BOTANICAL NAME: Matricaria chamomilla L.
Plant Family: Asteraceae
Chamomilla recutita , Matricaria recutita, Matricaria suaveolens.2
Note: Chamaemelum nobile or Anthemis nobilis is also commonly known as chamomile, however it is a different plant than Matricaria chamomilla L.1
Chamomile is a gentle herb known throughout most of the world which has been used continually for many centuries. It is often ingested as a tea to calm the nervous system and the digestive tract, and is mild enough to be administered to babies with colic. Chamomile is soothing to irritated skin and membranes, and is often found in lotions and hair products. Other studies illuminate this plant's potential to assist in healing wounds and soothing gastrointestinal conditions.4
Members of the Asteraceae family, these aromatic herbaceous plants have white daisy like flowers and scent reminiscent of apples or pineapple. In fact, the common name "chamomile" is derived from the Greek word kamaiwhich translates to "on the ground" and melon which means apple. Accordingly, the Spanish name Manzanilla, means "little apple."5 M. chamomilla is an annual that can grow up to 24 inches whereas the similar C. nobile is a perennial low growing groundcover growing no more than 10 inches high.6,7 M. chamomilla is native to Europe and western Asia.
CULTIVATION AND HARVESTING
This herb prefers full sun, and light, sandy, and moist soil. It is often found along roadsides and can become rather weedy. M. chamomilla needs a fair amount of water and a brief cool season6 and thus doesn't grow well in tropical or arid environments. Thus, most chamomile is currently cultivated in areas which provide these conditions such as Argentina, Belgium, Bulgaria, Egypt, Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Russia.6
Harvest when the flowers are in bloom. Flowers may be picked by hand or with a "chamomile rake" which is a tool developed for this type of harvesting.7 The whole plant may be used, yet the flowers are the most potent.
HISTORY AND FOLKLORE
Chamomile was used in ancient Egypt and was given as an offering to their gods.5 Chamomile has been utilized extensively in Europe as somewhat of a panacea which supported digestive health. Common preparations were teas, baths and sitzbaths, gargles, inhalations, and compresses. Germans refer to this herb as alles zutraut meaning 'capable of anything.'6 Matricaria chamomilla and Chamaemelum nobile are similar and have been traditionally used interchangeably to some degree, although differences in taste and action have been noted. Additionally, other species such as pineapple weed or M. matricaroides, (referred to as manzanilla in Spanish, however this name may refer to anyone of 'the chamomiles'), which grow in the desert southwest of the U.S. and in Mexico, have similar uses. 8 In the Mexican folkloric tradition, manzanilla was used to support healthy respiratory function and for soothing the stomach and easing digestion.9 In the highlands of southern Mexico, the Tzeltal Maya make a chamomile tea containing an orange and a lime leaf to lift the mood.10
Native Americans have used this and related species since their introduction to the Americas, often utilizing the entire plant. The Aleut drank teas to alleviate gas, and also considered the plant a cure-all. Drinking the tea was a Cherokee trick for "regularity." The Kutenai and Cheyenne got creative, the former making jewelry and the later, perfume, out of the pulverized dry flowers.11
Chamomile has magical implications for attracting money and, accordingly, as a hand rinse for gamblers needing good luck.12 Cosmetically, chamomile has also been used as a rinse for accentuating highlights and lightening blonde hair.6 Topically, this herb has an emollient and sedative effect and is softening and soothing irritated skin.15 It has also been used as a perfume and flavoring agent for liqueurs such as Benedictine and vermouth.
According to an herbalist Matthew Becker, the type of person who responds best to chamomile is one "who complains often…for fretful children…and for adults who act like children." Chamomile soothes the liver and is a gentle yet effective sedative.13 The genus name Matricaria stems from the Latin word matrix meaning 'womb' hinting at its therapeutic effects in women. Chamomile is indeed a superior medicinal for women13,14 having what Rosemary Gladstar describes as "soft power" to assuage stress and tension. She suggests not only sipping chamomile tea while bathing in it, but also tucking a chamomile sachet under the pillow at night to insure a restful sleep.14
FLAVOR NOTES AND ENERGETICS
Flavor: Slightly bitter, sweet, aromatic.2
Tonic, anodyne, carminative, sedative,5,16 stomachic, laxative, diaphoretic, sedative,16,6 emmenagogic,6 anxiolytic3
According to German Commission E: antiphlogistic, musculotropic, promotes wound healing, deodorant, stimulates skin metabolism.19
According to herbalist, Paul Bergner, chamomile is rare in its qualities of being both a bitter digestive tonic and a relaxant/sedative, meaning that it has both the ability to tone the digestive organs and at the same time relax the nervous system.13
USES AND PREPARATIONS
Flower dried as a tea, tincture, or powdered and encapsulated.
Fresh plant tincture
The flower contains 0.24%–1.9% bright blue volatile oil 28 terpenoids and 36 flavanoids.4 Flavone derivatives include apigenen, quercetin, patuletin as glucosides, and sesquiterpenes including alpha-bisabolol and its oxide azulenes such as matricin (which is converted to chamazulene).4,17,18 C. nobile contains less chamazulene than M. chamomilla.4
Approved by the German Commission E to soothe skin and mucous membranes and supporting gastrointestinal health.19 One study showed that the flavonoids are absorbed deep into the skin layers thus pointing to the effectiveness of topical application. Another controlled, bilateral, comparative study of 161 patients revealed the efficacy of a chamomile ointment as a soothing agent for skin.20
Specific: Persons with allergies to other members of the Asteraceae family should exercise caution with chamomile. The infusion should not be used near the eyes.
General: We recommend that you consult with a qualified healthcare practitioner before using herbal products, particularly if you are pregnant, nursing, or on any medications.
- United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service, Beltsville Area Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Accessed at http://www.ars-grin.gov/cgi-bin/npgs/html/taxon.pl?40944#synon June 9, 2014.
- American Herbal Products Association Botanical Identity References Compendium. Accessed on June 11, 2014.
- Amsterdam JD, Li Y, Soeller I, Rockwell K, Mao JJ, Shults J. Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of Matricaria recutita (Chamomile) extract therapy for generalized anxiety disorder. _J Clin Phsycopharmaco_l. 2009;29: 378-382
- Srivastava J.K, Shankar E, Gupta S. Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future. Mol Med Report. Nov 1, 2010; 3(6): 895–901.
- Grieve M. A Modern Herbal. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. Accessed at http://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/n/nettle03.html on June 11, 2014.
- Foster, S. Herbal Renaissance. Utah: Peregine Smith Books; 1984.
- Hartung, T. Growing 101 Herbs that Heal. North Adams: Storey Publishing; 2000.
- Moore M. Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West. Santa Fe. New Mexico: The Museum of New Mexico Press; 1989.
- Moore M. Los Remedios: Traditional Herbal Remedies of the Southwest. Santa Fe. New Mexico: The Museum of New Mexico Press; 1989.
- Carod FJ1, Vázquez-Cabrera C. A transcultural view of neurological and mental pathology in a Tzeltal Maya community of the Altos Chiapas. [Article in Spanish] Rev Neurol. 1996 Jul;24(131):848-54.
- Moerman, D.E. 1998. Native American Ethnobotany. Accessed at http://herb.umd.umich.edu/ on June 9, 2014.
- Cunningham, S. Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs. Woodbury: Llewellyn Publications; 2000.
- Bergner P, Becker M. Materia Medica Intensive Seminar. Boulder, CO: North American Institute of Medical Herbalism, Inc; 2005.
- Gladstar R. Herbal Healing for Woman. New York: Fireside Publishing; 1993.
- Hampton, A. Natural Organic Hair and Skin Care. Tampa: Organica Press; 1987.
- Taylor L. Rain-tree database. Accessed at http://www.rain-tree.com/chamomile.htm#. on June 11, 2014.
- ESCOP. 1997. 'Matricariae flos.' Monographs on the Medicinal Uses of Plant Drugs. Exeter, U.K.: European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy.
- Duke J. A. Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases. Accessed at http://www.ars-grin.gov/duke/ on June 9, 2014.
- Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, Gruenwald J, Hall T, Riggins CW, Rister RS, eds. Klein S, Rister RS, trans. The Complete German Commission E Monographs Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; Boston: Integrative Medicine Communication; 1998.
- Aertgeerts, P. et al. 1985. [Comparative testing of Kamillosan cream and steroidal (0.25% hydrocortisone, 0.75% fluocortin butyl ester) and non-steroidal (5% bufexamac) dermatologic agents in maintenance therapy of eczematous diseases] [In German]. Z Hautkr 60(3):270-277.
Foster, S. CHAMOMILE: Matricaria recutita & Chamaemelum nobile. Accessed at http://www.encognitive.com/node/14720 on June 11, 2014