Chamomile

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VERY BRIEF HISTORY

Chamomile comes from the Greek words 'kamai' (on the ground) and 'melon' (an apple), hence once of its common names in Spain, "manzanlla", meaning "little apple". As early as the Middle Ages (and maybe longer) the Spaniards used it to flavor light sherries.

In other countries during the Middle Ages (and Spain too), the plant was used as a strewing herb because of its agreeable smell when it was stepped on. This gradually evolved into being planted as part of the walkways and lawns of gardens and manor houses.

WHAT CHAMOMILE LOOKS LIKE

A number of plant species are labeled chamomile; however, only two that I know of are used as herbs. Anthemis nobilis (or Chamaemelum nobile, depending on the book you reference) is a perennial plant that most people will call Roman Chamomile or English Chamomile. Another plant, Matricaria recutita, is often confused with Roman Chamomile, though it grows differently and is considered an annual. M. recutita is most commonly called German Chamomile.

A. nobilis creeps as it grows. It can grow to a height of roughly 1 ft (~30cm), not including any flower spikes. The foliage is dark green-gray and looks feathery. The flowers look quite a bit like very small daisies. Some people describe the smell of A. nobilis as an "astringent apple." The essential oil of this plant is a light sky blue in color and smells clean and sweet with floral undertones. The density of the oil is light. There are two variants of the A. nobilis - a double flowered variety, Flore pleno, and a non-flowering variety, Trenague, useful for the traditional 'Chamomile Lawn'.

M. recutita grows much taller than its creeping conterpart, often reaching heights of 2 ft (60cm) or more. The foliage is very similar to A. nobilis, but often much sparser. Its flowers are very similar to A. nobilis, but the flower domes in the center of M. recutita instead of remaining flat like that of A. nobilis. The essential oil of M. recutita is inky blue in color and smells pungently green, a smell that many people dislike. The density of the oil is thicker and more gummy than A. nobilis.

REGULATORY STATUS THROUGHOUT THE WORLD

Canada: Approved as an over-the-counter drug.
USA: Generally Recognized as Safe.
UK: General Sales List.
France: Traditional Medicine.
Germany: Commission E approved as an over-the-counter drug.

(Regulatory information was published in the Wampole Family Guide to Nutritional Supplments and obtained via their website on 8/26/98.)

WARNINGS & CONTRAINDICATIONS

Anyone allergic to ragweed, asters, or chrysanthemums should probably avoid using this herb. Overuse of this herb will often counteract the calming qualities and stimulate bowel function. Because of its help in treating menstrual problems, chamomile of all types may best be avoided during early pregnancy.

MEDICINAL PROPERTIES

The essential oils and active compounds of chamomile give it an incredible range of uses. There is some argument over which chamomile is better than the other, though all the books I own tend to lean towards prefering German chamomile for medicinal purposes. Here are the uses I know of medicinally.

If the flowers are used internally chamomile can often:

  • relieve pain
  • reduce inflammation
  • relieve gas
  • calm spasms
  • make you perspire (but only when it is served hot),
  • assist menstrual flow (it is not an abortificaceant per se)
  • calm your nerves (from the natural tryptophan in it)
  • stimulate your nerves (if you use too much)
  • settle your stomach
  • help you sleep
  • reduce nightmares (especially in children)
  • cure colic
  • dissolve gallstones
  • heal jaundice
  • cure edema
  • expel intestinal parasites
  • protect you against ulcers (peptic)
  • fight against yeast infections
  • reduce the unrelenting pain of rheumatoid arthritis
  • reduce the pain of teething

If the leaves and flowers are used externally, chamomile can often:

  • soothe earaches (as a tea/wash)
  • soothe toothaches (as a tea,wash, or poltice)
  • reduce swelling in your eyes (as a compress or poltice)
  • cure facial burns
  • reduce boils
  • clear rashes
  • help wounds cure faster (even deep ones)
  • cure cracked skin
  • deoderize your skin
  • repel bugs
  • give you hair highlights
  • cure intestinal ulcers (when massaged on the abdomen and solar plexus)

SOME FORMULATIONS

(Note: I've gleaned these from a variety of sources and worked a few out on my own. Consult a health care professional if you want to try them on yourself or your family. I'm not a medical professional and make no claim to be. What you do with this information is up to you.)

To make an infusion of chamomile, take 1 oz of the flowers and add them to 1 pint of boiled (not boiling!) water. Cover and let steep for at least 10 minutes. This infusion taken a small bit (about a wineglass full) at a time can often help with nervousness and cramps.

For stimlant or tonic to the stomach, use an infusion 8 times as strong as an ordinary infusion and mixed with a little alcohol, taking it in small drinks 3 times daily (roughly a large teaspoonful).

Combine equal parts flowers and crushed poppy flower heads and use as a poultice on externally swollen areas (non mucous membranes). Alternatively, stuff a small bag with the flower head and soak it in warm-hot water that is comfortable to the touch and place that on the swollen area.

For skin complaints, use a tablespoon of flowers for each liter of warm (not hot water) you place in a tub and soak in it for 15-20 minutes (three good references for this in Culpepper, Turner, and Parkinson). Alternatively, try two teaspoons of the essential oil in a full bath tub of warm water.

Use the whole herb as a delightful addition to beer. :) Gaylin Walli 9/11/98

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© 1998- Linda Coffin

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