What is chamomile?
Chamomile is a pretty wild-growing flower that may look delicate but it packs a powerful punch when it comes to calming – both your mind and also your digestive system, and even your skin. It’s also a powerful dye – crushed and applied to clothing it produces a bright yellow colour.
What is chamomile used for?
There are two types of chamomile in use – one is German chamomile and the other is Roman – Matricaria recutita and Chamomilla recutita. Most research focuses on German chamomile as it appears to be slightly stronger in its effects, and it’s this species that’s mainly used to treat anxiety, insomnia, digestive disorders, skin and hair.
What’s the history of chamomile?
Chamomile has been used to treat all kinds of ailments for thousands of years, it dates back to ancient Egypt where it was used to treat fever, and the Romans used camomile in their beverages as well as a medicine.
What’s the best way to take chamomile?
Chamomile products are made from the flower heads. These are used to make chamomile tea, chamomile extra, supplements in the form of tablets, and also added to cosmetics such as moisturiser or hair conditioner for example. It is also produced in the form of a mouth rinse to help treat mouth sores caused by cancer treatment.
Chamomile tea is the most widespread method for gaining benefits from the herb. As with all teas, the longer the leaves are steeped in hot water the stronger the tea becomes. So, if you are just trying chamomile tea for the first time start with a weaker brew, and allow it to steep longer each time until you find what works best for you.
If you’re not keen on tea, you may prefer to try a tincture (chamomile suspended in an alcohol solution) – 30-60 drops three times a day (check the label to be sure); or capsules/tablets – 400mg three times a day.
To use chamomile as a mouthwash, simply make tea and then use the cooled liquid to gargle. To apply chamomile to skin you can mix dried and crushed chamomile (or moistened chamomile tea leaves) with water or your usual cream to help reduce inflammation. You can also use a used tea bag on the area.
Does chamomile really work?
As with so many natural herbs and medications there isn’t the same vast quantity of research as there is for man-made medicines but there are some studies that suggest chamomile is effective for relieving anxiety symptoms, as well as digestive disorders, such as upset stomach, diarrhoea and indigestion. It is, however, classified as a drug in many countries in the world, which in itself indicates that it is effective in some way.
The substances believed to be beneficial in chamomile are oils – bisabolol and matricin, for example, and also flavonoids such as apigenin and chrysin. Until more research is undertaken, however, isolating these substances and testing them on humans, it is impossible to say which of the substances is most effective at producing a specific result.
A study on rats published in Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin found that chamomile aided sleep.
Research published in journal Nutrition found that drinking chamomile tea three times a day improved glycaemic indices in patients with type 2 diabetes.
While there are no large-scale studies proving camomile’s effectiveness when it comes to healing mouth sores, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to support this claim. You can use cooled chamomile tea is a mouth wash or apply a wet tea bag directly to the ulcer.
Inflamed skin (eczema)
Chamomile’s anti-inflammatory properties may help calm the symptoms of eczema. A review of available studies undertaken by researchers at Case Western Reserve University, Ohio, USA, found that chamomile can be 60% as effective as hydrocortisone cream in treating the symptoms of eczema, easing irritation and inflammation. Add ground chamomile to your cream or use as a poultice (applying moistened chamomile directly to the area), or add chamomile to a warm bath.
A review of studies on therapeutic effects of chamomile relating to digestive problems, published in journal Electronic Physician suggests that it may aid in relieving symptoms but that more research is needed. 
How long does chamomile take to work?
With an upset stomach chamomile tea can produce calming effects almost immediately on drinking. This may simply be down to the psychosomatic effects of relaxing with a cup of hot liquid, or it may be down to the medicinal properties of chamomile. For anxiety or sleeplessness, the effects of regular tea drinking can occur within a few hours of ingesting tea or a supplement. And for sores inside the mouth, regular rinsing will produce an immediate calming sensation leading to a gradual healing over days.
Where can I get chamomile?
Chamomile tea is available at most supermarkets, health food shops and online, and supplements or tinctures are available in chemists, health food shops and online too.
What are the side effects of chamomile?
In extremely rare cases chamomile products or the plant itself could produce allergic response. Those who are allergic to similar plants (ragweed, marigolds, daisies) may also find they are allergic to chamomile.
Are there any contraindications when taking chamomile?
There are some medications that could interact with chamomile – blood-thinning medications, sedatives, diabetes, hormonal, and blood-pressure medications may be affected. If in any doubt see your GP before taking chamomile products.
Those with asthma should take extra care with chamomile products as it may exacerbate symptoms.
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