Herb Feature


One of the oldest and well known medicinal plants used in Western Herbal Medicine traditions, and one of the most versatile for children’s health complaints. Matricaria recutita and Chamaemelum Nobile, German and Roman Chamomile respectively, are the two most commonly used forms of the distinct and sweet flower that we know as Chamomile tea. This plant derives is name from Greek, Latin and French and originally meant ground apple, or earth apple. It has been cultivated for thousands of years, used medicinally by ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans and is native to Europe, Africa and Asia. The uses of Chamomile are many and varied, and it can be taken internally as a tea (infusion) or tincture, as capsules or tablets, used topically as an oil, in a bath as dried flowers, or as a poultice for inflamed skin.

In Germany, Chamomile preparations have been recognised for their beneficial properties in the treatment of inflammation of the skin, to assist the healing of wounds and burns, for colds, coughs, fever and even bronchitis. In other countries, Chamomile is most well-known for its soothing and healing effects on the gastro-intestinal system, and for calming the nervous system. Chamomile contains several highly beneficial, naturally occurring molecules that have profound healing effects in the human body, including Apigenin, Bisabolol, Chamazulene and flavonoids. Apigenin binds to the so-called benzodiazepine receptors (as does the sedative drug Valium) which helps to support the calming effects of GABA (gamma-amino-butyrate: the primary calming neurotransmitter in our bodies), and it also inhibits the enzyme that breaks down serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. The overall impact of these changes is to produce a calming, relaxing feeling that helps to improve sleep. A 2015 study on the use of Matricaria (German Chamomile) for General Anxiety Disorder showed significant improvements in anxiety symptoms which persisted for up to 12 weeks after discontinuing the treatment.

These calming effects on the nervous system make Chamomile a highly valuable plant for nervous, irritable or overexcitable children. It helps to calm them down, and gently helps to support sleep. It is also useful with the irritability associated with teething. There appear to be 2 studies which confirm the benefits of Chamomile with infantile colic, which is defines as “regular, unexplained crying fits that usually last for 3 or more hours”. Babies with colic are grizzly and difficult to settle and gut pain is thought to be a major cause. Chamomile has been shown to significantly reduce the duration and severity of colic episodes in the majority of babies. Bisabolol, mentioned above, helps smooth muscle cells in the gut to relax, and this allows normal peristalsis in the baby’s or child’s tummy. Another useful phytonutrient is Chamazulene, which gives the chamomile oil its blue colour: Chamazulene is anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and also antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal.

This remarkable herb is highly regarded for use in children’s complaints, and also those of adults. I use it when dealing with children’s immune problems, tummy complaints, insomnia and nervous irritability. Chamomile combines very well with marshmallow root for reflux/ heartburn. I also use the teabags topically (at a tepid temperature) to relieve styes on the upper or lower eyelids (inflammation of the oil ducts of the eyelashes): I find it very soothing and refreshing as well as antimicrobial. Of course, seek help is these symptoms are severe or not resolving. Chamomile is very well tolerated, but rare cases of allergic reactions have been reported. People allergic to the daisy family should avoid it, and it is suggested that people on blood-thinning (anticoagulant) medication are monitored for any possible interactions, however unlikely. Fancy a cup of Chamomile?

David is a practicing Naturopath/ Herbalist.

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