While lavender has long been known for its strong scent and soothing oils, scientists are now exploring the plant’s ability to create natural pesticides.
Soheil Mahmoud, an associate professor of biology at UBC’s Okanagan campus, conducts research on organic compounds found in lavender. While lavender is known for its strong scent, and the plant’s oils are said to have a healing, or soothing benefit, Mahmoud says lavender has much more to offer.
“Lavender has proven to be very good at protecting itself through production of antimicrobial and anti-fungal biochemical compounds,” says Mahmoud. “One of our goals is to identify molecules that are involved in this natural self defense.”
Lavenders produce essential oils, he explains, and these consist mainly of organic compounds, including an antimicrobial and insecticidal monoterpene named 3-carene. In the latest study, researchers isolated and examined the gene and corresponding enzyme that catalyzes the formation of 3-carene in lavenders.
Traditionally, chemical herbicides or pesticides have been used to control fungal growth or pests like insects. But Mahmoud says this method is becoming less and less desirable as many of the pests and fungi have become resilient to the chemicals used, and as consumers prefer food that is untreated or treated with “natural” pesticides.
“We’ve become much more health conscious,” he says. “There are healthier options instead of spraying chemicals on plants; we just need to explore these. Aromatic plants like lavenders could provide suitable alternatives to chemical-based insecticides”
The research was recently published in the Plant Molecular Biology journal.
Learn more about lavender and its many benefits