Chamomile (Matricaria recutita or M. Chamomilla) is a wild plant that appears every year in spring. It’s widespread in our countryside, from uncultivated lands along the coasts to hilly areas. It boasts an ancient folk tradition as a plant capable of providing calmness and serenity. Moreover, it can convey the strength necessary to overcome difficult times. For over 2000 years, chamomile has been used as a medicinal herb. Legend has it that traces of chamomile pollen were found in the tomb of the famous Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II. This belief stems from the Egyptian belief attributing the plant with the ability to instill courage for the afterlife journey.
In this article, we aim to understand this plant better, exploring its properties and uses.
Botanical Identification and Etymology of the Name Chamomile
Common chamomile belongs to the botanical family Asteraceae or Compositae. This family also includes sunflowers and Jerusalem artichokes, plants we’ve discussed in previous articles. What these plants share is the unique shape of their inflorescence, called a capitulum. The scientific name Matricaria comes from two Latin terms: mater = mother (referring to its use in healing female ailments) and matrix = uterus (reflecting the plant’s ability to support the menstrual cycle). The word chamomile comes from the Greek chamaimelon. It’s a combination of chamai = small and mélon = apple because its scent resembles that of some apple varieties. In other languages, like Spanish, it’s called manzanilla, meaning “small apple”.
Characteristics of the Chamomile Plant
Chamomile is widespread in our country and throughout Europe. It thrives wild in fields and uncultivated areas, even in low mountain ranges. However, its presence is threatened by the indiscriminate use of pesticides, which has reduced its distribution in many areas. Chamomile is an annual plant that, under good conditions, can reach heights of 50 cm. It has fairly developed taproots from which more or less branched stems extend upwards. Along the stems, the plant has alternate leaves, without a petiole (sessile), finely divided into narrow linear lobes. The flowers are the prized part of the plant, forming the typical inflorescences gathered in small capitula, with a conical and hollow receptacle. The outer flowers have white ligules, while the inner ones are tubular with a prominent yellow corolla. Each capitulum has a diameter of about 1 or 2 cm. Chamomile blooms from May (April in the South) and lasts until late summer. To preserve its properties, the flower should be harvested when alive, before it withers and goes to seed. The fruit (seed) is a small achene about 1 mm long, light in color.
Content and Properties of Chamomile
Chamomile’s beneficial and medicinal properties reside in its flowers. These give the plant its typical and pleasant aromatic odor. Additionally, they contain a specific essential oil composed of active principles such as camazulene and bisabolol, and a mixture of other substances including salicylic acid, oleic acid, stearic acid, alpha-bisabolol, flavonoids, inositol, antemic acid, coumarins. Moreover, the capitula are highly balsamic and soothing, containing approximately 10% mucilage, emollient substances that, when released during infusion, can reduce internal irritations. All these components give chamomile antispasmodic, sedative, antifungal, and antibacterial properties. Chamomile is also effective in promoting menstruation in cases of amenorrhea and nervous dysmenorrhea. It acts as a mild analgesic, particularly effective for trigeminal neuralgia, premenstrual headaches, influenza, and dental pain. It naturally treats insomnia, alleviates colic, and has a beneficial effect on digestion. It also possesses healing, carminative, and antiallergic properties and is an excellent stimulant for the immune system.
Home Preparations with Chamomile Flowers
As mentioned, chamomile is prevalent in its wild state. Hence, it’s easy to harvest and dry it for various home preparations. Let’s explore some preparations.
An infusion is made by putting a tablespoon of dried flowers in a cup of boiling water. Let it infuse for thirty minutes, then strain, and it’s ready to drink.
Chamomile flower powder is obtained by finely grinding around 5 grams of dried flowers in a mortar. It’s stored in a sealed jar and taken with honey.
Chamomile tincture is highly valuable. It’s made by macerating 20 grams of minced flowers in 100 ml of 70% alcohol for 8 days. After the time, it’s drained and stored in dark glass bottles with a dropper.
For chamomile syrup, first prepare an infusion with 3 tablespoons of flowers immersed in 150 ml of water for an hour. Once cold, squeeze the residues, strain, and add 250 ml of syrup made with water and sugar.
External Use Oil
A useful preparation is the external use oil, suitable for massages and rubs. It’s made with 60 grams of finely chopped dried flowers in 500 ml of olive oil. Put the ingredients in a saucepan and heat them in a water bath for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. After the time, carefully filter it using a linen cloth. The oil is stored in a dark glass bottle with an airtight seal. If you’re unable to gather chamomile in a clean field and make your own preparations at home, here, you can find many ready-to-use herbal products.
Practical Applications of Chamomile
Now, let’s explore some practical applications of chamomile, both internal and external.
Acne and Broken Capillaries
Chamomile has purifying action, so after washing your face, rinse with the infusion.
Blepharitis, Conjunctivitis, Stye, Red Eyes
For these issues, apply cold compresses on the eyes with a piece of cloth or cotton soaked in the infusion.
Diarrhea, Morning Nausea, Vomiting, Indigestion, Stomach Ulcers, Lack of Appetite
Drink 3 cups of the infusion: when waking up, at noon, and in the evening. Alternatively, take 8-10 drops of tincture on a sugar cube or 3 tablespoons of syrup three times a day.
Take 2-3 cups of the infusion away from meals or 10-12 drops of tincture on a sugar cube, three times a day.
Diaper Rash, Irritated Skin, Cracked Skin, and Wounds
Expose the reddened parts to fresh air and apply cold chamomile compresses on the affected areas.
Insomnia, Difficulty Sleeping, Anxiety
Drink a warm cup of infusion half an hour before bedtime. This traditional method is a mild sedative even for children, recommended for troubled sleep.
Sore Throat and Gingivitis
Gargle and rinse with the cold infusion several times during the day.
Back Pain and Headaches
Apply a little external use oil to the affected areas and accompany it with a gentle massage.