Chamomile is a delicate looking plant with a longstanding use in herbal medicine. The many health benefits of the herb were already known by ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians. There are two main types, the more popular German chamomile and the lesser known Roman chamomile. Native to Europe, settlers brought the chamomile plants to North America. The fragrant flowerheads of both species have been used as herbal remedy for thousands of years.
Well known for its mild sedative and spasmolytic effects, camomile has been traditionally used to calm frayed nerves and settle stomachs. Chamomile tea may also lower fasting blood sugar levels. With over a million cups consumed daily worldwide, chamomile tea is one of the most popular herbal teas.
The plant’s aromatic essential oil showed some antimicrobial activities. It is used topically for muscle spasms, inflammation of the skin and mucous membrane, and certain bacterial skin conditions. Further, chamomile oil plays an important role in aromatherapy. No wonder that nowadays, it can also be found in many cosmetic products.
Chamomile is the common name for several daisy-like plants of the dandelion family (Asteraceae). Two types are mainly used in herbal medicine, German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) and Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile). Both are native to Europe but were brought to North America for their many health benefits. Nowadays, the herbs grow on almost all continents. Even though they belong to different species, both herbs are used to treat the same health issues.
German chamomile is known by many names. Its botanical names are Matricaria recutita, Matricaria chamomilla or Chamomilla recutita. Commonly it is called German, Hungarian, Common, True, Blue, Wild, Sweet false or Scented chamomile, Matricaria or Scented mayweed.
Roman chamomile is botanically known as Chamaemelum nobile but was formerly classified as Anthemis nobilis. Its common names are Ground apple or English, Garden or Low chamomile. There are a few other plants that may be called chamomile, such as Moroccan chamomile (Anthemis mixta). The Moroccan variety is mostly used in cosmetics and aromatherapy.
What does the plant look like?
Although the chamomile flowers of both main varieties have white petals and yellow centres, the plants can be easily distinguished.
The German variety is an annual herb that very often self-seeds. It is an upright plant that can grow to 60 cm tall. Its branching stems bear flowers and fern-like leaves. The flowers have white petals circling a hollow, cone-shaped yellow centre.
The Roman variety is a low growing perennial with feathery leaves. The flowers are sparse compared with the German variety. Only one flower grows atop each hairy stem. The blossoms have white petals around a yellow, slightly rounded disc. Often used for ground cover, Chamaemelum nobile releases a pleasant apple scent when walked upon.
Where the name comes from?
The name is thought to come from the Greek words “chamai” (ground) and “mēlon” (apple). They relate to the low-growing herb and the apple scent of its fresh blossoms. The genus name Matricaria may be derived from the Latin word “matrix”. One of its meanings is “womb”, referring to the herb’s use to treat gynecological complaints such as menstrual cramps and PMS related discomforts.
How or what it is used for
Chamomile has been traditionally used to help with many different conditions and purposes, including:
- Mild anxiety disorders and depressions
- PMS symptoms and other menstrual ailments
- Sleep issues
- Gastrointestinal disorders
- Inflammatory conditions
- Muscle spasms
- Skin irritations and infections
- Wounds, bruises, and burns
Medicinal Properties of Chamomile
Health Canada approves its use in herbal medicine to help
- Relieve inflammatory conditions of the gastrointestinal tract
- Relieve mild digestive upset (such as dyspepsia, flatulence, bloating)
- Relieve restlessness and/or nervousness (calmative)
Drinking chamomile tea is certainly the most popular way to use this powerful herb. But there are many more possible uses besides enjoying a healthy, soothing cup of tea. Essential oil can be diffused at home. Steam vapor from flowerheads can be inhaled. Compresses can be made for wound-healing, and oil used topically to soothe skin conditions. Mouth wash can help with cavity and inflamed gums. Herbal extracts are also available and can help relieve digestive issues.
Chamomile’s healing properties come from its daisy-like flowers. They contain over 120 different components including volatile oils. The German and Roman variety produce different-colored essential oils that have different properties.
The freshly distilled oil of the German variety (Matricaria chamomila) is blue and smells smoky. Its primary constituents are alpha-bisabolol and chamazulene, belonging to the group of sesquiterpenes. Chamazulene is the reason for the characteristic blue color of the oil but cannot be found in the fresh flowers. It is formed during steam distillation. Both substances are anti-inflammatories and antioxidants. They also have some anti-bacterial properties. Additionally, alpha-bisabolol stimulates gastrointestinal tract receptors and causes smooth muscle relaxation.
Roman chamomile oil is colorless or very pale blue to pale green that turns yellow with storage. It contains less chamazulene but up to 80% esters. Esters are sometimes also anti-inflammatory but are more recognized for their strong antispasmodic actions
Chamomile is generally considered safe for most people and side effects are rare. However, it is not suitable for people with allergies to members of the daisy family, including ragweed, asters and chrysanthemums. In rare cases, irritation upon contact can be triggered. Stop use if hypersensitivity or allergic reactions occur.
Due to its bioactive components, chamomilla might potentiate the effects of anticoagulant and antiplatelet drugs as well as drugs or herbs with sedative properties. German chamomile may also act like estrogen in the body. It should be used with caution in people with a hormone-sensitive condition.
If you are pregnant, nursing or have any specific health concerns it is always recommended to check with your healthcare provider before adding herbal products or essential oils into your routine.
Pascoe Canada does not offer health or medical advice as we are not a healthcare practitioner. Please speak with your healthcare practitioner before beginning any program related to nutrition, diet, exercise, fitness, medical, and/or wellness. All content published by Pascoe Canada is developed through collaborating with licensed medical professionals and contributors. This includes text, graphics, images, and other material on the website, newsletter, and products (“Content”). This content is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The content does not substitute professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please always do your own research on whether this is for you along with your healthcare practitioner advice. Always consult your healthcare practitioner prior to use specific herbs because you might have underlined conditions needs professional care. The content is general in nature and are subject to change. It is not intended to cover all possible uses, directions, precautions, warnings, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or adverse effects.
Chamomile is one of the most widely used herbs. Its most common dosage form is a hot water infusion, known as tea. For tea, the flowers are harvested as they open and then dried. The dried chamomile flowers can be infused into hot water to make chamomile tea. The yellow flowerheads can also be used in many other forms such as herbal extracts, oils, tinctures, and creams.
Chamomile tea is a caffeine-free beverage that is traditionally used to help people relax and fall asleep. Only few clinical trails were done testing chamomile tea as sleep aid. A randomized, placebo-controlled trial in sleep disturbed postnatal women found that drinking chamomile tea helped to ease depression and sleep quality problems. Several studies have linked chamomile tea to reduced severity of menstrual cramps. A 2010 study in 80 female students suffering from dysmenorrhea showed that consuming chamomile tea for a month could reduce the pain of menstrual cramps. Women in the study also reported less anxiety and distress associated with period pain. Another clinical study in 60 patients with mastalgia concluded that chamomile extract is a well-tolerated and effective treatment for women with moderate breast pain. There is also some evidence that Matricaria recutita extract may have a moderate anti-anxiety benefit and antidepressant action, but further studies are needed.
Although best known as a muscle relaxant and antispasmodic, camomile also has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. Chamomile tea contains the antioxidant apigenin, which may help lower inflammation. This anti-inflammatory effect of the herbal tea may also promote blood sugar control. Especially when consumed with a meal, the tea helps preventing blood sugar spikes after eating. Some promising results of in test-tube and animal studies showed that chamomile extract may also reduce the risk of several types of cancer. Still, more research in humans is needed.
Chamomile’s combined anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic actions can also help with various gastrointestinal complaints. The herb is especially helpful in relieving nausea, heartburn, and stress-related flatulence. It relaxes the muscles that move food through the intestines. Studies in pre-clinical models suggest that chamomile oil inhibits Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria that can contribute to stomach ulcers. For external use, it might help with minor skin inflammations and speed wound healing. Some research has documented that it may be as effective as hydrocortisone cream for eczema. The antiseptic properties of the oil seem to be effective in certain bacterial skin diseases as well as respiratory tract inflammation. Studies indicate that inhaling steam with chamomile extract has been helpful in common cold symptoms.
Another important bioactive ingredient is apigenin. It has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anxiolytic properties. The substance binds to so-called benzodiazepine receptors in the brain that may reduce anxiety and promote sleep. This might be the reason for the anxiolytic and slight sedative effects of chamomile tea. Moreover, apigenin showed anticancer activity in pre-clinical models.
Chamomile flowers contain many more medicinal compounds including the flavonoids patuletin, luteolin, quercetin, as well as the coumarin herniarin. The most of them are found in the essential oil of the flowers. Tea brewed from camomile contains approximately 10–15% of the oils available from the flowers.
The herb has been used for centuries for its health benefits as well as in cooking. It is usually well tolerated, and side effects are rare. Extensive scientific research over the past 20 years has confirmed many of the traditional uses for the plant. Besides being enjoyed as a calming cup of tea, it offers a broad range of therapeutic uses.