Chamomile ~ The Ubiquitous Botanical?

September 4th, 2011 § 12 comments § permalink

I don’t have any numbers, statistics, or reports, but I’d bet that chamomile is one of the most well-known herbs we use. It is sold in the most typical of grocery stores, served at restaurants and referenced in the media and literature. I remember reading about it as a child in Beatrix Potter stories.

How many people without an herbal background would recognize bupleurum, eleuthero, hyssop or damiana if they heard them? Not many. How many would recognize ‘chamomile’? Many more, even though they may not know how to pronounce it (cha-mole-y, anyone?).

Despite being commonly known, Chamomile is not just a benign little flower that tastes sweet in your cup, it packs a powerful medicinal punch. Chamomile should not be thought of in terms of what specific diseases it can be used for, because there are too many uses to list, nor is is helpful to only think of what herbs can ‘do’. After reading though my favorite herb books, I summarize the actions of chamomile as being:

  • Relaxing nervine for states of tension
  • Aromatic and bitter for regulating digestion
  • Anti-inflammatory and anti-allergy
  • Anti-microbial
  • Safe, tasty and suitable for everyone, including babies, children, pregnant women and the elderly
  • Matthew Wood says that “The fresh preparations preserve the oils, so they are more relaxing, the dried preparations are bitter and promote secretions to the stomach, G.I. and liver.”

Here are some of the chemical constituents present in chamomile and their generalized actions (mostly from Wood, but also from Simon Mills, David Hoffmann and Chanchal Cabrerra)

  • Flavanoids –  cooling and relaxing
  • Bitter sesquiterpene lactones – stimulate digestive juices
  • Volatile oils –  antipyretic, anti-spasmodic, can reduce histamine-induced inflammation
  • Mucilage – soothing, nutritious and immuno-stimulating
  • Amino acids, fatty acids and many more

Cabrerra describes volatile oils as being helpful in allergic situations. These volatile oils reduces histamine-induced reactions mostly because Mills says they inhibit contractions provoked by histamine, acetylcholine, and bradykinin. Some, if not most, volatile oils have a counter-irritant effect on the body and cause local vasodilation, bringing fresh oxygenated blood to the area, and thus stimulating a healthy healing response. This explanation of inflammation makes me view anti-inflammatory herbs are actually pro-inflammatory. Inflammation is our body’s healing response. If we value inflammation as a positive, helpful and intelligent response from the body, then we would want a pro-inflammation response.

Chamomile isn’t my go-to herb for cold and flu, but after reading more about it, I will remember to add it in to steams, baths and teas the next time I catch a cold. Who doesn’t need a relaxing, tension reducing, and GI soothing and regulating herb when your sick in bed? Not to mention that it is used for people who are acting like babies, which I, for one, admit to feeling when I am sick. The gastrointestinal tract starts with the teeth well before it reaches stomach and intestines. Chamomile has been used in Europe for centuries for treating child complaints including teething, pain, whining and fussiness. One of the main indications for homeopathic chamomile is teething.

Wood says,

“Chamomile can be used for all sorts of tension, it can be used for menstrual cramps or people with a low tolerance for pain”, including  “‘babies of any age’, petulant, self-centered, intolerant of pain or not having their way, inclined to pick quarrels, yet adverse to being touched, soothed or spoken to”.

I wish I would’ve had some chamomile candy to disperse when I was working with kids, because I have seen its effectiveness against babyish behavior. I have taken it for cramps, and although it didn’t decrease their severity, I did notice that the mental loop of negative, complaining thoughts ceased.

Aromatherapists Kathy Kevill and Mindy Green describe chamomile as an antidepressant, especially in individuals who are oversensitive, stressed out, anxious, hysterical, insomniacs or suppress anger. I think chamomile is indicated for people with a history of eating disorders, especially when digestive issues or sensitivity linger years after recovery.

Chamomile is a yellow, sunny, light herb with a depth to it. Flowers tend to ascend and disperse, but the bitterness weighs it down. It is a flower that has an affinity to the solar plexus, the middle jiao, and it is both dispersing to food stagnation and promotes coordinated movement of the digestive system due to its aromatic nature. It has been shown to speed up the healing of peptic ulcers, (Mills). The carminative properties of chamomile, with its volatile oils, helps relax the gut; at the same time, it has bitter properties that promote healthy bile flow, so that the system is not only relaxed, but keeps moving as it should (Mills).

My purely opinionated guess it that from a Chinese medical perspective, it enters the Spleen, Stomach and Liver meridians, possibly the Intestines or Lung. The Spleen and Stomach are the Earth organs, and are associated with our solar plexus, transformation and transportation of food, worry/over-thinking and with the flesh and muscles of the body – quite in alignment with the calming, relaxing and digestive properties of this herb, no? I think the Liver is involved because the Liver’s job is to circulate Qi freely around the body. When this isn’t happening efficiently, as can easily be caused by emotional upsets (especially pent-up anger or frustration), one can very easily feel stuck, tense and irritated, but luckily chamomile can release states of tension. A close cousin to chamomile and another white/yellow flower, chrysanthemum, helps calm the Liver, too.

If you remember from my previous entry about chamomile, I mentioned that Matricaria D genus name for German chamomile came from the word matrix referring to mother. Considering this, it is no surprise that chamomile is a gentle remedy for problems of the female reproductive system. I suppose it can be used in all sorts of situations, but I like to use it the best for morning sickness and nausea during pregnancy, tension during menstruation, menstrual cramps, and problems in appetite or digestion related to nervousness, your debility, or premenstrual tension. Aviva Rome, a midwife and an herbalist, also uses chamomile to relieve heartburn.

To get the most out of a simple cup of chamomile tea, steep it strong. 1 heaping tablespoon of herb for every one cup boiled water. Cover the vessel while it steeps and wait 10 to 20 min. before straining.  If you wait longer, for the chamomile too cool from hot to room temperature, the bitter principals will strongly present themselves in your cup of tea; sweet gentle chamomile no more!  I have heard of people steeping one handful dried herb to 2 cups water, steeped covered for an hour or home.

References:
Cabrera, Chanchal. Lecture notes, Medicines from the Earth. 2006.

Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism.

Keville, Kathy and Mindy Green. Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art.

Mills, Simon. The Essential Book of Herbal Medicine.

Romm, Aviva. The Natural Pregnancy Book.

Wood. Matthew. Earthwise Herbal: Old World Plants.

Addiction Energetics

July 16th, 2008 § 0 comments § permalink

Herbal medicine has a number of ways to help one break addictions and assist pharmaceutical and drug withdrawal. Quoting Guido Mase from the lecture handout, “Using herbs for support when transitioning off psychiatric medication” …”[P]eople can be subjected to a drug which, though not ‘addictive’ in the classical sense of an intoxicating substance, can nevertheless have severe withdrawal symptoms”. Indeed, addictions within the sphere of a holistic mind frame can include many conditions that biomedicine and psychiatry may not define as addictive.

Most useful to me about the aforementioned lecture is the emphasis Mase put on ensuring the integrity of both the GI tract and circulatory system before going to the nervous system. Chamomile, blue vervain, wood betony, St, John’s wort work on the nervous system as well as the digestive system and in my opinion can be very centering and grounding . Valerian and crampbark “dilate the arteries, warms the limbs and relaxes body (soma), then relaxes mind”. Herbs, no matter how hard mainstream herbal commerce tries, cannot be separated into clear-cut, straightforward categories or reduced down to one action only. Think black cohosh for hot flashes, goldenseal for colds, valerian for insomnia, ginseng for energy, St. John’s wort for depression, ect. Not only do these herbs have wider applications then what is popularly marketed, there may be another herb better suited to an individual constitution. For example, valerian has never help a candle to my insomnia, but American ginseng has worked wonderfully.

Herbs to support addiction and drug withdrawal also take into consideration the constitution of the individual and the underlying diagnosis. Milky oats are a good place to start in almost any formula, as they are one of the ultimate “nerve foods”, restoring the mylin sheaths on the nerve cells. Fresh skullcap tincture is another favorite, perfectly suited for “burn out” and mental over-stimulation. I once heard (perhaps from Matthew Wood) the difference between melissa and passionflower put as such: melissa is suited for people that are over-stimulated but love it, while passionflower is for people who are over-stimulated but don’t like it. I don’t exactly understand this differentiation, but still find it interesting. There are many nervines to choose from, hawthorn, ashwaganda, tulsi, mugwort, rose, gingko, hops, ect…

I find it hard to look at addictions only through a physiological or herbal medicine view. Lately I have been listening to a number of audio lectures from Caroline Myss which has added a whole ‘nother level to my considerations. While I am far from understanding much of what is out there, I do feel a resonance with what Myss has to say about addictions in the 7th disc of the “Energy Anatomy” audio lecture:

“So long as your will is in a fog, you will be an addict. You will either be an addict to a substance, to a habit, to a fear, to the need to have the windows open at a certain angle, I don’t care what it is, you will be an addict. There is no such thing as a non-addicted person if the heart and the mind are not clear and congruent and the will is not awake, you will be an addict.”

“The 6th chakra is your mind, the heart is the 4th, and what’s in between? Your willpower. If your mind is going one way and your heart is going another way, who is commanding your will? So long as you keep your mind and your heart away from each other, your will will find its allegiance in a substance, your will will become commanded by something outside of you because there is nothing inside of you that is strong enough to keep it intact. So you will literally release the circuits of your spirit to a substance, to a person, to a system of thought, to a school of belief, to an external spiritual discipline, to needing to eat tofu, to needing to shove vabooty up your nose, who cares what it is, you will find some addiction that you are convinced you need for tranquility. When in fact, what technically is amiss is that your heart and your mind don’t speak to each other and you haven’t developed an ounce of genuine willpower.”

How does one develop the will, to reclaim its allegiance for oneself? Unfortunately, it is not as simple as stating, “I demand my spirit to release this addiction now” because your willpower is not strong enough, probably from years of your heart taking the night shift and your mind taking the day shift. During your hearts’ shift, you may have decided to do or say something from the heart, but when you mind takes over, it will say, “Are you crazy? You can’t do/say that. What if that person leaves you? How are you gong to pay the bills?” It doesn’t matter if your heart is unhappy–your mind tends to dominate because it plays of the fears of pain, aloneness, loosing success and financial stability.

Here is an exercise in activating your willpower: Make a list of all the things that you shouldn’t do but do anyways (this list is from you mind/conscious). Next, make a list of all things you want to do but don’t (from your heart/inspiration). Then pick a one thing to do from each list, and do it. That’s it! Sounds easy, but it may be hard to even admit to yourself what goes on those lists. If it is difficult to make your lists, realize that you may be living in a “fog of deliberate unconsciousness so that you don’t have to develop a stronger will. What kind of will? The level of will power that says, ‘wait a minuet, I am going to will myself to see clearly. Enough is enough. I am going to will myself to call the shots the way they are. I am going to will myself to diagnose myself accurately’.”

Myss’s example is giving up coffee. In the first column, “I know I shouldn’t drink coffee but I do”. In the second, “I know I should give up coffee.” In making this list, “you see into whose hands you’ve commanded your spirit and what you’ve given authority over you”. Myss says to “pay attention to how often you make excuses as to why you allow yourself to break your own rules”, and to the excuses you make up in order to avoid the stress of developing the level of willpower you need to break the addiction. Do this not in a punitive way, but in a experimental way to know yourself more deeply, one notch at a time.

References:
Mase’, Guido. “Using herbs for support when transitioning off psychiatric medication” lecture notes.
Myss, Carloine. “Energy Anatomy” Audio lecture. Disc 7.

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