Sunday, November 27, 2011

Chamomile - An excerpt

 Powerful Medicine Disguised as a Small Flower

(Matricaria recutita)

One of my first memories of using plants for medicine was delivered through Beatrix Potter and her adventures with Peter Rabbit. 

You might remember the day that Peter Rabbit narrowly escaped a harrowing ordeal in Mr. McGregor’s garden. Once he was safely home his mother gave him a cup of chamomile tea before putting him to bed. How quaint! Perhaps it was because of this pre-school impression that I didn’t take this herb very seriously. 

Now, many cups of chamomile tea later, I understand what makes chamomile so extraordinary. 

Chamomile provides significant results while being safe and gentle for practically everyone. 

As Peter Rabbit’s mother knew, chamomile is soothing and calming; perfect after those stressful days in the garden or at work. It not only helps to promote rest, but it also helps to mediate pain and inflammation. In fact, chamomile is so effective at reducing inflammation that it has been studied extensively for this ability. 

If you type its scientific name (Matricaria recutita) into PubMed (a government listing of biomedical studies), you’ll see it has been proven effective both for addressing phlebitis caused by chemotherapy treatments and for stopping allergies by inhibiting the histamine response. 

From eczema to menstrual cramps to IBS, chamomile can relieve pain and inflammation quickly and safely. 

That's no wussy herbal medicine! 

Chamomile Energetics

From an herbalist’s perspective, chamomile is considered bitter, slightly warming, and relaxing. What does this mean and why does it matter? 

Herbalists don’t simply study what herb is good for what condition. Instead, each plant is analyzed on a variety of therapeutic levels. One important aspect of this is the plant’s ability to warm or cool a person. Have you ever eaten really spicy wasabi and then felt your sinuses drain? Or eaten a fresh slice of watermelon on a hot day and felt cooled and refreshed? If so, then you’ll know exactly what I am talking about. 

Every medicinal plant has these characteristics to some degree or another, and understanding these actions helps herbalists to be more effective at choosing which plant can help a particular person. 

Chamomile is relatively neutral in temperature but perhaps slightly warming. Generally, our more neutral plants can be taken by most people and in higher amounts without causing unwanted effects. 

The taste of chamomile gives us further insight into how it works. 

Chamomile: Powerfully Ally for Digestion

The taste of a plant is also very important in understanding the plant’s actions. 

For example, the bitter taste on our tongue creates a cascade of events that promotes our digestive function. From stimulating saliva (our first digestive juice) to various enzymes in the stomach, liver and pancreas, one can argue that the bitter taste is needed at every meal. 

A strongly brewed cup of chamomile provides this bitter taste, thus promoting healthy digestion. 

Chamomile can be especially beneficial for people with a “nervous stomach” as it both calms and soothes while stimulating digestive function. It can also be used by people with digestive inflammation (such as heartburn or IBS) to mediate inflammatory levels in the gut mucosa. 

Furthering helping with digestion are chamomile aromatic qualities which break up stagnant digestion. Ever had stagnant digestion? It's characterized by bloating and the feeling that there's a bowling ball in your stomach. 

Chamomile for Relaxation
Chamomile has many applications for common complaints. Besides helping to relax the nervous system chamomile also can relax muscle tissue. Women may find their menstrual cramps abated with a strong cup of chamomile tea, or diminished by rubbing their abdomen with oil infused with chamomile blossoms. 

Any mother whose colicky or teething child has been soothed to sleep (or simply quieted) by chamomile will tell you this is beneficial stuff! 

List of Issues Chamomile Can Help
Keeping in mind the above energetic considerations as well as the broader personalized considerations (diet, food intolerances, lifestyle etc). I commonly use chamomile for people with the following health issues. 

  • menstrual cramps
  • soothe teething, colicky or grumpy children
  • eczema
  • gas
  • bloating
  • diarrhea
  • leaky gut
  • tension headaches
  • difficulty sleeping
  • butterflies in stomach
  • anxiety
  • promote beautiful skin

How to make chamomile as medicine
If you’ve ever stuck a chamomile tea bag into a cup of hot water for five minutes, then you’ve experienced chamomile as a delightful and slightly sweet tea. 

To get more therapeutic results, use more chamomile and steep for longer. I generally use 1/2 cup of flowers to a pint of just-boiled water and I let it steep for 20-30 minutes. The resulting brew is decidedly less sweet and more bitter than a cup of tea but this stronger concoction provides more relief for many of the issues listed in this article. 

Besides drinking this strong infusion, it can also be used on skin as a rinse or added to bath water to relieve itching of mild rashes. 

Chamomile is also used as a tincture, a glycerite and as an infused oil. 

Special Considerations
Most people will find that chamomile is effective and safe. A small percentage of people are allergic to chamomile and will have reactions. It's always best to try new herbs and foods in small amounts. 


Simchah said...

Thanks for the ebook, Rosalee! I have a question about marshmallows. I found a marshmallow plant near the bay and tried (unsuccessfully) to make marshmallow fluff by boiling the root with sugar. Instead I got a hard condensed white mass and a thick, sweet, amber-colored liquid. I put both separately in my refrigerator, not knowing what to do with them. That was August, I'm embarrassed to say. Anyway both are still in the fridge and look OK. Do you think the liquid would constitute a syrup and would it still be good? Could the hard, white mass be used for anything? I hope they're not another "science experiment" gone awry. ;)

Simchah said...

Here's another marshmallow question, Rosalee. I was told to avoid echinacea because it would activate my immune system, while I'm taking methotrexate to lower my immunity because of rheumatoid arthritis. Would marshmallow have an adverse effect? Could I use it for a dry, irritating cough?

I appreciate your input, which has always been helpful to me in the past.

All the best!

McEuen's Musings said...

Somewhere I have heard or read that if a person has a ragweed allergy, they should be careful with thier use of Chamomile. I have used Chamomile for years with no problems, despite my having a ragweed allergy. What is your opinion?


I tend to use chamomile (manzania in Spanish) in case of kidney stones. HEAVY doses of the decoction and tea will dissolve the stones and allow for easy passage thru the urethrea. I'm fond of it as a poultice for skin irritations on children and for hemmoroids. Forgive my spelling. It's been a loooonnnng day.

Rosalee de la Forêt said...

Simchah -
I am not sure about the mixture you made.... No experiments are bad, just some more enlightening than others. :)

I have never heard of marshmallow causing problems as an immune stimulant. It is great for dry coughs.

Rosalee de la Forêt said...

McEuen - some people are allergic to chamomile, but as you've experienced, it doesn't seem cut and dry who is allergic to what. It's always a good idea to start with a small amount to mediate any allergic reactions.