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Chamomile ~ The Ubiquitous Botanical?

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.

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.


  1. Ubiquitous is such an adpt description! I just learnt that chamomile was referred to by older herbals as “the plant’s physician” because if they were planted near ailing or struggling plants, those plants would most often recover. Which is apparently why in biodynamic practices they are often distributed amongst crops, especially grain – just like you said, what a true mother! Also, have you ever used pure blue chamomile oil? It’s absolutely beautiful and somewhat ethereal (even if it’s terribly expensive). I have recently been incorporating it into lotions and have been astonished at how quickly it calms and heals redness or inflammation. – Clara

    PS. I love your blog!

  2. That is a lovely post, quit informative and well researched! Chamomile is one of my favorite allies, and has been from the beginning of my herbal path.


  3. My favorite use for chamomile is as a steam inhalation to clear the sinuses during a cold or sinus infection. I’m always amazed at how well this plant works. I think because it is so ubiquitous we take it for granted and don’t take it seriously enough. We think because it is gentle and safe, it can’t be that powerful, but it is, also very kind and eager to help. It’s also a favorite skin care herb of mine and shockingly effective for dry, chapped skin and lips. I never cease to be amazed by the multiplicitous potency of this little flower.

    Oh, and “babies of any age” – I just LOVE that. So true.

  4. celia says

    Thanks for your comment, Laurel. You are so right – chamomile is ‘very kind and eager to help”! It is so good, so why not inhale it and slather it on in addition to drinking it? I hesitate to say this, but I can’t wait to try it during a cold. I’d rather not get a cold, but if I do, chamomile is here for me 😉

  5. celia says

    Thanks, Amber! Chamomile has been around a while for me, too, and it will be in my medicine tool-box for even longer, I suspect.

  6. celia says

    Hi Clara, I didn’t know that chamomile was used in biodynamic farming, too. But why not? It works!

    I have been lucky enough to have blue chamomile blended with other oils for me, but I never had a bottle myself. It was really effective in an acne-reducing face lotion, and it smelled sooooo good. I also had a belly-be-good oil blend with chamomile and dill and others, it smelled like a sweet and happy baby.

    Clara, I love your blog, too, and your photos!

  7. Thanks for this fascinating and informative post on chamomile! I’ve actually been searching for wild chamomile lately, but so far I’ve only been able to find scentless chamomile which looks just like chamomile but doesnt have any kind of fragrance (Tripleurospermum inodorum)…
    it’s rather disappointing, but I havent given up on finding the real thing!

  8. Ooooo that belly blend sounds lovely. I too used the chamomile oil for acne, a real miracle worker…..a secret more people should know about I think!

  9. I keep looking for wild chamomile, too, especially after people have told me they have found it themselves. I do love pineapple weed, Matricaria discoidea, though, which may be as close as I will ever get. Keep looking!

  10. Oh the lovely chamomile! What a profound herb, isn’t she? As usual, you have written an excellent post and I loved reading some of the Chinese interpretations of her energy – always fascinating! I give this herb to my husband regularly as he has the “big baby” syndrome and tends to get a little cranky now and then!
    I also just discovered how amazing chamomile is for allergies! It’s been doing wonders this year for my fall triggered allergies and I also love it externally for any sort of hyper-reactive situation. Really, hyper-reactive is a word I quite like when I think of the picture that needs a little chamomile soothing 🙂

    Chamomile love to you!

  11. Suzanne Lindgren says

    I just wanted to say I love reading your blog.

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