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Chamomile is probably the most widely used relaxing herb around the world

Chamomile

Matricaria chamomilla Asteraceae

Chamomile is used to relieve stress and anxiety-based disorders for all ages, particularly as they may affect digestion, and to reduce many menstrual complaints. It is also used directly for problems of the mouth and gums, and in steam for the upper airways.

  • How does it feel?

    First take some chamomile flowers, or a chamomile teabag and press under your nose. There is a first hit like new-mown hay, due to its coumarins, then the characteristic scented aroma of the volatile oils, unlike any kitchen herbs or spices, sometimes described as like apples, including also other coumarin contributions, a sweet, creamy vanilla bean odour with slightly heavy nut-like tones.

    Then make a strong chamomile tea (maybe two teabags per cup). Again, the familiar aroma hits you first, slightly altered by the chamazulene (a constituent formed in the steam), and comes through quickly as the familiar taste. The coumarins account for the sweet herbaceous impression and then (with the flavonoids) the significant dry astringent feeling and bitter finish.

  • What can I use it for?

    Chamomile tea is a very accessible first choice to try for indigestion, colic, flatulence and other digestive upsets, especially when these are linked to stress and nervous tension. It is also an excellent and safe tea for use with children, to relieve insomnia, colic and general anxiety.

    There is a long tradition of chamomile as a women’s remedy, and women have often found chamomile helpful with painful periods or when these are absent (and other reasons for this are excluded).

    Inhaling steam containing chamomile soothes the discomfort caused by colds, sinusitis and earache. Use 4 teaspoons of loose chamomile (or 3-4 chamomile teabags) with boiling water in a bowl. Once the tea has steeped for a few minutes put a towel over your head and place over the bowl. Breathe deeply through your nose and mouth for 5-10 minutes.

    An oil can be used externally to reduce inflammation and irritation caused by wounds or injury.

  • Into the heart of Chamomile

    The essential oil that gives chamomile flowers their characteristic aroma and flavour contains sesquiterpenes and other constituents with a range of anti-inflammatory properties. On contact with hot water, one of these, matricin, further generates a distinctive, blue volatile oil (chamazulene) that also has these properties. Chamomile also contains flavonoids including apigenin which is a particularly strong anti-inflammatory. These constituents have a particular effect on mucosal surfaces of the digestive system when swallowed, and on the airways when inhaled with steam. Chamomile has also demonstrated wound healing properties.

    Constituents of German chamomile also have antispasmodic action. These ease visceral tension, particularly where there may be bloating, cramping and other digestive symptoms.

    Chamomile also has confirmed activity in relieving anxiety. The ability of this plant to relieve psychological tension as well as underlying physiological symptoms of stress has made it one of the most effective remedies for the treatment of nervous upsets.

  • Traditional uses

    Widely used for nervous indigestion and diarrhoea, as well as for restlessness and anxiety, especially in children. Also used in steaming applications for nasal congestion and associated upper respiratory problems, and as a mouthwash for dental problems. Chamomile was a popular women’s remedy for painful and absent periods.

  • What practitioners say

    Nervous system: The anti-spasmodic portions of this herb work on the peripheral nervous system and muscles, which indirectly helps to relax the whole body, creating an overall sense of calm and relaxation. It also is likely to help with sleep. It is effective for anxiety, especially when this contributes to indigestion. It may also help with pains associated with the menstrual cycle.

    Digestive: Chamomile is indicated in digestive spasms, bloating, cramping, indigestion and colic. There is evidence that chamomile tea is helpful in blood sugar control, for example in prediabetic and diabetic conditions.

    Respiratory: As an inhalation (in steaming hot water) it is indicated in sinusitis, chronic asthma, bronchitis, hay fever and influenza. It will clear excess mucus and phlegm from the lungs in addition to bringing down inflammation and reducing muscular tension, particularly where this may be a result of infection.

    Skin: Chamomile’s anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties are useful in a range of inflammatory skin conditions. Also useful for wounds, burns, nappy rash, bites and stings. Chamomile flowers were traditionally added to children’s baths to help relax them before bed but also for soothing childhood eczema.

    Other external uses: Mouthwash for ulcers and gingivitis; gargle for sore throats; antiseptic wash for sore inflamed eyes, conjunctivitis; douche for vaginal infections including thrush, or sit in chamomile tea for cystitis, varicose ulcers and haemorrhoids. Dilute oil can also be massaged into painful, arthritic joints, migraine, trigeminal neuralgia or sciatica and used as insect repellent.

  • Research

    In a two-stage clinical trial involving outpatients with moderate-to-severe generalised anxiety disorder, over 50% who initially responded well to chamomile extract 1500mg (500mg capsule 3 times daily) were then divided into continuation therapy or placebo. Over the following 26 weeks those who switched to placebo relapsed more, and their anxiety scores increased (2).

    In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 30 subjects with orthodontic appliances were divided to take a mouthwash containing 1% chamomile extract (comparable to levels achieved in chamomile tea), a placebo, or a standard 0.12% chlorhexidine mouthwash immediately after brushing for 1 minute, in the morning and evening, for 15 days. The placebo group exhibited increases in plaque and gum bleeding. By comparison these significantly decreased in both the chamomile and the chlorhexidine group. Chamomile also reduced biofilm accumulation and bleeding in patients with gingivitis (3).

    In a single-blind, randomized, controlled clinical trial, 64 male and female subjects with type II diabetes were provided with either chamomile tea (3 g/150 mL hot water) 3 times per day immediately after meals for 8 weeks or water (32 subjects in each group). Chamomile tea significantly decreased measures of blood sugar and insulin resistance, insulin levels, and increased measures of antioxidant capacity compared with the control group (4).

  • Did you know?

    Matricaria comes from the Latin name for womb or mother and was often seen particularly to meet the needs of both women and children.

Additional information

  • Safety

    Chamomile is safe to take during pregnancy and breastfeeding. It is also extremely safe for children of all ages.

    Rare allergic reactions are reported for the use of chamomile, these are mostly when the chamomile is adulterated with unrelated flowers. People with a sensitivity or allergy to plants in the Asteraceaea (Daisy) family should avoid taking chamomile.

  • Interactions

    Chamomile may weakly effect the viability of certain medications due to its mildly inhibiting effects upon liver enzymes (1).

  • Contraindications

    None known

  • Preparation

    • Fresh of dried herb
    • Infusion
    • Tincture
    • Fluid extract
    • Hydrosol
    • Essential oil
    • Topical: Cream and ointment
  • Dosage

    Infusion: Infuse 3g of the flowers into boiling water in a lidded container (such as a tea pot) for approximately 15 minutes. Strain out the infusion and drink as a tea up to three to four times daily.

    Liquid extract (1:2) 45%: Take between 3-5 ml up to 3 times per day.

  • Plant parts used

    Flowers

  • Constituents

    • Essential oil (0.3 – 1.5%) up to 50% of sesquiterpenes (-)-a-bisabolol and its oxides A, B and C
    • bisabolonoxide A up to 25% of cis– and trans-en-yne-dicycloethers (or spiroethers)
    • matricin (up to 15%)
    • flavonoids (up to 6%) notably apigenin-7-glucoside
    • coumarins (herniarin and umbelliferone)
    • phenolic acids
    • polysaccharides (up to 10%)

    Another active constituent, the blue volatile oil chamazulene, is only generated by steam distillation of matricin. In other words, it will only appear when hot water is added to the flowers; it reaches highest levels when the tea is covered with a saucer or lid so that steam can condense and drop back into the tea.

  • Traditional energetics

    • Rasa (taste): Bitter, pungent, astringent.
    • Virya (action): Cooling.
    • Vipaka (post-digestive effect): Pungent.
    • Guna (quality): Light, dry.
    • Dosha effect: reduces pitta and kapha in excess can aggravate vata
    • Dhatu (tissue): Rasa/plasma, rakta/blood, mamsa/muscles, majja/nerve, asthi/bone.
    • Srotas (channels): Prana/respiratory, anna/digestive, majja/nervous, shukra/ reproductive.
  • Habitat

    Chamomile is native to southern and eastern Europe. It thrives in disturbed areas, meadows and fields.

  • Sustainability

    According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status: chamomile is classified as ‘least concern’ due to its widespread distribution, stable populations and no major threats.

    Habitat loss and over harvesting from the wild are two of the biggest threats faced by medicinal plant species. There are an increasing number of well known herbal medicines at risk of extinction. We must therefore ensure that we source our medicines with sustainability in mind. 

    The herb supplement industry is growing at a rapid rate and until recent years a vast majority of medicinal plant produce in global trade was of unknown origin. There are some very real and urgent issues surrounding sustainability in the herb industry. These include environmental factors that affect the medicinal viability of herbs, the safety of the habitats that they are taken from, as well as the welfare of workers in the trade.

    The botanical supply chain efforts for improved visibility (transparency and traceability) into verifiably sustainable production sites around the world is now certificated through the emergence of credible international voluntary sustainability standards (VSS). Read our article on sustainable sourcing of herbs to learn more about what to look for and questions to ask suppliers about sustainability.

  • Quality control

    Herbal Medicines are often extremely safe to take, however it is important to buy herbal medicines from a reputed supplier. Sometimes herbs bought from unreputable sources are contaminated, adulterated or substituted with incorrect plant matter.

    Some important markers for quality to look for would be to look for certified organic labelling, ensuring that the correct scientific/botanical name is used and that suppliers can provide information about the source of ingredients used in the product.

    A supplier should be able to tell you where the herbs have come from. There is more space for contamination and adulteration when the supply chain is unknown. 

  • How to grow

    • Chamomile is easy to grow, and a great plant for attracting insects and bees into your garden. 
      The seeds can be sown directly into a prepared seedbed in autumn, or indoors from March in pots. Either way, cover very thinly with a layer of vermiculite or compost as chamomile needs light to germinate.
    • When seedlings are large enough to handle, prick out into individual pots. Plant well-rooted seedlings or bought plants into light, well-drained soil in a sunny position.
    • Chamomile plants need very little care. Once established, they are fairly drought-tolerant.
    • Water pot-grown plants regularly, ensuring there is sufficient drainage so the roots are not sitting in waterlogged compost.
  • Recipe

    A ‘cup of love’ tea

    A blend of flowers bringing you some of nature’s finest love. Drink to soothe a broken heart or feed you when you just want a sip of love.

    Ingredients:

    • Chamomile flower 3g
    • Limeflower 2g
    • Marigold (calendula) petal 2g
    • Rose flower 1g
    • Lavender flower 1g
    • Licorice root 1g

    This will serve 3 cups of love.

    Method:

    • Put all of the ingredients in a pot.
    • Add 500ml/18fl oz freshly boiled filtered water.
    • Leave to steep for 10–15 minutes, then strain and let the love flow.

    Recipe from Cleanse, Nurture, Restore by Sebastian Pole

  • References

    1. Williamson, E.M., Driver, S. and Baxter, K. (2013). Stockley’s herbal medicines interactions : a guide to the interactions of herbal medicines. London: Pharmaceutical Press.
    2. Mao, J.J. et al. (2016) Long-term chamomile (Matricaria Chamomilla L.) treatment for generalized anxiety disorder: A randomized clinical trial, Phytomedicine : international journal of phytotherapy and phytopharmacology. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5646235/ (Accessed: January 12, 2023). 
    3. Panagiotou , A. et al. (2021) Role of essential oil-based mouthwashes in controlling gingivitis , Role of Essential Oil-Based Mouthwashes in Controlling Gingivitis in Patients Undergoing Fixed Orthodontic Treatment. A Review of Clinical Trials. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/355194339_Role_of_Essential_Oil-Based_Mouthwashes_in_Controlling_Gingivitis_in_Patients_Undergoing_Fixed_Orthodontic_Treatment_A_Review_of_Clinical_Trials (Accessed: January 12, 2023). 
    4. Rafraf , M., Asghari-Jafarabadi, M. and Zemestani, M. (2014) Effectiveness of chamomile tea on glycemic control and serum lipid profile in patients with type 2 diabetes, Journal of endocrinological investigation. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25194428/ (Accessed: January 12, 2023). 
Aromatic
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitter
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Cooling
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Hot
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilaginous
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resinous
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
Salty
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
Sharpness
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
Sweet
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

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