We all know that our lavenders blue (dilly dilly) make us feel a bit sleepy, but why?
The scent of lavender has long been used to make us feel relaxed or sleepy. And apparently, it’s not only the association with vast fields in Provence, swaying in a purple haze. Nope. Lavender’s benefits have proper scientific roots.
It’s all to do with linalool, a fragrant alcohol found in lavender extract. Researchers at Kagoshima University in 2018 found that mice exposed to the smell showed fewer signs of anxiety.
Linalool interacts with the neurotransmitter (or chemical messenger), GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid), to quieten the brain and nervous system, which makes the whole body feel more relaxed.
However, while the effects of lavender on the brain were accepted, until recently, it was not known what the ‘sites of action’ (where it got in) were of linalool.
The Kagoshima experiment found that mice who had no sense of smell did not experience the same anti-anxiety effects when sniffing lavender as mice that could smell, thus proving that the effect of linalool is on the olfactory neurons in the nose, rather than on the bloodstream via the lungs, as previously thought.
So, once the smell hits the olfactory neurons, messages are sent via long ‘wires’ to neurons in a part at the front of the brain called the ‘olfactory bulb’, which also stores memories and emotion. From here, GABA gets involved and when GABA attaches to a protein in your brain known as a GABA receptor, it produces a calming effect. Messages are sent to various parts of the nervous system, relaxing the entire body.
If you’ve not found all that information terribly relaxing, you might want to just pop a few drops of lavender essential oil on your pillow. Or why not pick up a copy of our July ‘Embrace’ issue, which has a feature by Lia Leendertz on recipes that use foraged lavender. We particularly like the lavender and blueberry buns. One of them is enough to relax us right into a nice nap of an afternoon.