Chamomile is a small daisy like herbaceous plant in the Asteracea family that typically refers to either Roman or English Chamomile, Anthemis nobilis, or German Chamomile, Matricaria chamomilla. It typically grows low to the ground in full sun to light shade in well draining, lightly sandy soil. There are many varietals of chamomile, but typically it has procumbent stems with bipinnate, alternating, feathery leaves similar to that of dill. It has solitary, summer blooming terminal flower heads, which are the part collected for medicinal and aromatherapy use. Each flower head is cone-shaped, composed of dense-packed yellowish-green corollas surrounded by white ray florets. It starts easily from seed and does well in containers and in windowsills. It’s ready to harvest about a month after the seeds germinate. Some varieties, such as German chamomile, is a annual herb, where as the Roman chamomile is a perennial. It’s known to be a “physician plant” – planting chamomile to a garden bed with ailing plants is said to help revive them.
The small flowers of the chamomile plant can be prepared as an infusion to help with anxiety, cramping, headaches, nervousness, and to suppress nausea. It is often used as a sleep aide, and can help with nightmares in children. It’s an anti-spasmodic, carminative, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antiseptic, and a vulnerary herb. It soothes the digestive tract and eases indigestion, gastritis, flatulence, and dyspeptic pain. It also is a useful herb for mixing cold and flu formulas because of it’s soothing, healing properties and pleasant taste. It can also be used as a mouthwash or a gargle to help soothe sore throats, or in a steam bath to sooth irritated airways. Chamomile flower cream or compresses are soothing and speed recovery in cases of inflammation, eczema, and minor wounds. It’s anti-inflammatory properties can also help externally with diaper rash, urinary infections, rheumatic joint pain, and neuralgia. It’s a great bath additive for sitz baths German and Roman Chamomile have similar medicinal properties, but Roman Chamomile is more useful as a digestive aid, external soothing wash, and aromatic, where German Chamomile is more useful as a nervine and for anxious conditions, sitz baths, external soothing and healing washes, and toothaches. Matricaria discoidea, a variety of Chamomile known as Pineapple Weed and distinctive because of it’s lack of ray-florets (think, chamomile flowers without the small white petals), is also used medicinally for gastrointestinal distress, infected sores, fevers, and postpartum anemia. The leaves are sweet-scented and smell faintly of pineapple when crushed.
Chamomile has been used since ancient times, and was taken by the Egyptians to help fight off reoccuring malaria. The Ancient Greeks, Romans, and Aryuvedic healers used Chamomile to treat headaches and kidney, liver, and bladder problems. The Germans have used it historically to treat menstrual cramps, encourage delayed menstruation, and ease upset digestion. Immigrants introduced chamomile to North America, where it was commonly used as a poultice to increase wound healing and prevent gangrene. The early American colonists also used chamomile to ease digestion, cure malaria and typhus, and soothe menstrual cramps. It was considered a useful women’s herb as an emmenagogue, to stop excessive fetal kicking, false labor cramps, end milk production, and ease infant colic. Taken as a tea, it makes a light amber colored infusion with lightly floral and earthy notes. A infusion of the flowers can also be used to lighten the hair and added to baths to heal sun and wind damaged skin, and a cream made with the flowers, or a tea bag placed on the eyes can reduce puffiness and dark under-eye circles. Moroccan Chamomile, Ormenis mixta, is the flower used in Chamomile essential oils.
1-2 tablespoons per cup of water, infused for 10-15 minutes, taken three times a day or as often as desired. As a tincture, 2-4ml taken three times daily. Take after meals for digestive issues. As a mouthwash for gingivitis, a stronger infusion should be made, with about 1/2 cup flowers per cup of water. Combine with ginger for menstrual cramps and digestive issues.
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