scientific name: Matricaria chamomilla
other common names: Manzanilla, English chamomile, German chamomile
growing areas: Native to Europe; grows in the United States and Central and South America
physical description: It is an annual flowering herb. M. chamomilla is the more widely known variety and is grown in the United States. It can reach a height of 3 feet. Another variety, Roman chamomile (Anthemis nobilis), tends to grow about 8 inches high. Both varieties have flowers with small white petals and yellow centers.
traditional uses: Of all the medicinal plants used to cure indigestion, probably none is as well known as chamomile. It has a long history of medicinal use stretching back to the time of the ancient Egyptians and Romans. Botanical historians say that the Germans have used it for centuries to treat not only stomach upset but also menstrual problems such as cramps. Doctors in England and the colony of Virginia also included chamomile in their bags of medicinals. In modern-day Eastern Europe, particularly in Romania, children were sometimes asked to bring chamomile plants to school during government-run collection campaigns.
Chamomile is believed to have been brought to the United States by immigrants from Europe, but its use has spread throughout the Hispanic cultures, where it is considered one of the key remedios. Considered by some to be "herbal aspirin," chamomile use is so widespread among Hispanics that one survey found it to be among the top ten substances used by mothers in Puerto Rican communities for treating asthma. In another survey done in ethnic Mexican communities along a portion of the Texas-Mexico border, chamomile was the most frequently mentioned home remedy.
Known popularly among Hispanics as manzanilla, chamomile tea is used to treat abdominal pain, vomiting, and other forms of gastrointestinal distress among children. Mexicans tend to use chamomile to treat conditions among children known as empacho, or blocked intestine, and colico, or colic. It is also reported to be used to treat menstrual and other gynecological problems.
The traditional uses and benefits of chamomile, in both European and Hispanic cultures, have earned it a reputation for being an antispasmodic, antibacterial, deodorant, and sedative.
availability and dosage: It is widely available in tea form throughout the United States at the retail level. Loose chamomile flowers and crushed plants can be purchased as well for the making of teas or for use in baths. Chamomile oil is also available. Dosages vary. It is also available in capsule form in doses up to 350 milligrams.
contraindications: While Commission E said there were no known contraindications for chamomile, other researchers in the United States recommend that it should be avoided by pregnant and breast-feeding women. Caution is urged for people who are sensitive to certain volatile oils or may develop contact dermatitis.
special precautions: Consult your physician before beginning any use of an ethnobotanical substance for medicinal purposes.
In their professional handbook on complementary and alternative medicines, pharmacists Charles W. Fetrow and Juan R. Avila report that chamomile is believed to be an abortifacient and should be avoided by pregnant women.
medical research: A test done of patients undergoing cardiac catheterization showed that chamomile had no effect on heart function but put 80 percent of the patients to sleep shortly after drinking tea made from the herb.
A study done on rats determined that one of the most active substances in chamomile was bisabolol, a compound that suppresses the formation of chemically induced ulcers. Another study carried out with mice evaluated the anti-inflammatory activity of a chamomile extract. The animals' ears were chemically treated to induce swelling and then given a topical application of the extract. The chamomile extract was found to have reduced the swelling to a degree similar to that obtained with anti-inflammatory steroids.