Chamomile is one of the most popular herbs in the Western world. There are two plants known as chamomile: the more popular German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) and Roman, or English, chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile). Although they belong to different species, they are used to treat the same health problems. Both are used to calm frayed nerves, to treat various stomach problems, to relieve muscle spasms, and to treat skin conditions and mild infections.
Chamomile can also be found in a variety of face creams, drinks, hair dyes, shampoos, and perfumes.
Most research on chamomile has been done with German chamomile. It has similar active ingredients, but they are not exactly the same.
Traditionally, Roman chamomile has been used to treat nausea, vomiting, heartburn, and gas. It is often used today to relieve anxiety. Used topically, this herb may also reduce inflammation from cuts or hemorrhoids. It is sometimes used to ease the discomfort from eczema and gingivitis (swollen gums).
Although chamomile is popular, there aren’t many studies that look at whether it works to treat these health problems. Test tube studies have shown that chamomile can kill bacteria, fungus, and viruses. It also helps relax muscle contractions, particularly in the smooth muscles that make up the intestines.
Roman chamomile originates in northwestern Europe and Northern Ireland, where it creeps close to the ground and can reach up to one foot in height. Gray-green leaves grow from the stems, and the flowers have yellow centers surrounded by white petals, like miniature daisies. Its leaves are thicker than German chamomile, and it grows closer to the ground. The flowers smell like apples.
What's It Made Of?
Chamomile teas, ointments, and extracts all start with the white and yellow flower head. The flower heads may be dried and used in teas or capsules or crushed and steamed to produce a blue oil, which is used as medicine. The oil contains ingredients that reduce swelling and may limit the growth of bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
Roman chamomile is available as dried flowers in bulk, tea, tinctures, and in creams and ointments.
How to Take It
Scientists haven’t studied Roman chamomile in children. Herbal practitioners may recommend dosing similar to German chamomile, 1 - 2 oz. of tea per day. Talk to your doctor to determine the right dose before giving Roman chamomile to a child.
- Tea: Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 2 - 3 heaping tbls. (2 - 4 g) of dried herb, steep 10 - 15 minutes. Drink 3 - 4 times per day between meals.
- Bath: Use 1/4 lb of dried flowers per bath, or add 5 - 10 drops of essential oil to a full tub of water to soothe hemorrhoids, cuts, eczema, perineal pain, or insect bites.
- Cream/Ointment: Apply cream or ointment containing 3 - 10% chamomile content.
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects and can interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a health care provider.
Roman chamomile is considered generally safe.
Chamomile may make asthma worse, so people with asthma should not take it.
Pregnant women should avoid chamomile because of the risk of miscarriage.
If you are sensitive to asters, daisies, chrysanthemums, or ragweed, you may also be allergic to chamomile.
Drinking large amounts of highly concentrated chamomile tea may cause vomiting.
Chamomile may cause drowsiness, so don’t take it and drive.
Stop taking chamomile at least 2 weeks before surgery or dental surgery, because of the risk of bleeding.
If you currently take any of the following drugs, you should not use chamomile without first talking to your health care provider.
Blood-thinning medications (anticoagulants) -- Chamomile may increase the risk of bleeding when taken with blood-thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), and aspirin.
Sedatives -- Chamomile can make the effects of sedative drugs stronger, including:
- Anticonvulsants, such as phenytoin (Dilantin) and valproic acid (Depakote)
- Benzodiazepines, such as alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium)
- Drugs to treat insomnia, such as zolpidem (Ambien), zaleplon (Sonata), eszopiclone (Lunesta), and ramelteon (Rozerem)
- Tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline (Elavil)
The same is true of sedative herbs, such as valerian, kava, and catnip.
Blood pressure medications -- Chamomile may lower blood pressure slightly. Taking it with drugs for high blood pressure could cause blood pressure to drop too low.
Diabetes medications -- Chamomile may lower blood sugar. Taking it with diabetes drugs could raise the risk of hypoglycemia or low blood sugar.
Other drugs -- Because chamomile is broken down by certain liver enzymes, it may interact with other drugs that are broken down by the same enzymes. Those drugs may include:
- Fexofenadine (Seldane)
- Statins (drugs that can lower cholesterol)
- Birth control pills
- Some antifungal drugs
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Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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