CHAMOMILE: Matricaria recutita and Chamaemelum nobile (Anthemis nobilis) Asteraceae
By Steph Zabel
Herbalist, Ethnobotanist and Educator
The Greeks call it earth apple, Germans call it mother’s herb, and in Mexico it is known as manzanilla, or little apple. No matter the name, no matter the language, chamomile is a culturally important plant known and loved around the world.
Due to its lovely aromatic scent combined with its very useful actions on the human body, chamomile has become one of our most common and recognizable herbs. Practically all restaurants and cafes serve up chamomile tea, and it is one of the few medicinal herbs that all grocery stores will stock in their tea sections. Could there be anyone who has not had chamomile tea before? It is a flavor that is known by almost everyone.
There are two plants that are called chamomile: the more popular and common German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) and the Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile). Although they are different species, they are used interchangeably in herbal medicine. Both are very aromatic, with the lovely, sweet scent of apples.
Chamomile has been used as a medicine for thousands of years, dating back to the ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks. It was also one of the nine sacred herbs of the Anglo-Saxons. Because of its various healing powers, chamomile was believed to be a gift of the gods.
When we think of chamomile first we must think of its affinity for the digestive organs. This cheery herb is renowned for its use in various ailments such as indigestion, stomach-ache, flatulence, and inflammation in the gut. Chamomile contains an essential oil called azulene, which is a beautiful deep blue oil when distilled. This oil possesses tremendous anti-inflammatory properties that helps soothe and relax the walls of the intestines and remove excess gas. In addition, although chamomile has a sweet aroma and taste to it, it is also mildly bitter. This bitterness helps stimulate liver function and the production of bile, thus aiding in the overall process of digestion. Chamomile truly shines for issues of the stomach and intestines, and is a wonderful and easy addition to the home apothecary.
Chamomile is also an excellent herb for nervousness, tension and anxiety, especially for the type that manifests in the digestive organs (i.e. that feeling of knots or butterflies in the stomach). The flowers have traditionally been used to calm frayed nerves, and to quell irritable behavior. For most people a cup of chamomile tea is instantly relaxing and soothing. It is perfect as a before bedtime tea, or after a long and stressful day.
Perhaps chamomile is most famous for its use with babies and children; it is after all called the “mother’s herb” in Germany for good reason. It is very safe for young people and especially suited to children who are irritable, whining, hypersensitive and/or restless. Given as a diluted tea, or used in a bath, chamomile calms irritable behavior. And this action isn’t just for children! One of our most famous American herbalists, Matthew Wood, is often quoted on chamomile, writing that it is “the remedy for babies of any age.” In my own practice, I find this to be very true! Chamomile is wonderful for any temperamental outbursts, heated emotions, or irritable and childish behavior. Every now and then, we all must whine and complain, but when it becomes a constant theme, chamomile is the answer!
On another note, here on the east coast we have a close cousin of chamomile that grows wild in lawns and pathways where humans walk. Called pineapple weed (Matricaria matricarioides), this plant grows abundantly throughout the city and has an intoxicating sweet scent. Its flowers are not as showy as true chamomile since they lack the white ray petals, but if you take the yellow center and crush it between your fingers you will be amazed at its amazingly strong scent. Pineapple weed can be used just like chamomile.
A word of caution: A small number of people are allergic to chamomile and other related plants in the Asteraceae family, so do be aware that it may provoke an allergic reaction in people who are sensitive.
HOW TO USE CHAMOMILE:
Tea infusion: Use 2 teaspoons of the dried herb per cup of hot water. Cover and let steep up to 10 minutes. It becomes quite bitter the longer it is steeped.
Chamomile mixes well with peppermint, sage, fennel, calendula and/or wood betony for digestive issues
Tincture: Use 10 to 30 drops of chamomile tincture as needed for stomach ache, tension or nervousness
Essential oil: Use 10 to 15 drops of the essential oil diluted in a carrier oil (such as olive oil) for topical use on minor wounds and inflammation
RECIPE: Chamomile infused wine
1 bottle of your favorite white wine (a sweet wine like a Riesling would work well)
2 - 3 tablespoons of dried chamomile flowers
Place the chamomile in a quart sized glass jar. Pour the wine over the herb. (A whole bottle of wine will fit into a quart sized jar.) Give it a stir so that the chamomile is completely submerged in the wine. Cap with a lid and keep at room temperature for at least 3 hours. Or, steep for longer (up to 8 hours) for a stronger flavor. Pour the wine through a fine sieve to remove the chamomile. Enjoy chilled for a sweet and relaxing summer wine.
Steph Zabel, MSc, is an herbalist and educator who helps urban dwellers connect with the plant world. She teaches herbal classes, is available for individual wellness consultations, and is also the founder of HERBSTALK, Boston’s community herbal conference. Learn more about her work at: www.flowerfolkherbs.com and www.herbstalk.org.
The Book of Herbal Wisdom by Matthew Wood
Herbs: Partners in Life by Adele G. Dawson
This blog post — Herb of the Month: Chamomile — is for general health information only. This blog post is not to be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any health condition or problem. Users of this Web site should not rely on information provided on this Web site for their own health problems. Any questions regarding your own health should be addressed to your own physician or other healthcare provider.