Lavender shines. There are two common types of migraines that lavender addresses, which can occur separately or together. Keep in mind that we are talking about the manifestation (a more surface accessory of disease) and not the root here (the deeper underlying pattern). Lavender is not a builder; its magic lies in its quick action to change the energy dynamic when wielded in the right scenario. It will probably not stop your migraines from occurring, but may help subdue or prevent one.
The first common pattern, which is present in most headaches, is energy moving upward when it should be moving downward (in Chinese medicine they call this 'liver yang rising'). This causes temple or ocular headaches with a throbbing sensation, and sometimes also blurred vision and dizziness. This pattern calls for herbs that redirect energy back down, which are bitter, cooling herbs with an affinity to the head and nervous system. Lavender fits the ticket, and indeed “descends,” as mentioned in the opening line. Some other herbs that "subdue liver yang" aka redirect the energy downward are feverfew, white peony root, hops, passionflower, and skullcap.
The second pattern commonly involved in headaches is sticky accumulations that block energy flow (aka phlegm). Look for a dull headache with feelings of heaviness and dizziness possibly with phlegm in the throat. The goal here is to open flow (especially in the head), get phlegm dislodged and clear it out. Warming aromatic herbs do exactly this, due to their action of dispersal and movement. Lavender is a gently warming aromatic, making it very well suited to this pattern. In other words: it opens! Rosemary is also a great opening and warming aromatic, and it is also traditionally used for headaches.
So, Lavender opens and descends, making it a perfect herb for headaches from the patterns mentioned above. The great lesson here is that while lavender may be a great “headache herb,” it’s not going to do anything for a headache from other patterns. So rather than pigeonholing lavender as a “headache herb,” I think it’s nice to take a look at what it’s actually doing in there. Lavender won’t be helpful for the eight other potential patterns in chronic headaches. Yes, you read that correctly: EIGHT. And most people have a combination of the ten total patterns. There is no need for you to know the nuances of all that, though. Try lavender, and if it doesn’t work: move on and don’t be discouraged.
One additional note: one person shared with me that lavender is a trigger for her migraines, and I know of one other person with a lavender allergy. This is yet another example of why blanket statements simply are not helpful for herbs. Listen to your body, as it knows best.
I think it’s also important to note that the same person can get different types of headaches for different reasons (we are complex beings, after all). I only use lavender with my headaches that begin with visual disturbances, but not headaches that involve dull pain at the base of my skull (those are kidney deficiency headaches and thus don’t respond to lavender).
Let's get specific about dosage and preparation, because people almost never talk about it quite thoroughly enough for me. I use homemade lavender flower tincture (40%, 1:5) internally, and I carry a bottle in my purse. When I notice a dot forming in my vision, I drop whatever I am doing and take 1 dropperful of lavender tincture. I take another dropperful 5 minutes later, and another 15 minutes after that. More often than not, symptoms begin to subside. If symptoms do disappear, I stop there. If symptoms come back, I’ll continue dosing like that a few more times. If I experience no change, then I’ll start trying other herbs, because most likely lavender is not the right herb for the job. With headaches, it is a matter of beating the momentum of it. The longer you wait to start acting against the momentum of the headache, the more momentum is has time to accumulate, which means you may not be able to do much once it gets to a certain point, because just taking a larger dose of herbs doesn’t always equate. Also be aware that some people are more sensitive to herbs and will require a small dose. For example, 10 drop doses might be better for such a person.
Vertigo is another fantastic example of energy moving upward and causing problems. Like migraines, vertigo can also involve phlegm, making lavender an herb that can cover two common patterns at once. Severe vertigo (Where the ground feels like its moving) can also involve liver wind (which will likely include muscle spasms or twitches), for which lavender may have some action. I recommend combining lavender with white peony root (see my post on white peony if you want more about that).
My dosing for vertigo is very similar to my dosing for migraines. I use lavender tincture at a dose of 1 dropperful every 15 minutes for about an hour. Symptoms should begin to subside by the end of the hour if the remedy is going to work. Assuming symptoms are still mildly present but are going away with the lavender, continue with one dropperful every hour until you’re feeling grounded again.
Anxiety also generally causes energy to move upward, and equally energy moving upward can cause restlessness and anxiety. Lavender would be indicated when the person is feeling extremely ungrounded, restless and unable to sit down. Again, this is a remedy that kind of forces grounding, whereas a remedy that builds blood or tonifies the kidneys might be able to ground the body in a more long term fashion.
Though outside the scope of this article, I do want to mention that migraines and vertigo almost always have some sort of underlying deficiency involved. Most commonly it is either liver blood deficiency or kidney deficiency. He sho wu (aka fo ti) addresses both of these deficiencies, and could be a good daily herbal tonic with lavender at the head of your acute incident management team. I'd get some he sho wu powder and mix it with honey, making a delicious herbal electuary that you can eat a small portion of every day. Don't be surprised if I post about he sho wu next!
To sum it all up, Lavender opens and descends! These actions make it great for migraines, vertigo, anxiety, and restlessness and irritation. BUT! It is important to note that no herb is across the board "good for" anything or anyone. Experiment, pay attention to the symptoms, and don't get attached to any herb being good for any condition. Also recognize that there is a different between treating the manifestation (headache) versus the root (blood deficiency).
And... that concludes our explorations with Lavender for today! There are many more applications for it, but I have a rule of writing about what I'm feeling passionate and nerdy about, and that was it. Feel free to get nerdy about other uses! Yay plants!