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.
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.
Anti-inflammatory herbs reduce inflammation in the body. There are different systems in the body that anti-inflammatory plants target. For example for the gastrointestinal tract chamomile, fenugreek and meadowsweet are useful. For the musculoskeletal system rosehips, turmeric and celery seed are useful. For inflammation against immune mediated inflammation gotu kola (centella asiatica), rehmannia (rehmannia glutinosa) and feverfew (tanacetum parthenium) can be useful.Antimicrobial
Antimicrobials are herbs that interfere with the proliferation and life-cycle of microbes; bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Examples include Thyme leaf (Thymus vulgaris), Echinacea (Echinacea species), Elderberry (Sambucus nigra).Antispasmodic
Antispasmodic plants reduce or relieve smooth muscle spasm. They can be helpful for an array of issues including menstrual cramps. Also known as spasmolytics, these plants include aniseed (Pimpinella anisum), blue cohosh (caulophyllum thalictroides), cramp bark (viburnum opulus) and lavender (Lavandula angustofolia).Antitussive
Antitussive is a substance that reduces the amount of, or severity of, coughing. Licorice, peppermint and bupleurum are examples of this.Carminatives
Carminative herbs are high in essential oils and help ease digestion by relieving gas, spasms and cramps. Examples include Aniseed (Pimpinella anisum), Fennel seed (Foeniculum vulgare) and Peppermint leaf (Mentha piperita).Cholagogues and choleretics
Cholagogues promote the production of bile in the liver. A cholereticis a type of cholagogue that promotes the release of bile from the gall bladder into the duodenum. Cholagogues have an alterative and laxative effect. Cholagogues are contra-indicated if there is acute liver failure, obstructive jaundice, painful gallstones or cholecystitis. Examples include Celandine leaf (Chelidonium majus), Barberry root (Berberis vulgaris), Dandelion root and leaf (Taraxacum officinalis root), and Blue Flag root (Iris versicolor).Diaphoretics
Diaphoretics are herbs that cause sweating by increasing circulation in the periphery of the body. Usually used to help to relieve fevers, some examples are Yarrow aerial parts (Achillea millefolium), Elder flowers (Sambucus niger), Ginger root (Zingiber officinalis).Laxatives
Laxative herbs are those that stimulate or promote bowel movements. There are different types of herbs; gentle aperients, like dandelion root (taraxacum officinalis), that have a mild effect; bulk-forming laxatives, like Flaxseed (Linum usitatissimum), that increase the water and bulk of the stool; stimulant laxatives is Senna leaf (Senna alexandria) that invigorate the muscles of the lower bowel to create a stronger motion.Nervines
Nervines are herbs that soothe the nervous system and have a calming effect on the emotions. Examples include Oatstraw flowering tops (Avena sativa), passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), Lavender (Lavandula officinalis), St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum), Rosemary leaf (Rosmarinus officinalis), and Gotu Kola leaf (Centella asiatica).Sedative
A sedative is a substance that reduces as activity, particularly in the nervous system and decreases nervous tension. It may alleviate pain, anxiety or spasm and induce sleep. Sedatives include Californian poppy (eschscholzia californica), hops (humulus lupulus), true unicorn (aletris farinosa), and valerian (valeriana officinalis).Stomachic
Stomachic herbs promote the appetite or assist digestion, for example psyllium husk is a bulk laxative that supports the digestive tract.Vulneraries
Vulneraries are wound-healing herbs used internally and externally. Astringent herbs such as Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) and Shepherd’s Purse leaf (Capsella bursa-pastoris) directly stop bleeding and promote the formation of an eschar (scab). Mucilaginous herbs such as Plantain leaf (Plantago lanceolata) and Selfheal leaf (Prunella vulgaris) soothe inflammation. Some vulneraries are used internally to speed tissue healing, including Marigold flower (Calendula officinalis), Plantain leaf (Plantago lanceolata), Selfheal leaf (Prunella vulgaris), and Marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis).
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.
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.
Chamomile is an annual plant with an erect, many branched stem growing to a height of 10–80 cm. The long and narrow leaves are bi- to tripinnate. The flower heads form separately at the end of each branching stem, they have a diameter of 10–30 mm, and they are pedunculate and heterogamous.
The golden yellow tubular florets with 5 teeth are 1.5–2.5 mm long, ending always in a glandulous tube. The 11–27 white petals are 6–11 mm long, 3.5 mm wide, and arranged concentrically. The roots are thin and spindle-shaped only penetrating flatly into the soil.
The receptacle is 6–8 mm wide, flat in the beginning and conical, cone-shaped later, hollow—the latter being a very important characteristic of true chamomile that can be used to discern between the other chamomiles and pineapple weed (which are often confused). True chamomile is also without paleae. The fruit is a yellowish brown achene.
- Scented mayweed
- German chamomile
- Sweet false chamomile
- Wild chamomile
- Ground apple (Eng)
- Kamillenblüten (Ger)
- Feldkamille (Ger)
- Fleur de camomile (Fr)
- Matricaire (Fr)
- Camomilla (Ital)
- Karpurapushpa (Sanskrit)
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.
Chamomile may weakly effect the viability of certain medications due to its mildly inhibiting effects upon liver enzymes (1).
- Fresh of dried herb
- Fluid extract
- Essential oil
- Topical: Cream and ointment
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
- 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.
- 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.
Chamomile is native to southern and eastern Europe. It thrives in disturbed areas, meadows and fields.
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.
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.
- Chamomile is easy to grow, and a great plant for attracting insects and bees into your garden.
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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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).
- 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).
- 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).