Lavender has been used throughout history as an analgesic, antidepressant, antibacterial and
antifungal agent, and sedative. It was used to treat psychiatric conditions in India and Tibet and
is currently used in Spain as an antidiabetic. In Chile lavender tea is used to increase or induce
menstrual flow. The leaves and flowers are used to relieve headaches and rheumatic pain and
as a cold remedy. In Germany there is a patented lavender flower extract product called Silexan
registered as a medicinal product to treat restlessness related to anxious mood.
Mechanism of Action
There are quite a few components of lavender that contribute to its various mechanisms of
actions. These parts include the flower, leaves and oil. Even though lavender does have several
effects, the mechanism of action in regard to anxiety is unknown. It is thought that oral lavender
oil and lavender aromatic treatment induces relaxation and reduces anxiety levels.
Lavender is well tolerated in both small and large doses. Patients most commonly experience
breath odor, constipation, diarrhea, dyspepsia, headache and nausea. When applied topically
lavender oil can cause allergic contact dermatitis. Serious events include heart palpitations and
Theoretically, lavender causes CNS depressant effects. It is best to avoid concomitant use with
any CNS depressant drugs or supplements to avoid potentiation of these effects.
A systematic review and meta-analysis was conducted by Davide Donelli and colleagues to
determine the effects of lavender on anxiety. The primary outcome was a reduction in anxiety
levels measured by any validated scale. 54 randomized controlled trials and 17 non-randomized
studies in the qualitative synthesis reported a significant result in lavender use for anxiety. For
the quantitative synthesis, it showed that lavender inhalation significantly reduced anxiety levels
with any validated scale, (Hedges g = -0.73 [95% CI -1.00 to -0.46], p<0.00001, 1682
participants). The authors concluded that since treatments with lavender essential oil are
generally safe and the inhalation inexpensive, they are both therapeutics options to be
considered in some clinical contexts for anxiety or anxiety-related conditions.
A network meta-analysis studies obtained from 8 different databases to evaluate the safety of
lavender oil products and compare the efficacy of different strengths of lavender and other
interventions. The efficacy was evaluated using changes in the Hamilton Anxiety Scale (HAMA)
total score of the patients. They concluded that treatment of anxiety with Silexan 160 mg has
been shown to be effective in relation to comparators, but with more occurrence of GI side
effects, but more studies are needed to get a comprehensive picture of the safety and efficacy
If patients experiencing anxiety desire to use lavender to aid in alleviating their symptoms we
would recommend using a USP verified product. The use of such a product may cause GI side
effects, such as nausea, diarrhea, and constipation, as well as headache and breath odor. If
they don’t experience a relief of symptoms, patients should be referred to their health care
provider for prescription options to treat their anxiety.