Today, as I sorted through all of the little envelopes of seeds I have yet to plant this year…..approximately 75 different plants I still need to get into the ground before my late summer/early fall garden, I happened upon a packet of Chamomile seeds. We had a late spring in the mountains of NC, some say it is due to a “Grand Solar Minimum” - decreased solar activity leading to cooler soil and air temps. If so, I have a lot of adjustments to make in my already short season region. Regardless, not only do I still have time to plant Chamomile this week, but it also occurred to me that I have yet to write about this important herb.
Chamomile is very likely the first herb most people encounter. This herb is popular for calming fussy babies and easing colic. There are two types of Chamomile, German and Roman (Roman may also be called English or Garden Chamomile). Both are calming to the stomach and mildly sedative. This sedative effect is useful for adults, as well. But, small children are more affected by the sedative properties of Chamomile, as they have not yet been exposed to many stimulants or sedatives. However, many adults may fail to experience the benefits of Chamomile due to not having access to fresh Chamomile. Fresh Chamomile blossoms smell remarkably of apples. Unfortunately, in most teas and tea blends that are sold commercially are very stale and have little scent whatsoever. Stale Chamomile has mostly lost its herbal use.
Dioscorides differentiated between three varieties of Chamomile, which the Greeks called “Anthemis”:
There are three kinds of anthemis (differing only in their flowers) the branches twenty centimetres long, shrubby, with many wings. The smaller branches are little, thin, many, with little round heads, within them flowers of gold colour; but outside there are round about white, yellowish, or purple leaves, the quantities like those of rue. It grows in rough places and byways. It is gathered in the spring. The roots, flowers, and herb have a warming, relieving strength. Taken as a drink of a decoction (or by bathing) they expel the menstrual flow, are abortifacient, expel stones [urinary, kidney], and induce urine. They are taken as a drink for gaseousness, and for suffering from intestinal obstruction; they clean away jaundice, and cure liver ailments; and a decoction of them is used in warm packs for the bladder. The most effective for those troubled with stones is that of a purple colour, which in all respects is the bigger, properly called eranthemon. That called leucanthemon is more urinary, as well as chrysanthemon. Smeared on they cure ulcers in the inner angle of the eye. Chewed, they cure apta [aptha — thrush in children or candidiasis]. Some also use it as a:suppository (beating it finely with oil) for recurrent fevers. The leaves and flowers must be stored when they have been pounded apart and made into little balls. The root is dried and stored. When there is need of it sometimes give two parts of the herb, sometimes one part of the flower or root. Sometimes the opposite — give two parts of the flower and one of the herb, doubling it by turn every other day — and you must drink it in diluted honey. (Chamomile pounded into small pieces with rosaceum cures fevers. It is an effective plant for those who are reasonably well. The shortest is best and grows in sandy places, and physicians remove them at the beginning of spring). It is also called leucanthemon, or eranthemon because it flowers in the spring; some call it chamemelum because of the similarity of its smell to apples; some call it melanthemon, chrysocome, or callias; the Romans call it malium, and the Africans, astertiphe.
Saint Hildegard von Bingen wrote of German Chamomile:
German Chamomile is hot, has a pleasant juice, and is like an ointment for painful intestines. If one has pains in the intestines, he should cook German chamomile with water and lard or oil. He should add fine whole wheat flour, and thus make a porridge. He should eat it, and it will heal his intestines. When women menstruate, they should eat or drink that same porridge. It will gently provide a purgation of mucus and internal fetid matter and bring on menses. However, a person who suffers a stitch (stitch in the side) should mix the juice of German chamomile with cow butter. He should rub the area which hurts, and he will be cured.
Fr. Kneipp continued the use of Chamomile in German Folk Medicine:
Chamomile tea, for colds, catarrhs, especially when these are attended by fever; for stomach pain, cramps, violent congestion, toothache, etc. - is a well-known and trusty friend in every German house. Less familiar to the English public will probably be the little muslin bags filled with dried chamomile flowers, which will relieve pain when applied warm on the stomach or abdomen.
Brother Aloysius, a protégé of Fr. Kneipp said of Chamomile:
… it relieves cramps and is one of the best remedies for colic, stomach cramps and swelling from wind. It is also recommended for indigestion, heavy bleeding, liver complaints and nerves, for hysteria, kidney and bladder stones, and dropsy. When applied externally, in the form of warm bags, chamomile relieves cramps, inflammation, etc. Burns should be constantly bathed with the decoction.
Continuing in the German tradition, Maria Treben wrote:
It is no exaggeration that I cist chamomile as a cure-all, especially for babies. In any case, the child should be given chamomile tea if it suffers from cramps and stomach aches. The teas is of help in flatulence, diarrhea, eruptions, stomach troubles and gastritis, in menstrual disorders, cessation of menstrual flow and in all abdominal disorders, insomnia, inflammation of the testicles, fever, wounds and toothache.
Chamomile produces perspiration, is soothing and antispasmodic. It is antiseptic and anti-inflammatory, especially in cases of inflammation of the mucus membranes. Externally, chamomile is used as a compress and a wash for inflamed eyes, conjunctivitis, moist and itching eruptions, wounds, and as a gargle for toothache. Anyone who starts feeling aggravated should drink a cup of chamomile tea and soon the wonderfully soothing and sedative effect is felt. Very much recommended is a warm chamomile pillow applied to aching parts.
Chamomile baths and washings are much beneficial to the whole nervous system. After a severe illness of for states of exhaustion, its soothing and quieting effect is soon felt. Even as a beauty aid, chamomile has its merit. The face washed with a decoction of chamomile once a week will soon show a healthier and softer glow. A decoction used as a hair conditioner, especially on blonde hair, will make it manageable and give it a beautiful shine.
Chamomile helps the movement of the bowls without purging and is therefore indirectly beneficial for hemorrhoids to which chamomile ointment can be applied externally. This ointment my also be used to promote the healing of wounds. Colds and maxillary sinusitis are soon better if chamomile steam is inhaled. After such treatment, one must understandably remain warm.
The ancient Egyptians dedicated chamomile to the Sun-God because of its fever reducing effect and the oil of chamomile was used as a rub for neuralgia and rheumatic pains - the name Matricaria comes front he Latin, “mater” (mother) - and, as the name implies, was used for female disorders. In old herbals one reads that chamomile takes away the tiredness of the limbs and the boil flowers, applied to an ill bladder, ease the pain.
The Swiss abbe Kunzel tells of a village woman known as the “Chamomile Witch” to whom people came in their distress; five people regained their hearing, when she fried green field onion in chamomile oil and this oil was dropped into their ear frequently.
The “Chamomile Witch” gave movement back to paralyzed limbs through chamomile oil massages. Against eye pain, chamomile boiled in milk was applied as a compress over closed eyes which healed in a short time. And the Abbe Kunzel goes on, “ A weaver could only sleep sitting up; he thought he would suffocate. The herb woman took a look at him and said he was not passing water which he acknowledged. Immediately, he had to drink from a large bottle of wine in which chamomile had been boiled, a glassful mornings and evenings. An unbelievable amount of urine was passed; first dark and turgid, then clearer and clearer and after 8 days, he was helped.”
It may justifiably be said that when a German-speaker is so effusive, they really mean it! As a culture given to precise language, even faint praise is to be taken seriously.
The English herbalists also found Chamomile of great use. Gerard wrote of Chamomile:
A. Camomile is good against the colic and stone; it provoketh urine, and is most singular in clysters which are made against the foresaid diseases.
B. Oil of Camomile is exceeding good against all manner of ache and pain, bruisings, shrinking of sinews, hardness, and cold swellings.
C. The decoction of Camomile made in wine and drunk, is good against coldness in the stomach, sour belchings, voideth wind, and mightily bringeth down the monthly courses.
D. The Egyptians have used it for a remedy against all cold agues; and they did therefore consecrate it (as Galen saith) to their deities.
E. The decoction made in white wine and drunk, expelleth the dead child, and secondine or afterbirth, speedily, and cleanseth those parts.
F. The herb boiled in posset ale, and given to drink, easeth the pain of the chest coming of wind, and expelleth tough and clammy phlegm, and helpeth children of the ague.
G. The herb used in baths provoketh sweat, rarefieth the skin, and openeth the pores: briefly, it mitigateth gripings and gnawings of the belly; it allayeth the pains of the sides, mollifies hard swellings and wasteth away raw and undigested humours.
H. The oil compounded of the flowers performeth the same, and is a remedy against all wearisomeness, and is with good success mixed with all those things that are applied to mitigate pain.
A decoction made of Camomile, and drank, taketh away all pains and stitches in the side. The flowers of Camomile beaten, and made up into balls with oil, drive away all sorts of agues, if the part grieved be anointed with that oil, taken from the flowers, from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot, and afterwards laid to sweat in his bed, and that he sweats well. This is Nechessor, an Egyptian's, medicine. It is profitable for all sorts of agues that come either from phlegm, or melancholy, or from an inflammation of the bowels, being applied when the humours tausing them shall be concocted; and there is nothing more profitable to the sides and region of the liver and spleen than it. The bathing with a decoction of camomile taketh away weariness, easeth pains to what part of the body soever they be applied. It comforteth the sinews that are overstrained, mollifieth all swellings: It moderately comforteth all parts that have need of warmth, digesteth and dissolveth whatsoever hath need thereof, by a wonderful speedy property. It easeth all pains of the cholic and stone, and all pains and torments of the belly, and gently provoketh urine. The flowers boiled in posset-drink provoke sweat, and help to expel all colds, aches and pains whatsoever, and is an excellent help to bring down women's courses. Syrup made of the juice of camomile, with the flowers in white wine, is a remedy against the jaundice and dropsy. The flowers boiled in lee, are good to wash the head, and comfort both it and the brain. The oil made of the flowers of camomile, is much used against all hard swellings, pains or aches, shrinking of the sinews, or cramps, or pains in the joints, or any other part of the body. Being used in clysters, it helps to dissolve the wind and pains in the belly; anointed also, it helpeth stitches and pains in the side.
Nechessor saith, the Egyptians dedicated it to the Sun, because it cured agues, and they were like enough to do it, for they were the arrantest apes in their religion I ever read of. Bachinus, Bena, and Lobel, commend the syrup made of the juice of it and sugar, taken inwardly, to be excellent for the spleen. Also this is certain, that it most wonderfully breaks the stone: some take it in syrup or decoction, others inject the juice of it into the bladder with a syringe. My opinion is, that the salt of it taken half a dram in the morning in a little white or rhemish wine, is better than either; that it is excellent for the stone, appears in this which I have seen tried, viz. that a stone that hath been taken out of the body of a man being wrapped in camomile, will in time dissolve, and in a little time too.
Mrs. Grieves tells us:
The fresh plant is strongly and agreeably aromatic, with a distinct scent of apples - a characteristic noted by the Greeks, on account of which they named it 'ground-apple' - kamai (on the ground) and melon (an apple) - the origin of the name Chamomile. The Spaniards call it 'Manzanilla,' which signifies 'a little apple,' and give the same name to one of their lightest sherries, flavoured with this plant.
When walked on, its strong, fragrant scent will often reveal its presence before it is seen. For this reason it was employed as one of the aromatic strewing herbs in the Middle Ages, and used often to be purposely planted in green walks in gardens. Indeed walking over the plant seems specially beneficial to it.
'Like a camomile bed -
The more it is trodden
The more it will spread,'
The aromatic fragrance gives no hint of its bitterness of taste.
The Chamomile used in olden days to be looked upon as the 'Plant's Physician,' and it has been stated that nothing contributes so much to the health of a garden as a number of Chamomile herbs dispersed about it, and that if another plant is drooping and sickly, in nine cases out of ten, it will recover if you place a herb of Chamomile near it.
The whole plant is odoriferous and of value, but the quality is chiefly centred in the flower-heads or capitula, the part employed medicinally, the herb itself being used in the manufacture of herb beers.
Both single and double flowers are used in medicine. It is considered that the curative properties of the single, wild Chamomile are the more powerful, as the chief medical virtue of the plant lies in the central disk of yellow florets, and in the cultivated double form the white florets of the ray are multiplied, while the yellow centre diminishes. The powerful alkali contained to so much greater extent in the single flowers is, however, liable to destroy the coating of the stomach and bowels, and it is doubtless for this reason that the British Pharmacopceia directs that the 'official' dried Chamomile flowers shall be those of the double, cultivated variety.
The double-flowered form was already well known in the sixteenth century. It was introduced into Germany from Spain about the close of the Middle Ages.
Chamomile was largely cultivated before the war in Belgium, France and Saxony and also in England, chiefly in the famous herbgrowing district of Mitcham. English flowerheads are considered the most valuable for distillation of the oil, and during the war the price of English and foreign Chamomile reached an exorbitant figure.
The 'Scotch Chamomile' of commerce is the Single or Wild Chamomile, the yellow tubular florets in the centre of the head being surrounded by a variable number of white, ligulate or strap-shaped ray florets. The 'English Chamomile' is the double form, with all or nearly all the florets white and ligulate. In both forms the disk or receptacle is solid and conical, densely covered with chaffy scales, and both varieties, but especially the single, have a strong aromatic odour and a very bitter taste.
Finally, Plants for A Future Lists both German and Roman Chamomile:
Medicinal use of German Camomile: German camomile is a well known herbal remedy and is much used in the West. In particular it is an excellent herb for treating various digestive disorders, nervous tension and irritability and is also used externally to treat skin problems. An infusion of the flowers is taken internally as an anodyne, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antispasmodic, carminative, cholagogue, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, febrifuge, sedative, stomachic, tonic and vasodilator. An infusion is particularly useful as a stomachic, nervine and sedative for young children, especially when they are teething. It is also used in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease, peptic ulcers and hiatus hernia. In large doses, or when taken regularly for several times each day, the tea can be emetic and can also cause the symptoms it is intended to cure. The flowers are also used externally to treat wounds, sunburn, burns, haemorrhoids, mastitis and leg ulcers. The flowers are harvested when fully open and are dried for later use. The flowers contain various volatile oils including proazulenes. Upon steam distillation these proazulenes produce chamazulene, this is remarkably anti-allergenic and is useful in the treatment of asthma and hay fever. The flowers are sometimes added to cosmetics as an anti-allergenic agent. The whole plant, harvested when in flower, is used to make a homeopathic remedy. It is especially suited to teething children and those who have been in a highly emotional state over a long period of time.
Medicinal use of Camomile: Camomile is a common herb with a long history of safe and effective medicinal use - it is widely used as a household herbal remedy. It is particularly useful as a remedy for various problems of the digestive system, as a sedative and a nervine, it is especially suited for young children. A tea is made from the flowers and this should be prepared in a closed vessel to prevent loss of the essential oils. The flowers are anodyne, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, nervine, stomachic, tonic, vasodilator. The single-flowered form is the most potent medicinally, though it can in large doses damage the lining of the stomach and bowels. For this reason, the double-flowered form is usually preferred since this contains less of the alkaloid that causes the problem. The flowers are gathered in the summer when they are fully open and are distilled for their oil or dried for later use. They should not be stored for longer than 12 months. The whole herb is used to make a lotion for external application in the treatment of toothache, earache, neuralgia etc. The essential oil is used in aromatherapy. Its keyword is "Soothing".
In closing, I think what strikes me most about this sunny and useful herb, as I sit here on a cloudy day in late spring, is how often we take it for granted. Whether the seeds nearly forgotten among many envelopes, or the stale tea on a pantry shelf, Chamomile is too often forgotten, perhaps as a childhood memory. I have proved here the overwhelming case for its medicinal use. But, what I cannot convey is the profundity of this simple herb. The scent can do that, in the fresh or freshly dried flowers, far more eloquently than any words.
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