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Friday, March 13, 2015

Personal first aid kit, all in a bottle

I was cooking up a storm just before Christmas and firing up all the hobs on my stove, trying to do too many things at one time. Before I knew it, a shot of steam from the steamer had seared three fingers on my left hand, causing me to drop everything and go running to my bathroom cabinet. I liberally doused my fingers with the 100% pure lavender oil I keep there at all times, and kept doing it for the next few hours. Although my fingers were still throbbing, the pain slowly dissipated along with the redness. Over the next few days, the skin managed to heal without scarring.

Lavender (lavandula augustfolia) is my go-to remedy for burns of any kind. Its healing properties were discovered by French chemist Rene-Maurice Gattefosse in 1910. Fleeing a terrible lab accident that had him in flames, he plunged his burnt arm into a vat of lavender essential oil which "stopped the gasification of the tissue." He was surprised by how quickly his burn healed and how little scarring there was. This intrigued him and he began his study of essential oils in earnest. Fast forward a hundred years and we now know that lavender contains Linalyl Acetate (24-45%) and Linalol (25-38%) which have local analgesic and anesthetic effects. It also contains Terpinen-4-ol (2-6%) which, like Linalol, is an antibacterial agent. These antibacterial properties of lavender are very important as it is critical to keep a burn free of any infection.

I always bring a bottle of lavender oil with me when I'm traveling because I never know when I'll get sunburnt, either by the beach or even walking along mountain trails where the air is thinner. Sometimes any amount of sunscreen isn't enough to prevent a sunburn. I just add a couple of drops of lavender oil into my body lotion and slather this all over the sunburnt parts of my body. Not only does it instantly soothe the skin, but it also dramatically reduces the sunburn. This was great when my son, B, was little and would be occasionally sunburnt. Not only did the lavender alleviate the pain but it also soothed him into restful sleep.

Lavender is really a miraculous go-to oil, a personal first aid kit, fragrance and pick-me-up all rolled into one. It's just about the only essential oil that can be used neat on the skin. It's important to use only 100% pure lavender essential oil, not one of those scents or mixtures that only smell good but aren't effective at all. It's great for cuts and wounds, and to stop bleeding and kill bacteria. It's also useful for insect bites to stop itching and reduce swelling. Because of its calming, relaxing and balancing properties, I drop it on my sheets and pillows to create a soothing environment. It's wonderful to bring along on a long flight to carve out my own personal zone.

Some people love the smell of lavender so much they even use it in cooking. I've been to a lavender farm outside Melbourne where we had tea and scones made with, you guessed it, lavender. It was all a bit too cloying if you ask me, and I prefer to enjoy its soothing and calming properties rather than tasting it.

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