Chamomile

Matricaria recutita, Matricaria chamomilla, Anthemis nobilis

Common Names
Camomile, scented mayweed

Parts Used
Flowers


Herbal Actions

Calmative, nervine, antispasmodic, anodyne, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, carminative, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antiseptic, vulnerary.

Energetics

Aromatic, neutral, bitter, spicy

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Calming Chamomile

Have you ever noticed that Chamomile smells sort of like apples? The word chamomile comes from the Greek χαμαίμηλον (chamaimēlon) meaning "earth-apple", which is derived from χαμαί (chamai) meaning "on the ground" and μήλον (mēlon) meaning "apple". It is so called because of the apple-like scent of the plant.
 
The word "Matricaria" is derived from the Latin word ‘matrix’ which refers to the womb. It was likely given this name because of its ability to treat gynecologic complaints such as menstrual cramps and premenstrual related sleep disorders. Matricaria chamomilla has been found to contain antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory constituents that are effective in treating stomach, uterine, and intestinal cramps.
 
Chamomile contains the constituents azulene and chamazulene, which are anti-inflammatory. Alcohol and some water extractions will have a greenish color expressing the green hue of chamazulenes, and the steam distilled essential oil concentrates azulenes, which turn a deep blue. These are powerfully anti-inflammatory compounds that have calming, antiseptic, and pain-relieving effects.
 
This herb is one of the most famous medicinal plants in history. Broadly used for its relaxing effects, and it is still one of the best-known herbs in the U.S. today. It can be employed for a wide variety of health conditions, primarily acting on the digestive tract and the nervous system but also used in the treatment of headaches, colds, flu, and menstrual problems.

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The official medicinal species is Matricaria recutita (German chamomile), but the other species can be used interchangeably. It is a hardy, low growing perennial that spreads easily from fallen flower heads. Roman chamomile, Anthemis nobilis, releases a pleasant, apple scent when stepped on. Both species have small daisy-like blossoms which grow on delicate stalks with feathery foliage. It blooms May to September and the plant will continue to bloom as you keep harvesting the flowers. Chamomile has also been called “the physician herb” because of its beneficial effects on other plants as a companion in the garden.
 
Chamomile is a traditional herb native to Europe and western Asia. It has become abundant in the United States where it has escaped gardens and grows freely in pastures, roadsides and other sunny, well-drained areas. Chamomile has been documented as a medicine since ancient times by the Egyptians, Romans and Greeks. The plant was sacred to Egyptians who said it was a gift from the sun god Ra. Its medicinal virtues were described by Hippocrates around 500 BC. The Saxons regarded it as one of their nine sacred herbs. Chamomile came into widespread use during the medieval age. During the 1400 - 1500s, the blue oil of chamomile was discovered for the first time and the first distillations of chamomile oil were produced. Doctors and physicians of the 1500-1600s prescribed Chamomile for many different complaints including intermittent fevers and poor digestion. The whole herb was (and still is) made into teas, inhalations, compresses, plasters, ointments and baths. Once the chamomile plant became naturalized in the Americas, the Native Americans and southern Mexicans used it for respiratory health, digestive support and to lift the spirits. In Slovakia, it is so highly regarded that there is a saying that one must bow to the Chamomile plant if one comes across it. It has also been used as a perfume and flavoring agent for liqueurs such as Benedictine and vermouth.

Medicinal Use

Chamomile has a wide range of practical uses for every day complaints, and because it is a mild herb its applications are reputably safe having virtually no known risk of side effect. Chamomile may be mild, yet it’s a fairly reliable remedy. It is a useful herb for treating insomnia, nervousness, anxiety, poor digestion, headaches, abdominal pain, menstrual cramps, colds and flu.
 

This is a traditional digestive herb, classically used as a carminative with bitter tonic effects. It improves basic digestive functions and relieves flatulence, colic, indigestion, and abdominal bloating. I often reach to Chamomile for nearly any digestive complaint and formulate around it for the needs of the individual. Taken long term it can be a useful part of treatment plans for irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease by reducing inflammation and normalizing bowel movements. Because it sedates the nervous system and improves digestion, Chamomile can also be a very useful in preventing stomach ulcers as these are often accompanied by stress.

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Chamomile’s antispasmodic and sedative properties are quite powerful when taken in adequate doses, and it won’t leave one feeling dopey like many stronger relaxants can do. It is recommended for infant colic in several folk traditions and contains at least nineteen different antispasmodic constituents, as well as five sedative ones. A clinical trial from 1993 verified that Chamomile is effective in relieving infant colic, and it is also an approved medicine by the German government for gastrointestinal complaints. It combines well with valerian for menstrual cramps, and helps to increase menstrual flow or bring on a delayed menses.

 

Chamomile has primary effects on reducing inflammation, healing the digestive tract and calming the nervous system, however it has secondary effects that are immune enhancing helping to fight infection both topically and internally. Chamomile produces a natural substance in the body that resembles the drug cortisone, commonly used for chronic inflammatory conditions, which shows us how effective this herb is for simple pain relief. As an anti-inflammatory it can relieve a headache, and as a diaphoretic it is useful in cases of fever that come with a cold or flu.

A topical application of the infusion can be used in eye washes for conjunctivitis, compresses for ear infections, gargles for sore throats, and soaks for athlete’s foot.  Adding a quart of Chamomile decoction to a hot bath helps relieve pain and achy joints, quells all sorts of rashes including poison oak, calms the nerves after a stressful day, and promotes a stellar night’s sleep. Topically, Chamomile softens and soothes the skin.

 

This is really one herb that belongs in every home, and should be well stocked in every medicine cabinet. I agree with the Slovaks, this herb deserves to be greeted with reverence. A deep bow to Chamomile, and its continued praise upon the Earth.

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Preparation & Dosage

Infusion

Fill a canning jar one-third full with chamomile flowers and cover to the top with boiling water. Stir and cover tightly. Let cool to room temperature. Strain. Drink two or three 1/2-cup doses of this strongly-concentrated the tea daily. Chamomile may be taken for as long as you want.
 
Decoction

Add one cup chamomile flowers to the bottom of a pot and fill with 6 cups water. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 15- 20 mins. Let cool a little before straining. This preparation is ideal for adding to baths or for use in foot soaks.

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Mild Tea

Both of the above preparations are best for use with adults will taste quite bitter. Below are instructions for a milder tea that can be given to infants and small children. Dose the tea by the dropper full or teaspoon. If nursing, the mother may also drink the tea.

  • For a mild and more palatable tasting tea: Pour boiling water over a teaspoon of chamomile flowers in the bottom of a cup. Fill and let sit covered for ten minutes. Strain well, and give at warm or room temperature.

 

Powdered herb capsules

Take 2-3 capsules (about 1 gram of the herb) three times a day.
 
Tincture

Dose by the teaspoon, 3-4 times a day or as needed for pain relief.
 

Contraindications

Pregnancy - Caution is advised in using chamomile during pregnancy, especially in the first trimester. Chamomile promotes menstruation and could threaten a fragile pregnancy in its early stages. Rare individuals may have an allergic response to chamomile.

 

Ragweed allergies - Chamomile is a relative of ragweed and can cause allergy symptoms in individuals with ragweed allergies. While extremely rare, very large doses of chamomile may cause nausea and vomiting. Even more rarely, rashes may occur especially around the mouth.

 

Blood thinners - Chamomile also contains coumarin, so care should be taken to avoid potential drug interactions, especially prescription blood thinners.

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References

  • Bergner, Paul. Folk Remedies Database. Boulder: Bergner Communications. 2001.

  • Bennett, Robin Rose. The Gift of Healing Herbs. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2014.

  • Cook M.D., William H. The Physiomedical Dispensatory. 1869. Reprints, Boulder: Medical Herbalism, 2007.

  • Ellingwood, Finley. American Materia Medica, Therapeutics and Pharmacognosy. 1919. Reprint, Bisbee: Southwest School of Botanical Medicine 2003.

  • Gladstar, Rosemary. Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health. North Adams: Storey Publishing, 2008.

  • Hoffmann, David. The New Holistic Herbal. New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1990.

  • Tierra, Michael. The Way of Herbs. New York: Pocket Books, 1998.

  • Felter M.D., Harvey Wickes and John Uri Lloyd, Phr.M., Ph.D. King’s American Dispensatory. 1898.

  • Grieve, M. (Maud). A Modern Herbal. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1931.

  • Singh, O., Khanam, Z., Misra, N., Srivastava, M.K. M.Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla L.): An overview. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3210003/

  • Srivastava, J.K., Shankar, E., Gupta, S. Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2995283/

  • Introduction to Chamomile. http://abc.herbalgram.org/site/DocServer/CRCPRESSChamomile-Section_1.5978-1-4665-7759-6.pdf?docID=6362