There’s nothing more soothing to the soul than a patch of chamomile. It’s part of the daisy family, with a yellow disk, white petals and feathery leaves. And if you bend down to inhale it’s sweet scent, don’t be surprised if you catch a whiff of apple. Chamomile is the Greek word for ‘earth apple.’
Chamomile is one of the oldest medicinal herbs in the world. It’s been used since Ancient times and is still widely used today, mainly to treat insomnia. With over 120 chemical chemical constituents, herbalists have used chamomile to treat almost any ailment.
Here is a small glimpse into chamomile’s capabilities. Although more research is needed to establish chamomile’s effectiveness in treating various disorders, there is no doubt this herb has a soothing, therapeutic effect.
Aids natural sleep
Often drunk as a tea at bedtime, chamomile is believed to treat insomnia. Many people don’t like chamomile’s bitter taste so popping a few drops of essential oil into a diffuser may help you relax and drift off to sleep.
Several studies show that chamomile does promote sleep. One study showed that a group of postpartum women who drank a cup of chamomile tea for two weeks before bed reported better quality sleep than the group who did not. They also reported fewer symptoms of depression which is linked to sleep disturbance.
Whilst scientific evidence is lacking, many people enjoy the soothing, sedative properties of chamomile.
Soothes the common cold
Chamomile essential oil is believed to bring natural relief from the common cold symptoms.
Add a few drops of the oil to a large pan of boiling water. With a towel over your head, lower your face over the pan and breathe deeply in. The essential oil and the steam can help clear blocked sinuses and make breathing easier.
Contains anti-inflammatory properties
Chamomile flowers contain anti-inflammatory properties. Ointments and creams containing chamomile are popular treatments for skin conditions such as eczema and dermatitis. Their anti-inflammatory may soothe itchy skin and calm rashes.
One study found that the essential oils seep through the skin into deeper layers which suggests that the herbs effectively treat skin disorders. Again more trials are needed.
Applying chamomile to a wound may speed up the healing process. Chamomile was found to kill viruses, bacteria, reduce inflammation, and prevent the growth of ulcers.
A small study which investigated the use of lavender and chamomile essential oils in patients with chronic leg ulcers, found that four of the five patients had complete healing of wounds.
There isn’t enough research to conclude whether chamomile really does heal wounds but we remain hopeful in this wonderful herb!
Other health benefits
Chamomile’s use is extensive. It can ease headaches, bring down fevers and cure tummy upsets. It soothes irritated skin and nurses bruises. It’s been used for gout, ulcers and colic. It can calm the nerves, relieve anxiety and promote sleep. It can provide relief from rheumatic pain, hay fever and colic. It can also provide relief from menstrual pain.
Side effects: The risks associated with chamomile are minimal. Some people may be allergic to chamomile so should medical advice if they experience allergic symptoms.
Choosing your variety
There are two kinds of chamomile: Roman chamomile and German chamomile.
Roman chamomile grows like a mat. It’s the best option if you want to grow a chamomile lawn – a scented oasis in the corner of your garden.
German chamomile looks similar but grows upright to the height of 1-2 feet. It’s best for cutting, so if you want vases full of chamomile to scatter about the house, opt for the German variety.
How to grow
Chamomile is easy to grow, both from seed and from established plants.
If you want to grow it yourself, the best time to sow seeds is in late spring. Seeds should germinate in a heated propagator. Once the seedlings are big enough to handle, they can be pricked out into their own pots. Chamomile grows best in light, well-drained soil with lots of sun. Like most other herbs, it’s generally low maintenance and only needs to be watered during very dry spells.
Harvesting and drying
The flowers are best harvested in late summer when they’re at their peak. You can tell they’re ready when the petals lie flat or droop away from the centre. Make sure the flowers are dry and fully open before you harvest them.
To dry the flowers, spread them onto a sheet of baking parchment or a plate. It will take 1-2 weeks for the flowers to dry out. A linen closet is an ideal spot as it’s humid. Alternatively, a food dehydrator or a drying rack will speed up the process.
The dried blossoms are fragile so handle with care. Store them upright in a sealed jar for future use.
How to brew the perfect cup of chamomile tea
- Take a teaspoon (per person) of dried chamomile flowers and cover with boiling water. Pop the flowers inside a tea strainer if you have one.
- Cover with a lid to trap all those delicious essential oils.
- Infuse the flowers for up to 10 minutes.
- Strain out the flowers.
- Sweet with honey or sugar. Or add a wedge of lemon and ginger to give it a kick!
- Take a moment of calm and enjoy your soothing cup of chamomile tea.
If you don’t have the space or the time to grow chamomile there are still lots of other ways to enjoy it. Chamomile tea is readily available in supermarkets and health food stores. If you don’t like the taste, you can still reap its benefits through a simple tincture or diffusing some chamomile oil. There are a whole range of lotions and potions for hair and skin too.
Chamomile is one of the oldest and best loved medicinal herbs in the word. It’s health and wellbeing benefits know no bounds. Although more studies need to be done to establish its effectiveness, it has been used for centuries to treat a myriad of ailments. It’s easy to grow and care for can be enjoyed both topically and internally. If chamomile really isn’t your thing or if you can’t stand the taste, a simple posy of chamomile on the table is every bit as beneficial!