Chamomile: Beyond the Teabag
Chamomile is a familiar plant with an unmistakable scent and flavor. It is one of the most popularly used and loved herbs, and most folks have a box of it sitting in their cupboard.
Although sipping on some Chamomile tea at the end of the day is nice, its medicinal properties are complex, and there are different preparations you can make with it. By taking a deeper look into this plant, you can learn about the specific indications and unique properties that make this herb indispensable to the Western Materia Medica.
In today’s blog post, you’ll learn:
- What Chamomile tastes like and how this corresponds to its actions in the body
- Its unique influences on the nervous and digestive systems and the juncture between the two
- The emotional indications of Chamomile
- Its associations with the planet Mercury and Venus
- How to make different herbal preparations with Chamomile
Chamomile is often thought of as “the beginner herb,” but is that really true?
Well known for its soothing effects and ability to help you unwind after a long day, Chamomile is a standard household herb. Despite its commonality, Chamomile is a complex herb with a single golden thread that weaves all of its properties together.
This hearty herb favors full sun and cool environments. It is native to Europe and parts of Asia and today is found growing throughout America. German Chamomile is an annual plant and completes its life cycle within one year. However, this herb is the gift that keeps giving since the flowers grow back quickly once you pluck them.
If you think you know everything about Chamomile, here’s your chance to test your knowledge and learn something new.
Common name: Chamomile (German Chamomile)
Latin name: Matricaria recutita
Botanical Family: Asteraceae family
Tastes: Bitter, Aromatic, Sweet
Affinities: Digestive, Nervous
Actions: Inflammation Modulating, Bitter Tonic, Carminative, Nervine Sedative, Spasmolytic
Energetics: Cooling, Drying, Relaxing
Chamomile has a rather complex taste profile. While most people note its sweet taste first, this is likely because tea bags typically contain small amounts of herbs that people steep for a short time. If you picked some fresh Chamomile and stepped an infusion with it for twenty minutes, you’d be surprised by how distinctly bitter this herb tastes!
The high content of volatile essential oils grants Chamomile a floral, pungent, and deeply aromatic flavor. When this couples with its bitter taste, you’ve got an aromatic bitter herb. These three tastes directly translate to Chamomile’s affinities in the body.
Chamomile is an important remedy with us, particularly in affections of young children. It has two particular specific fields of action—one upon the nervous system, subduing nervous irritability, and the other upon the gastro-intestinal tract, relieving irritation. ~ Excerpt from Felter & Lloyd’s Kings Dispensatory from 1898
Bitter and aromatic herbs impact the digestive system, albeit in different ways. The aromatic qualities of Chamomile lend it a carminative quality while the bitter taste stimulates gastric secretions, thereby creating a formula unto itself. Indeed, pairing a bitter tonic herb with a carminative plant, like Gentian (Gentiana spp.) and Ginger (Zingiber officinale), is common practice in herbalism. Since Chamomile contains both qualities, it is a top-tier digestive remedy.
People all over the world use Chamomile to relax, unwind, and ease into sleep. It should come as no surprise then that the most popularly known affinity is the nervous system. While Chamomile does have an affinity for the nervous system, it’s important not to compartmentalize this aspect but to see it as part of a larger whole.
When you consider that Chamomile is a nervous system remedy, acts as a nervine sedative, a bitter tonic, and carminative, you’ve got a prime herb for people with nervous digestion. This can be someone who experiences digestive distress, whether it be gas, diarrhea, or a change in appetite in response to stress. Chamomile addresses every aspect of the nervous and digestive system connection and is an excellent remedy for nervous digestion.
Chamomile contains azulene and chamazulene, which are two constituents well studied to be inflammation-modulating and sedative to heat and irritation in the body. This action is especially seen in the digestive system, where Chamomile’s other properties synergize to support healthy digestion.
As a bitter tonic, Chamomile increases gastric secretions and bile to stimulate digestion and help your body break down rich or fatty foods. In this way, it also has a mild laxative effect and alleviates constipation. As a carminative and spasmolytic herb, Chamomile increases blood flow to the digestive system to dispel gas and bloating, reduce tension and spasms in the gastrointestinal tract, and improve overall functioning,
With a strong affinity for the nervous system, Chamomile soothes the mind and promotes calm with its nervine sedative qualities. Nervine sedatives are different from nervine hypnotics, like Kava-Kava (Piper methysticum), in that you can use them throughout the day to take the edge off and they won’t make you feel mentally foggy or tired. The nervine sedative action pairs well with Chamomile’s digestive properties to soothe the digestive system – making it one of the #1 herbs for folks who experience gastrointestinal distress, such as stomachaches, diarrhea, and bloating, when they feel anxious.
I have learned that while Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is used for nervous digestive conditions rising upward, like nausea or “butterflies,” Chamomile is used for digestive conditions rising downward, like diarrhea. This is an interesting distinction you can try out for yourself.
Chamomile is a top-tier herb for digestive conditions related to inflammation, such as colitis, irritable bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and much more. Since these inflammatory digestive conditions are often made worse by stress and anxiety, Chamomile provides two therapeutic supports through its effects on the digestive and nervous systems.
Whether you are on the road to recovery or want to prevent gastrointestinal conditions from developing, having a pot of Chamomile ready during stressful times is always a good idea.
Chamomile is predominantly cooling, and although volatile oils are often warming, this herb’s volatile oils yield a net cooling effect. Its ability to cool inflamed and irritated tissues make it an excellent herb for heat patterns. This herb is drying and does not possess any moistening qualities. In terms of tone, Chamomile has an overt relaxant effect on the tissues.
Ayurvedically, Chamomile reduces excess pitta dosha with its heat-sedating effects. It reduces excess vata with its antispasmodic and nervine actions but can aggravate it over time by elevating the cold and dry nature of this dosha. Thus, it might be best to formulate it with a warming or moistening plant to make it suitable for this constitution.
In the physiomedicalist model, Chamomile is indicated for the wind/tension and heat/excitation tissue states. While its cooling and inflammation-modulating properties sedate heat and irritation associated with heat/excitation, its spasmolytic and nervine effects decrease systemic tension in the mind and body, making it an excellent herb for the wind/tension tissue state.
Matricaria is conspicuously a child’s remedy, but not distinctly so. A few drops in half of a glass of water, given every few minutes in dram doses, will quiet extreme restlessness and irritability. The general soothing effect is satisfactory. ~ Ellingwood’s Materia Medica, 1919
There is so much to say about the emotional aspects of Chamomile, but I think Matthew Wood sums it up quite nicely when he says that “Chamomile is for babies of all ages.”
Chamomile is indicated for fussy, moody, whiny, and petulant children and adults who cannot find appeasement or contentment. The Chamomile type might want something badly, and once they obtain it do not want it anymore.
Flower Essence Services (FES) lists Chamomile as being indicated for people who are “easily upset, moody and irritable, and have an inability to release emotional tension, especially in the stomach or solar plexus region.” Chamomile is so safe, gentle, and effective that you can give it to small children and the elderly and see fantastic results in both despite such gaps in age.
A therapeutic application of Chamomile worth exploring is for elderly folks with dementia. People with dementia often suffer from mood swings, anxiety, and upset from the disorientation they face daily. Chamomile is an excellent remedy to consider for this as it is gentle, soothing, and tasty enough for daily use.
Astrologically, Chamomile corresponds to two different planets. Chamomile shares many qualities associated with Mercury, such as its light, thin, and airy plant structure that grows up and out, its aromatic nature, and balancing effects on the wind/tension tissue state.
Through another lens, you can see how Chamomile correlates with Venus. This planet is known as “the great relaxant,” and Chamomile’s relaxant effect, sedative action, and perfumy scent correspond to this planet. Its feathered leaves morphologically correspond to Venus as well. Chamomile’s ability to reduce heat and inflammation associated with tension, spasm, and constriction correlates quite nicely to either planet.
Chamomile’s ruling element is air, which is characterized by its high volatile oil content, an affinity for the nervous system, and balancing effects on the wind/tension tissue state.
Chamomile is a light-dependent germinator that grows best when you plant it in the fall or early spring. Because the seeds are so lightweight, you need to sprinkle some vermiculite on top to prevent them from flying away- especially when you water them. You can sow the seeds directly into the surface of the soil or into flats. Whichever you choose, ensure they can still see the light or they will not germinate. Even though Chamomile might look like a delicate plant, it is actually quite hardy and does well in cooler climates and full sun. Chamomile is an annual plant. This means that it grows for one season and needs to be replanted again in the next year. Even though it is an annual, Chamomile tends to self-seed and can surprise you in the following year with some new flowers around the yard. However, this plant struggles against weeds, so if you’re looking for a bed of Chamomile, you are best off replanting it in a designated area.
In the early morning, the Chamomile petals bunch towards the center, but as the sun warms the plant, it stretches its petals open, and you will see the beautiful and distinct ray of petals. Since the flowers have not yet baked in the sun all day, this is the best time to harvest the plant. You can either pick the flower heads off yourself or use a Chamomile rake, which resembles a berry picker, to make the process more efficient. Once you harvest the flowers, they will keep growing for another week or so, leading to a second round. This process will continue for around a month before its season dwindles.
Chamomile contains high levels of volatile oils, and making an infusion with the fresh plant will draw out the spasmolytic and inflammatory modulating properties best. If the fresh plant is not available, you can use the dried herb, which produces a more bitter flavor, thus making it better for the digestive system. Whether you use fresh or dried Chamomile, you should always prepare your infusion with a lid to prevent the essential oils from escaping through the steam.
For an infusion, use 2-4 grams of an herb to one cup of hot water and steep for 15-20 minutes. You can enjoy this warm or chilled on a hot day. For teething children, a cloth soaked with chamomile tea is placed in the freezer and used in place of a freezable chew. Taking a quart jar, filling it halfway with Chamomile flowers and boiling water, and affixing the lid on and leaving it to steep for twenty minutes will yield a very potent medicinal brew ideal for inflammation in the gut.
If you prefer to make a tincture with Chamomile, use a ratio of 1:2 at 50-60% alcohol with fresh plant material and a ratio of 1:5 in 40% alcohol for dried Chamomile. A starting dose is 30 drops, although you can experiment with taking more or less until you find the right dose for you.
Another way I have found Chamomile to be personally very helpful is through its topical application in the form of essential oil. Chamomile alleviates musculoskeletal pain, and when I experience pain in my knees or joints, massaging a bit of the essential oil in a carrier oil, like Sesame oil, reduces inflammation and offers pain relief.
If Chamomile is a familiar herb to you, experiment with how you take it. Try tincturing it in alcohol or steeping it into a strong infusion. How does the taste differ, where do you feel it in your body, and what are its effects?
Consider Chamomile a good friend. The more you build a relationship with this plant and get to know it, the deeper you’ll understand it and the ways it can restore balance to your life.