Spring is my favourite time of year. I love smelling and seeing the flowers as they bloom. So, I thought it would be fitting to discuss a well-known medicinal flower this month: Chamomile (Matricaria recutita).
“Chamomile” comes from the Greek khamaemelon meaning “earth apple”, in reference to its fruity fragrance. If you ever come across a chamomile lawn, follow the advice of ancient herbalists: "Like a chamomile bed, the more it is trodden, the more it will spread". The botanical name of 'Matricaria' is derived from the Latin word for 'womb' because of its affinity for women’s conditions.
The Egyptians dedicated chamomile to the sun and worshipped it above all other herbs for its healing properties. Monks grew chamomile abundantly in their gardens and taught the surrounding villagers how to use it in a steamer to open blocked noses, for headaches, and sinus aches, to soothe rashes and for bites and grazes. In Victorian times it symbolized “energy in adversity”. Nowadays, you might be able to order an ‘espresso’ of chamomile in Mediterranean countries.
When dealing with chamomile, two main systems should be considered: The Gastrointestinal system and the Nervous system. Chamomile influences both sensory and motor nerves. And so, it makes sense that chamomile is used for nervous tension, nervous dyspepsia, gastrointestinal spasm, IBS, flatulence, bloating, infantile colic, dysbiosis, hiatus hernia, peptic ulcer, Crohn’s and IBS.
Never forget the intrinsic link between the GUT and the brain.
It also effects the female reproductive system. Large doses of the infusion may relieve dysmenorrhoea and prevent clotting. These effects can be linked to its antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and mildly sedating properties. Chamomile also contains GABA and can help to reduce neuronal excitability throughout the nervous system.
Chamomile is particularly useful in spring time because of its anti-histaminic properties. Not only does it reduce phlegm in the ears, nose and throat but it can also reduce the cause of hay fever or allergic-asthma. Chamazulene is a constituent found in chamomile that is active in the steam form and has been found to be antiallergenic.
Research has found the constituent Chamazulene to be highly anti-inflammatory. It inhibited the formation of leukotriene B4 in neutrophils and blocked the chemical peroxidation of arachidonic acid. Even the aqueous extraction of Chamomile was seen to inhibit the release of prostaglandin E2 from lipopolysaccharides activated macrophages in vitro. The activity was due to a dose-dependent inhibition of COX-2 activity. Chamomile reduced COX-2 mRNA and protein expression without effecting COX-1 expression or activity.
Chamomile extracts demonstrate antipeptic activity in vitro. Alpha-Bisabolol inhibited ulceration that was induced by indomethacin, stress or ethanol in rats. A decrease in healing time of ulcers was also observed. The mechanism of gastroprotection may involve a reduction in oxidation and activation of ATP-sensitive potassium channels. While herbs such as licorice may be more potent in their antiulcer properties it is interesting to note that chamomile is the strongest antiacid herb and is incredibly useful in an antiulcer regime. Personally, I always like to remember chamomile when dealing with dysbiosis. If, for whatever reason, your microbiome is out of balance, drink Chamomile tea to speed up the rate of recovery for your microbiome.
How to use Chamomile
The flowers are used, and they are harvested as they open in summer.
To make an infusion, add 1-2 tsp of dry herb to 200ml boiled water for 10 minutes and cover with a flat object/lid so that the essential oils do not evaporate. A drop of essential oil in 1tsp of oil may be rubbed on inflamed skin. In a 10L bath, 50g of dry herb may be added. Add a cup of infusion to a baby’s bathtub for insomnia, colic and inflamed skin.
Have you ever tried to buy Chamomile Essential oil? You might have noticed that there are two types and quite a price gap between them. Here’s why:
German Chamomile contains more chamazulene. This gives it a deep blue colour and makes it an excellent topical anti-inflammatory. You might want to choose German Chamomile if your skin is dry, irritated or flaky. This usually occurs in conditions such as eczema, psoriasis or dermatitis. German Chamomile helps to promote healing and regeneration of damaged skin tissue.
Roman Chamomile contains more esters and has a yellow-pale blue colour. It is antifungal when used topically. It is also highly calming, and so, you might choose Roman Chamomile to help with sleep, mood-swings, headaches and migraines. In children, it may be helpful during teething and with temper tantrums and colic.
The tea may be consumed by women in their third trimester and by breastfeeding women. However, the essential oil is also a uterine stimulant, and so, it should not be used during pregnancy. Occasionally allergic reactions have been reported. This occurs when people are allergic to the Asteraceae family.