Chamomile is a common option among the tea box choices at the local supper club, on the coffee shop chalkboard, and in your aunt's cupboard, but one that I used to choose as a last option. Back then, I didn't find the tea's flavor profile as exciting as ginger or jasmine. It really wasn't until I learned more about humble chamomile that its value became apparent, and I began to appreciate its unique and complex taste.
Chamomile, or camomile, is from the Asteracea family of plants; of which there are two slightly different species: Anthemis nobilis (Common Chamomile) and Matricaria chamomile (German Chamomile). Its name is derived from the Greek words “kamai” (ground) and “melon” (apple) because of its apple scent. The part of the plant that is most commonly used is the delicate yellow and white flowers. For a tea infusion, they are steeped in hot water from anywhere from ten minutes (light infusion) to eight hours (long, mineral rich infusion). A long infusion of chamomile produces higher calcium content.
In the Middle Ages, chamomile was considered one of the Nine Sacred Herbs. In those days, monks would line the beds of the ill with the blossoms to inspire rest and healing, as chamomile has proven to be a valuable aid in both sleep and caring for the sick.
This common herbal tea is far from ordinary. Chamomile is a great benefit to digestive health, the nervous system, the skin and tissues, and women's health. Its taste is a complex blend of sweet and bitter. In herbal energetics, is an aromatic bitter, pungent and sweet, and all of these flavors hold a key to the herb's medicinal actions.
Chamomile is most valuable for its many supportive effects on the digestive system. From gas and bloating, to inhibiting Candida overgrowth, this herb shines in relieving various GI tract issues. Chamomiles secret super power is its ability to help restore gut flora; when taken with Acidophilus, it increases the colon's ability to heal after a Candida overgrowth. It helps shuttle toxins out of the body when harmful bacteria dies off. It also reduces inflammation and speeds healing in the gut.
A cup of chamomile tea before meals stimulates digestion and its slightly bitter taste releases bile from the liver/gallbladder to help properly digest food. If gas and bloating is an issue, its carminative and anti-spasmodic effects helps relax muscles of the GI tract and squelch gas quickly. Chamomile decreases hydrochloric acid production when stomach acid is in excess and relieves heartburn. However, this herb should not be taken for those who are already low in stomach acid as it will further decrease acid levels.
Chamomile speeds the healing of mucous membranes in the stomach and colon, is ulcer-protectant and is a demulcent that soothes irritated internal tissues of the body. It aids in gastritis and is known as the “Band-Aid” for the stomach. It is no wonder chamomile tea is offered in so many restaurants!
Perhaps chamomile is most well-known attribute is its aid in sleep and relaxation. Chamomile is an excellent remedy for anxiety associated with high blood pressure and stomach distress. It's the tea to reach for when there is a sour or nervous stomach. It is relaxing to the nervous system, and helps open circulatory vessels for better blood flow. This nervine tonic helps the body relax and prepare for sleep and is great for insomnia accompanied by high blood pressure and GI distress.
Skin and Tissue:
The tea and flower oil from chamomile also make a great wash for irritated, dry, red and blotchy skin because of the herb’s emollient properties. Emollients soothe tissues on the outside of the body, such as the skin and mucous membranes. Chamomile also has been helpful assisting with sciatica due to its calming effect on smooth muscle tissue. It’s potent anti-inflammatory properties have also benefitted slipped disc and gout.
In pregnancy, women drink the tea to relieve nausea and morning sickness and it is effective for relieving colic and acid reflux in babies (just like gas in adults). It is safe for children and is specifically helpful in soothing for teething babies with gastrointestinal and emotional distress, as well as hysteria in children. In pregnancy, it is not recommended to drink more than two cups per day because it also has stimulating effects on the uterus. Chamomile is great for easing PMS (premenstrual syndrome) accompanied with nervousness, and promotes the start of the menstrual flow while reducing uterine pain.
It's time to take this herb out of the tea box and appreciate chamomile for the complex and medicinal herb it is! Both the tea blossoms and tincture extract are available at Human Nature this April.
Eich, Kathy. Make Your Way to Being an Herbalist. Red Root Mountain Publications. First Printing: 2014. pp. 140-141
Hoffman, David. The New Holistic Herbal. Element, Inc. Rockport, MA: 1992. pp 190-91
Tierra, Michael. Planetary Herbology. Lotus Press. Twin Lakes, WI: 1988. pp 358-359