The following article appeared in the June, 2014 issue of Natural Herbal Living Magazine.
Chamomile Herbal Monograph
Common names: Chamomile, German Chamomile, Hungarian Chamomile, Wild Chamomile, Roman Chamomile
Latin names: Matricaria recutita, Matricaria chamomilla (German Chamomile or Wild Chamomile), Chamaemelum nobile (Roman Chamomile)
Actions: Nervine, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, febrifuge, diaphoretic, immunostimulant, respiratory and digestive aid, anti-viral, anti-microbial, anti-septic, eye wash, cholagogue, carminative, emmenagogue
Chamomile – ahhh! When we think of chamomile, our first response is often a deep breath, a sigh, or a yawn. For many people, chamomile tea is the first herbal remedy that is taken, usually thinking of it more as a beverage that may help a little than as an herbal ally that doubles as a drink. That deep breath, sigh, or yawn tells us how we experience its relaxing power. It has the ability to open our chests and give us a fuller breath.
Chamomile is among the mildest of the nervine herbs. It can relax us, help with stress, and offer gentle assistance to overcome anxiety and depression. Some people will need a stronger herb, such as motherwort or skullcap, to help them with depression or anxiety, but for others, chamomile will be just right. Clinical studies have confirmed chamomile’s ability to treat anxiety and depression.
Chamomile is also one of the gentlest allies that can give us a good night’s sleep. Many people who don’t otherwise use herbal medicine try chamomile tea precisely for this purpose. Like many nervines, it relaxes both mind and muscles, which can help with emotional imbalance, sleep, and physical pain. Chamomile can help with pain anywhere in the body, including headaches, migraines, and menstrual cramps. Like many remedies for menstrual cramps, it may increase menstrual flow. In general, chamomile is more likely to work when the pain is mild or for people who respond well to mild treatments.
Chamomile stimulates the immune system to fight off both viral and bacterial infections. Again, it stimulates gently, and for some people and some conditions it may not be enough. For others, a gentler approach will be more effective as well as safer. A diaphoretic, chamomile gently opens the pores of the skin and helps lower fevers.
Chamomile treats a wide range of respiratory conditions, including asthma, bronchitis, wheezing, coughs, sinusitis, and pharyngitis. Think about that initial “Ahhh!” response to the very thought of chamomile. “Ahhh!” relaxes and opens our lungs and our entire respiratory tract. Calming all of our muscles, including the involuntary ones, it is anti-spasmodic. This lets it help us stop coughing and wheezing, and it also treats colic and irritable bowel, which used to be called “spastic colon.”
That same all-systems “Ahhh!” indicates how soothing chamomile is. It soothes the mucous membranes and heals inflammation. This allows chamomile to treat gastritis, ulcerative colitis, stomach ulcers, and all conditions of inflammation in the gastrointestinal and respiratory systems. Chamomile is also both carminative and anti-nausea. Because it can lower the acidity in the stomach, chamomile is an excellent remedy for heartburn. In addition, it inhibits the Helicobacter pylori bacteria, which contribute to heartburn in some people and can also cause stomach ulcers. Chamomile further aids digestion by gently stimulating bile production. At the same time, it helps profoundly with bile reflux gastritis.
Researchers are studying chamomile as a possible anti-cancer agent. It seems to prevent cancer cells from growing and causes cell death in cancer cells while leaving normal cells unharmed. Researchers are also exploring possible uses of chamomile to prevent osteoporosis.
Topically, chamomile helps the skin and the eyes. A washcloth dipped in warm chamomile tea will both soothe generally and relieve any soreness. Chamomile also treats eczema, and recent studies have found it more effective than corticosteroid creams. Studies have also confirmed its use as a woundwort, a plant that can speed the healing of wounds. Many women use it to treat cracked nipples. Chamomile is also an effective anti-septic, so it can clean wounds and keep them safe from infection in addition to facilitating their healing.
Because it is so gentle, chamomile is often the first herb a parent will choose for an infant. Many a child drinks chamomile tea for a good night’s sleep, to soothe a tummy ache, or for help with a cold or flu. Some babies fall asleep easily while breathing in the vapors from a cup of chamomile tea resting on a nearby table.
Of course, the preparation also affects the strength of the remedy. A weak tea is gentler than a strong infusion or a tincture, and chamomile works well in all of these forms.
While German chamomile is used most often, Roman chamomile has the same properties and can be used interchangeably with its German cousin.
Gentle as chamomile is, it can cause allergic reactions in some people with ragweed allergies. Many people with ragweed allergies can enjoy chamomile without problems, but some cannot. Obviously, if you’re allergic to chamomile, you’ll do better to use other herbs instead.
Herbs tend to potentiate other herbs and medications that treat the same conditions. As a nervine, chamomile can increase the effects of pain medicines and sleeping pills unpredictably. It is better not to combine nervine herbs with sedative allopathic medicine. Similarly, use caution if you take chamomile while on psychopharmaceuticals.
Nervines can, however, sometimes help people wean themselves from these drugs. If you’re using herbs that way, observe yourself carefully and go slowly and cautiously. Similarly, observe chamomile’s effects on you and assess whether this is an herb you should take before driving or using power tools. For some people, it may be gentle enough not to impair their ability to drive or use potentially dangerous equipment, while for others, it may cause enough fatigue that they should avoid those activities after taking it.
Opinions vary on whether chamomile is safe in pregnancy. It is safe to use during lactation, and may even help with milk production.
This article is reprinted from the June issue of Natural Herbal Living Magazine.