I love lavender as a depression remedy because it is inexpensive and easy to implement. In a depressive slump, we certainly need “easy.” If something as simple as a bath or a lavender spray takes the edge off depression even for an hour, that gives us a window of some relief and it may even be a big enough window to implement another small change to bring more relief still (e.g., sitting in the sun for 20 minutes, breathing fresh air, taking a short walk). Enough small, deliberate changes can add up in a powerful way to fight depression.
Because of its ease of use, I recommend you buy a small bottle of lavender essential oil and simply give one of these ideas a shot. Implement the idea that makes most sense in your lifestyle that you are most likely to implement on an on-going basis. You may not be a “bath person,” but traditional aroma therapy may fit better with your lifestyle.
If you have access to fresh lavender, you have more options still. You will spend a little more time than you will with an oil, but the ritual of making lavender concoctions has its own benefit and may help your depression in itself, especially if you are a crafty-type of person. The whole plant may also offer more benefits but I do appreciate the convenience of the oil.
Lavender baths may be our best strategy for using lavender to fight depression with some nice research to support it. A lavender bath offers two distinct benefits: Lavender is absorbed through your skin in the warm bath water and a warm bath is a relaxing ritual in itself.
A 2002 study found that a lavender bath tended to reduce anger and frustration as well as negative views of the future (Morris 2002). An interesting 2008 study found that giving a lavender bath to an infant reduces crying and stress in the baby and promotes sleeping (Field et al. 2008). Part of what makes the study interesting is that the effect was in part a result of the caregiver breathing in the lavender while giving the baby a bath. The baby was touched more and given more eye contact by the caregiver. The cortisol level of both the baby and mother was improved, presumably via the lavender effect.
If you take the plunge and integrate a lavender bath into your lifestyle, draw a warm bath of a temperature that works for you. Warm water will open your pores, allowing the lavender to be absorbed into your skin. In the 2002 study above, participants used a combination of grape seed oil and lavender oil (80% grape seed and 20% lavender). They then added 3 mL of oil to their bath water. You can skip the grape seed oil mixing — researchers used it so that the oil mixture would have the same visual appearance as the control group oil they tested in the study.
To replicate the same amount of oil in your own bathtub, you can use a dropper with small measures and add about .5 mL to your bath. It turns out that this measure is about 10 drops though “drop” sizes vary. An extra drop is certainly not going to matter but I shoot for getting at least a half milliliter into my bath and not a whole lot more just as a conservation measure. You can certainly experiment, perhaps adding a bit more if it appears to make a difference for you.
Lavender Bath Recipe
- Warm bath water
- 1/2 mL lavender essential oil
You can use whole lavender flowers as well in your bath, but it is definitely less convenient. Back in the 1970s, my mom prepared “herb baths” — she filled our bathtub with warm water and added a super herb infusion to it — basically a strong herb tea, herb leaves and all. It was a relaxing bath, even for a kid, and our skin was memorably soft. You can do the same with lavender.
Boil about a half gallon of water and pour the boiling water into a pan filled with about four cups of lavender. Use lavender stems with flowers — 4 cups is a lot of blossoms and would make a prohibitively expensive bath. Cover for 12-24 hours. Add this concoction directly to your warm bath water. For an easier tub cleaning, strain the lavender before adding them to your bath. In the old days, we bathed with the herbs and all right in the bath water and then fished the floating herbs out of the tub before draining it. I cannot imagine having that much patience at this point in my life and even if it might make a better bath and give you the opportunity to rub your skin with lavender, you may not have that much patience either. Do what works for you. Enjoy your bath.
Lavender Aroma Therapy
Lavender aroma may help you sleep and ease your depression. A 2006 study in Korea of college women with insomnia found their sleep and depression improved (Lee and Lee 2006). An easy and effective way to take in more lavender is to use an aroma therapy nebulizing diffuser. We keep one next to the bed, usually filled with lavender oil in our case. The nebulizer portion works to send out small molecules of lavender oil, easily breathed in and absorbed through the lungs. The apparatus itself is not cheap, but it is a one-time cost and we have found ours to be extremely durable over the decade that we’ve owned it.
Lavender aromatherapy may improve your depression and improve your sleep. Improving your sleep may in itself improve your mood. It is an easy ritual to add to your lifestyle and, as a result, gets my highest recommendation.
Short of investing in aromatherapy devices, use a simple and inexpensive method: Add hot water to a washcloth. Ring it out. Add three drops of lavender oil to it. Place it on your forehead as you lay down in bed. It will help you relax as you breath in the lavender.
Lavender Oil Resources
When purchasing lavender for therapeutic use, avoid the inexpensive oils used in the perfume industry. Find vendors who sell oil targeting the aromatherapy community. Many of the essential oil companies make claims about their oils being more pure than their competitors but it appears that most if not all essential oils on the market originate from the same few distributors. In our household, we buy essential oils in bulk from a reputable bulk dealer, avoiding the high price tags associated with some more popular companies. You may have your own reasons to buy an oil with a higher price tag but if you are just starting out and want to experiment with lavender, I recommend the essential oil company we partner with on our website:
- Lavender oil
- The diffuser nebulizer combination can be an expensive item. This particular model is a great option for trying out aromatherapy. You can find some quieter models out there but they will set you back a few more bucks: Nebulizing Diffuser
Field, Tiffany, Tory Field, Christy Cullen, Shay Largie, Miguel Diego, Saul Schanberg, Cynthia Kuhn. Lavender bath oil reduces stress and crying and enhances sleep in very young infants. Early Human Development 2008 84(6): 399-401.
Lee, I.S., G.J. Lee. Effects of lavender aromatherapy on insomnia and depression in women college students. Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi. 2006 36(1): 136-43.
Morris, N.. The effects of lavender (Lavendula angustifolium) baths on psychological well-being: two exploratory randomised control trials. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 2002 10(4): 223-228.