Unlike the practice of acupuncture or homoeopathy, the belief system underlying the use of plants as medicines is not necessarily different to the use of single substances, or “drugs”. For sure, herbalist and doctor may have very different approaches to healing disease, and the concept of synergy is one that remains almost totally unexplored in conventional medicine (perhaps a missed opportunity…).

But, medicines of both types can be described using similar pharmacological terminology – anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antibacterial and so on. Therefore, no suspension of disbelief is required – no fundamental paradigm shift  – no reinvention of the laws of physics or chemistry. Yes, there exist a number of energetic systems, Ayurveda, TCM and others, but plant medicine is also chemical medicine, even if it is somewhat complex, involving as it does the synergistic and antagonistic interactions of many substances.

Lavender oil is often described as relaxing, calming, sedative. There is no argument about what these terms mean, although “sedative” might be inappropriate, as the research suggests that lavender oil improves sleep quality, but is not as strong a sedative as prescription sleeping pills. The effect of lavender oil has been described as “weak”, or “poor” by those firmly within the allopathic camp. This may be intended as criticism, but really there is no argument here – yes, as a “sedative”, lavender has only a mild effect.

LaseaHowever, as an anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) medicine, its effect is more notable, and lavender oil capsules have recently been licensed for use in Germany, under the brand name Lasea. The related research – see below – describes the medicine under the name Silexan, but basically it is lavender oil in capsule form. And no, it’s not a placebo effect.

This-for-that plant medicine (this remedy for that problem) is perhaps not the holistic ideal, but it’s still hugely important, and I would much rather advocate the use of lavender oil than benzodiazepines. Most doctors won’t promote Lasea, any more than they have promoted Mintec or Colpermin (both peppermint oil capsules that have been around for decades). Yes, “we” can provide “you” with good evidence that plant medicines can be both safe and effective. But will “you” take any notice when we do?

There are two distinct challenges – the problem of “scientism” – I believe only in science, and plant medicine does not sound like science to me – and the problem of the pharmaceutical companies’ stranglehold on healthcare providers. But, it’s time for people to start taking notice of the opportunities now being made available. Don’t suspend your disbelief, just your anxiety.

Kasper S, Gastpar M, Müller WE et al 2010 Silexan, an orally administered Lavandula oil preparation, is effective in the treatment of ‘subsyndromal’ anxiety disorder: a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled trial. International clinical psychopharmacology 25:277-287

Woelk H, Schläfke S 2010 A multi-center, double-blind, randomised study of the Lavender oil preparation Silexan in comparison to Lorazepam for generalized anxiety disorder. Phytomedicine 17:94-99

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