Sometimes called the world's most soothing plant, chamomile has traditionally been enjoyed as a tea to relax the nerves and ease digestive complaints. In concentrated form, this herb is increasingly found in pills and tinctures, and in skin formulas to treat sores and rashes.
What it is?
There are two different herbs called chamomile: German chamomile and Roman chamomile. The more popular one is German, sometimes called Hungarian, chamomile. It comes from the dried, daisy-like flowers of the Matricaria Chamomilla recutita.) The other type, known as Roman or English chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile or Anthemis nobilis), has properties similar to those of the German species, and is sold mainly in Europe.
This herb has long been used to prepare a gently soothing tea. Because of its pleasing, apple-like aroma and flavor (the name 'chamomile' is derived from the Greek kamai melon, which means 'ground apple'), many people find the ritual of brewing and sipping the tea a relaxing experience. Concentrated chamomile extracts are also added to creams and lotions or packaged as pills or tinctures. The healing properties of the herb are due in part to its volatile oils, which contain a compound called apigenin as well as other therapeutic substances.
What it does?
Chamomile is a great soother. Its anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic and infection-fighting effects can benefit the whole body – inside and out. When taken internally, it calms digestive upsets, relieves cramping and relaxes the nerves. It also works externally on the skin and the mucous membranes of the mouth and eyes, relieving rashes, sores and inflammation.
When Peter Rabbit's mother put him to bed, she gave him a spoonful of chamomile tea. Scientists have confirmed her wisdom. Studies of animals have shown that chamomile contains substances that act on the same parts of the brain and nervous system that anti-anxiety drugs affect, promoting relaxation and reducing stress.
Chamomile appears to have a mildly sedating effect but, more importantly, it also calms the body, making it easier for the person taking it to fall asleep naturally. In addition, it has a relaxing, anti-inflammatory effect on the smooth muscles that line the digestive tract. It helps to ease a wide range of gastrointestinal complaints, including heartburn, diverticular disorders and inflammatory bowel disease. In addition, its muscle-relaxing action may benefit those suffering from menstrual cramps.
Used externally, chamomile helps to soothe skin inflammation. It contains bacteria-fighting compounds that may speed up the healing of infections as well. A dressing soaked in chamomile tea is often beneficial when applied to mild burns. For sunburn, chamomile oil can be added to a cool bath or mixed with almond oil and smoothed onto sun burnt areas. Chamomile creams, which are available ready-made in health-food shops, may relieve sunburn, as well as skin rashes such as eczema. The herb can also treat inflammation or infection of the eyes or mouth. Eyewashes made from the cooled tea may alleviate the redness or irritation of conjunctivitis and other eye inflammations; prepare a fresh batch of tea daily and store it in a sterile container. (Label eye baths left and right, and use appropriately.) Used daily as a gargle or mouthwash, the tea can help heal mouth sores and prevent gum disease.
- Dried herb/tea.
- Reminder: If you have a medical condition, talk to your doctor before taking supplements.
How to take it?
To make a soothing cup of chamomile tea: Pour a cup of very hot (not boiling) water over 2 teaspoons of dried flower. Steep for five minutes and strain. Drink up to three cups a day or a cup at bedtime. The tea should be cooled thoroughly and kept sterile if you're using it on the skin or eyes.
For the skin: Add a few drops of chamomile oil to 15 ml of almond oil (or another neutral oil) or buy a ready-made cream. Pills and tinctures are also available; follow packet directions. A single pill, or up to 1 teaspoon of tincture, often has the therapeutic effects of a cup of tea.
Guidelines for use:
Chamomile is gentles and can be used long term. It can safely be combined with prescription and over-the-counter drugs, as well as with other herbs and nutritional supplements. At recommended doses, the herb seems to be safe for children and pregnant and breast-feeding women.
Possible side effects
Whether the herb is used internally or externally, side effects are extremely rare. There have been a few reported instances of nausea and vomiting in people taking higher-than-recommended doses of the herb. Though some red flags have been raised about possible allergic reactions leading to bronchial tightness or skin rashes, these appear to be so rare that most people needn't worry about them.
Facts and Tips
- A chamomile bath can be relaxing – and provide relief for dry, irritated skin or sunburn. Add 10 drops of chamomile oil, or several cups of chamomile tea, to a cool bath and soak for half an hour or longer.
- To treat burns, stick with chamomile creams or teas rather than greasy ointments. The latter contain oils that can trap the heat, slow healing and increase the risk of infection. Creams, on the other hand, are made with a non-oily base.
- Pills and tinctures are all formulated with concentrated extracts of chamomile. Buy standardized extracts that contain at least 1% apigenin, one of the herb's healing ingredients.
- Check the labels of chamomile skin products carefully. Some feature the herb but contain only minuscule amounts. Buy creams or ointments that contain at least 3% chamomile.
Did you know?
Some people have successfully grown chamomile in their garden by simply tearing open a bag of chamomile tea and sprinkling its contents on the soil.