| What is it?
In herbal medicine it is the dried flowers of Chamomile, an annual, wispy plant that grows all over the world. The name Chamomile comes from Greek where it means ‘Earth apple’. Chamomile’s Latin name comes from the word Mater, meaning both mother and womb.
How has it been used?
Chamomile is able to relieve intestinal cramping and at the same time induce relaxation. It can be very good for digestive disturbances from infant colic to adult indigestion and everything in between.
Inhaling the steam from a strong and hot chamomile infusion is an old treatment for hay fever and skin and eye infections have been treated with chamomile compresses and ‘washes’ by many cultures for many centuries.
Strong chamomile teas have been used for both headaches and migraines around the world and Chamomile is considered in European herbal medicine to be one of the most reliable treatments for menstrual cramps.
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Science on Chamomile
Chamomile has had a number of excellent studies in recent years, some highlights as follows:
~ 12 people who were undergoing cardiac catheterization took one strong cup of Chamomile tea just before this catheterization procedure that is infamous for its ability to cause pain and anxiety. 10 of the 12 fell into a deep sleep during the process (Gould L, Reddy RCV, Gomprecht RF: J Vlin Pharmacol 1973;13:475-479).
~ A double-blind study on babies approximately 3 weeks of age with severe colic showed that a tea containing chamomile was significantly better than placebo and a number of the treated babies had a complete resolution of the colic (Weizman Z, Alkrinawi S, Goldfarb D et al. J Pediatrics 1993;122(4):650-652).
~ A combination of Chamomile and pectin was shown in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study to be significantly better than placebo in the resolution of acute, uncomplicated diarrhoea (De La Motte S, Bose-O'Reilly S, Heinisch M et al. Arzneim-Forsch 1997;47(11):1247-1249)
~ Chamomile extract in cream form was compared against steroidal and non-steroidal preparations in the treatment of eczema and was found to be as effective as a mild hydrocortisone cream and superior to the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agent (5% bufexamac) and a glucocorticoid preparation: 0.75% fluocortin butyl ester (Aertgeerts P, Albring M, Klaschka F et al. Z Hautkr 1985;60(3):270-277).
~ Chamomile creams have shown benefit in treating eczema, varicose eczema and varicose ulcers in several trials. Standardised Chamomile cream showed mild superiority over 0.5% hydrocortisone cream in medium atopic eczema - the study was partially 'blinded' in that the patient treated one half of their body with the steroidal cream and the other half with the Chamomile cream with the two creams being otherwise identical in appearance (Patzelt-Wenczler R, Ponce-Poschl E: Eur J Med res 5(4):171-175, 2000)
~ Laboratory studies with Chamomile show that its essential oil (bisabalols and chamazulene) contain potent anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and anti-spasmodic actions.
Safety of Chamomile
Given how widely Chamomile is consumed in the world there are exceptionally few reports of adverse reactions and Chamomile can be said to be extremely safe for the great majority of people. However a very few people will find that they have a mild allergy to Chamomile and that getting their skin in contact with the herb will cause itching or a rash or drinking the tea will cause some moderate swelling or discomfort. Chamomile tincture will almost certainly not cause an allergic reaction even in someone who cannot drink the tea as it appears to be the pollen in the plant that are the problem (which do not remain present in the tincture)
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Being such a' common' herb Chamomile is usually rather under-estimated but it is marvellous how quickly Chamomile can give relief when used in the right way. (I've given a few recipes below by way of example)
Give someone with the bloated, dyspeptic misery of indigestion a strong cup of chamomile tea; get them to sip it whilst it is hot so all the essential oils are flooding into the tight muscles of the gut and watch what happens by the time the cup is empty.
I've had many other such immediate opportunities to see just how marvellous a medicine Chamomile is when needed; how as little as a tsp of Chamomile tea has successfully relaxed babies whose colic was previously inconsolable, how a cloth soaked in the cooled tea can give instant relief to the awful pain of an eye infection, how tension and stress can melt away in all kinds of people with her soft touch.
Chamomile is not the medicine that you have to take day after day to build an effect, when you get the form and dose of it right, it will be there when you need it. Chamomile is an example of a herb that is widely overlooked in serious health problems by virtue of it being in such plain sight!
For anyone who was studying herbal medicine or just wanted to learn more about this great plant ally I warmly recommend the practice of taking a good strong cup of Chamomile tea (or a tsp of its tincture) and, with a quiet and open mind, then feeling for yourself its unique 'action' i.e. how the plant actually does things in the body. If you do this with an open mind I think that you will find Chamomile will sing you quite the charming lullaby! Even if its introduction will be insistent, aromatic & palpable, it will soon place a blanket of comfort over wherever you are most sore or vulnerable.
The person who engages strongly with the presence of Chamomile and expects to carry on exactly as they were before has, like many before them, entirely underestimated it. Chamomile will do many things to release tension and create calm but it will not come into your home and do nothing. Chamomile is the great mother herb, the herb we use for our cherished infants with their fevers, their teething, their awful colic and their distress. Forget thinking you will get anwhere with a placebo in such cases, what actually works is what we have kept throughout the many centuries - and that definitely includes Chamomile!
Chamomile combines perfectly with Fennel for indigestion and sore eyes, with Cramp bark for menstrual pain or locked muscles, with Lemon balm for restless children and with Skullcap for anxiety and insomnia.
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Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Chamomile is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B. There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?
The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are more hot or cool and at the same time more dry or damp; more info about this here.
There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Chamomile can particularly offer its benefits when a relaxing action is needed in the 'cycle of healing' - something that is discussed here and shown in a chart here.
Strong Chamomile tea
To make a good strong Chamomile tea, take (per person) 2-3 heaped tsps (just a little less for a child) of fresh, fragrant, dried Chamomile flowers, pour over about a cup of boiling water then leave the herb to steep for about 10 minutes before straining and drinking.
You need more time than normal tea to make a good herbal tea and in the case of a herb like Chamomile you especially need to keep it well covered while it is brewing. Many of the therapeutic essential oils in Chamomile are released into steam by the hot water but so long as the tea is covered the oils will drop back into the water where they can now be absorbed by drinking the tea.
Chamomile tea will get somewhat bitter when you make it good and strong like this. That quality of bitterness is not hard to get used to as you might think and you should know that the cause of it is in itself something that conveys healing and soothing to inflamed muscles or digestion. By the same token you will not interfere with the action of the tea by adding honey and, especially if children are the recipients, I would consider this a fairly necessary step. Honey does blend especially well with chamomile.
Super-Strong Chamomile tea
This is for when your system is in a bad way and you need a potent anti-inflammatory but don’t want to use drugs. Do not underestimate how much chamomile can help in these cases; it can be remarkably pain relieving, but it is all about the dose, i.e. you have to get enough of it to work.
To make a super strong tea you basically take a small handful of the Chamomile (about 8-10 tsps) place them in a jar with a sealable lid, pour over boiling water (about 5-600mls would be ideal) seal and cover with a towel. You then leave the tea until the water has completely cooled down and all the essential oils that turned into steam have been released back into the tea as a liquid. Taking a dose of about 100-200mls (i.e. half to one small tea-cup) of this super-strong tea will convey potent anti-inflammatory and healing benefits. Don't underestimate it; I expect you will find it at least as powerful as pharmaceutical drugs without any of their side effects. The downside is that it will taste extremely bitter and that may be too much for some people to tolerate. You can certainly mix in some honey at the beginning stage when you are adding the hot water if that will make the difference. Likewise if you prefer you can drink it cool or gently warm it to a more drinkable temperature by adding some hot water to the tea.
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Tight, inflammatory muscles respond rapidly to Chamomile both when used internally as a tea and likewise when used externally as a compress.
Make a tea as above, strong or super-strong depending on how severe a problem is and how large an area that needs to be treated.
To make the compress simply soak a flannel or some kind of cloth in the tea after you have strained it off. Lightly squeeze the cloth until it is what is called ‘wringing wet’ (this means that if you squeezed or twisted it at all you would get a lot more liquid out but it will only slowly drip if you just hold it up).
For a cold compress let the tea cool to room temperature or you can even place it in the refrigerator if you have a very ‘hot’ condition that you want to alleviate. The cool, soaked cloth is then placed over the affected areas until the body heat brings the compress back to normal temperature. In this process, much heat and inflammation is drawn out and there can be considerable relief from pain and stiffness.
For a hot compress you simply use the tea after it has been freshly made (and is still hot but not burning) the 'wringing-wet' compress is placed over the affected area and then covered with a towel to keep the heat in. This can be taken to the next level by putting a heated wheat bag or a hot water bottle on top of that towel which is covering the compress. In this method the Chamomile and the heat combine to get in and provide some deep relief to aches and pains that are of a more chronic nature. When the compress has cooled down to body temperature you are ‘done’ and can take it off or repeat the treatment with a freshly soaked cloth and another dry towel (and re-heated heat source if a longer treatment is required)
Alternating hot & cold compresses
In this method you only use the Chamomile in the hot part of the compress and then simply use cold water from the fridge or that has had ice-cubes added to it for the cold part of the compress. Always start with the hot compress, place it over the affected part of your body until you feel the heat has penetrated well into the joint or muscle and then immediately put the cold compress on that has been soaked to be wringing-wet with water from the fridge or water that has had ice-cubes added to it. This needs to be kept on until you can feel the chill penetrating into your sore part at which point go straight back to using the hot compress or at least putting a hot heat-source where you had just been making things cold. People who get a lot of relief with this from things like rheumatic joints may want to do the cycle more than once e.g. hot-cold-hot-cold-hot but so long as you finish by warming rather than chilling the body you won't go wrong.
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Excerpt from Felter & Lloyd's Kings Dispensatory from 1898
Chamomile is an important remedy with us, particularly in affections of young children. It has two particular specific fields of action—one upon the nervous system, subduing nervous irritability, and the other upon the gastro-intestinal tract, relieving irritation. Various painful conditions are relieved by Chamomile infusion. Among these may be mentioned earache, rheumatism, catarrhal affections of the bowels, ears, nose, and eyes. A Chamomile patient is restless, irritable, discontented, and impatient, and, if a child, is only appeased when continually carried.
In pregnancy, it relieves nervous twitching, cough, false pains, etc., accompanied by great unrest. Either small or large doses of Chamomile are of value in amenorrhoea, with sense of weight and heaviness in the womb, and bloating of the abdomen, accompanied with sudden nervous explosions of irascibility. The infusion relieves dysmenorrhoea with labor-like pains and tends to prevent the formation of clots. Externally it has been used as a wash for leucorrhoea, mammary abscess and catarrhal conjunctivitis
Please understand that I cannot personally advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in my clinic but ideas
on how you might find a good herbalist in your area are here.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!
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