Written by Ashley von Arx | Monday, 8 May 2023
Chamomile is the type of herb that everyone seems to know and tried. Your grandma probably keeps it stocked the cupboard, or you’ve had it in some sleepy-time tea blend from the whole foods store. However, the highly underrated chamomile is so much more than just a sleepy-time herb, and it isn’t just grandma who should keep it on hand.
Matricaria chamomilla or Matricaria recutita are commonly used Latin names, but chamomile is a friendly herb and probably prefers its common name. Chamomile is part of the Asteraceae family which contains other familiar plant friends like echinacea.
Chamomile has a long traditional use in western herbal medicine. Historically it was considered a soothing and sedative plant that could be used as a tea or tincture to treat delirium, hysteria, nightmares, diarrhoea in children, and griping stomach pain, but it was also added to baths and poultices as a topical application.
Modern use of chamomile has a great deal of overlap with historical use. This plant continues to work with an affinity to the digestive and nervous systems in a gentle yet effective way, with actions including nervine tonic, anxiolytic, mild bitter, digestive, anti-inflammatory, and spasmolytic (reduces spasming pain in the gut, for example). Research supports the use of chamomile in the treatment of acute, uncomplicated diarrhoea, infantile colic, menopause, menstrual pain, anxiety, and non-specific gastrointestinal complaints. Clinical trials support the topical application of chamomile to support wound healing and soothe conditions such as eczema or dermatitis.
What makes chamomile so effective?
Key compounds include a range of flavonoids and essential oils. The essential oils are particularly interesting; if you rub the leaves or flowers of a fresh chamomile plant between your fingers you will be rewarded with a beautifully sweet scent, almost reminiscent of apples. Multiple essential oils combine to create this unique aromatic signature. Concentrated chamomile essential oil is a vivid deep blue colour due to a phytochemical called chamazulene.
Chamomile is a versatile herb that you can easily use at home to treat the very young, the very old, and anyone in between. Some ideas for use include:
While chamomile has an excellent safety profile, not every plant works for every person, and it is always good to check if chamomile is the right herb for you with a qualified health professional (like a naturopath or herbalist), particularly if you are taking any prescription medications or have underlying health conditions. Allergies to chamomile are possible, so if it is a new herb to you, experiment gently at first to see how your body reacts. As with any herbal medicine, try to use the highest quality plant matter you can, organic when possible, and from a trusted supplier so that you know you are getting the real deal.
Interested in the power of herbs? You might enjoy these blogs on:
Happy home herbal experimentation!
Bone, K., & Mills, S. (2013). Principles and practice of phytotherapy: Modern herbal medicine (2nd ed). Churchill Livingstone, Elsevier.
Grieve, M. (2016). A modern herbal: The medicinal, culinary, cosmetic, and economic properties, cultivation, and folklore of herbs, grasses, fungi, shrubs, & trees with all their modern scientific uses: complete volume.
Miraj, S., & Alesaeidi, S. (2016). A systematic review study of therapeutic effects of Matricaria recuitta chamomile (chamomile). Electronic Physician, 8(9), 3024–3031. https://doi.org/10.19082/3024
Niazi, A., & Moradi, M. (2021). The effect of chamomile on pain and menstrual bleeding in primary dysmenorrhea: A systematic review. International Journal of Community Based Nursing and Midwifery, 9(3), 174–186. https://doi.org/10.30476/ijcbnm.2021.87219.1417
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Ashley von Arx
Ashley is a practicing naturopath and Endeavour graduate (BHSc Naturopathy, Dux) based in Melbourne.
Ashley's journey into natural health and complementary medicine began as a desire to be in a helping profession combined with an interest in holistic healthcare. Her clinical practice has a focus on gut health, mental health, and the connection between the two, however, she works with people of all ages and with a broad range of health concerns. She is enrolled for further study to deepen her knowledge in the field. You can read more about Ashley at https://osok.com.au/practitioners/ or on her Instagram page @ashleyvonarx_naturopathy.