There are two plants known as chamomile: the more popular German chamomile
(Matricaria recutita) and Roman, or English, chamomile (Chamaemelum
nobile). Both belong to the Asteraceae family, which also includes ragweed,
echinacea, and feverfew. And both have been used traditionally to calm frayed
nerves, to treat various digestive disorders, to relieve muscle spasms, and to
treat a range of skin conditions and mild infections. The medicinal use of
chamomile dates back thousands of years to the ancient Egyptians, Romans, and
Greeks. Chamomile has been used to treat a variety of conditions including chest
colds, sore throats, abscesses, gum inflammation (gingivitis), psoriasis, acne,
eczema, psoriasis, minor first degree burns, inflammatory bowel disease (namely,
ulcerative colitis), stomach ulcers, and children's conditions such as
chickenpox, diaper rash, and colic. While studies in people are few, animal
studies have demonstrated German chamomile's ability to reduce inflammation,
speed wound healing, reduce muscle spasms, and to serve as a mild sedative to
help with sleep. Laboratory studies have also shown some antimicrobial
properties, meaning that it may fight against a variety of infections. In
Europe, chamomile is commonly used as a digestive aid, to treat mild skin
conditions, menstrual cramps, insomnia, and as a tension
The tiny daisy-like flowers of German chamomile have white collars circling
raised, cone-shaped, yellow centers and are less than an inch wide, growing on
long, thin, light green stems. Sometimes chamomile grows wild and close to the
ground, but you can also find it bordering herb gardens. It can reach up to
three feet high. German chamomile is closely related to Roman chamomile
(Chamaemelum nobile), which, although less commonly used, has many of the
same medicinal properties.
What's It Made Of?
The dried flowers can be used to make chamomile tea. The flowers can also be
crushed and steamed so that the oil they contain, which is blue, can be
extracted and packaged separately. The oil contains ingredients that reduce
swelling and limit the growth of bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
German chamomile is available as dried flower heads, tea, liquid extract, and
How to Take It
To relieve spasms or inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract: 1 to 2 ml
(30 to 60 drops) of German chamomile liquid extract, undiluted or mixed in juice
or water, three times daily.
Tea: Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 heaping tablespoons of dried
herb, steep 10 to 15 minutes. Drink three to four times per day between meals to
relieve stomach pain, heartburn, gas, and other digestive discomforts. Tea may
also help bring on drowsiness for those having trouble sleeping.
Tincture (1:5, 45% alcohol): Take 100 to 150 drops of tincture three
times per day for gastrointestinal complaints or to aid in falling asleep.
Gargle or mouthwash: Make a tea as above, then let it cool. Gargle as
often as desired to soothe inflamed gums, sores in the mouth, or sore throat.
Inhalation: Add a few drops of essential oil of chamomile to hot water
(or use tea) and inhale the steam to calm a cough.
Bath: Use 1/4 lb of dried flowers per bath, or add 5 to 10 drops of
essential oil to a full tub of water to soothe hemorrhoids, cuts, eczema, or
Poultice: Make a paste by mixing powdered herb with water and apply to
Cream: Apply cream with a 3% to 10% crude drug chamomile content for
psoriasis, eczema, or dry and flaky skin.
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and
treating disease. Herbs, however, contain active substances that can trigger
side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For
these reasons, herbs should be taken with care, under the supervision of a
practitioner knowledgeable in the field of botanical medicine.
German chamomile is considered generally safe by the FDA. Highly concentrated
chamomile tea may cause vomiting, however, and those who are allergic to
ragweed, chrysanthemums, asters or feverfew should avoid chamomile because it is
in the same plant family. Allergic reactions are somewhat common, actually, and
may include stomach cramps, tongue thickness, swollen lips and eyes (called
angioedema), conjunctivitis (pink eye), itching, hives, throat tightness, and
even shortness of breath. The latter two symptoms are medical emergencies
(called anaphylaxis) and medical care should be sought urgently.
If you are currently being treated with any of the following medications, you
should not use German chamomile without first talking to your healthcare
Sedatives Because of its calming effects, chamomile probably
should not be taken in conjunction with sedative medications (particularly those
that belong to a class called benzodiazepines such as alprazolam and lorazepam)
Warfarin Patients taking blood-thinning medications such as
warfarin should use German chamomile only under the careful supervision of a
healthcare practitioner. Although not proven scientifically, this herb, in
theory, may enhance the effects of the medication.
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Review Date: April 2002
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Steven Dentali, PhD (April 1999),
Senior Director of Botanical Science, Rexall Sundown, Boca Raton, FL; Jacqueline
A. Hart, MD, Department of Internal Medicine, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Harvard
University and Senior Medical Editor Integrative Medicine, Boston, MA; Gary
Kracoff, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Johnson Drugs, Natick,
MA; Steven Ottariono, RPh, Veteran's Administrative Hospital, Londonderry, NH;
David Winston, Herbalist (April 1999), Herbalist and Alchemist, Inc.,
Washington, NJ; Tom Wolfe, P.AHG (April 1999), Smile Herb Shop, College Park,
MD. All interaction sections have also been reviewed by a team of experts
including Joseph Lamb, MD (July 2000), The Integrative Medicine Works,
Alexandria, VA;Enrico Liva, ND, RPh (August 2000), Vital Nutrients, Middletown,
CT; Brian T Sanderoff, PD, BS in Pharmacy (March 2000), Clinical Assistant
Professor, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy; President, Your
Prescription for Health, Owings Mills, MD; R. Lynn Shumake, PD (March 2000),
Director, Alternative Medicine Apothecary, Blue Mountain Apothecary &
Healing Arts, University of Maryland Medical Center, Glenwood, MD; Ira Zunin,
MD, MPH, MBA (July 2000), President and Chairman, Hawaii State Consortium for
Integrative Medicine, Honolulu, HI.
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guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information
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regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications
before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed