Monday, March 28, 2011

Matricaria chamomile - The 'Noble' Chamomile

Matricaria chamomile - Chamomile, also spelled Camomile, Synonyms are: Chamomilla chamomilla, Chamomilla recutita (correct name according to the Flora Europaea), Chamaemelum nobile, Anthemis nobilis and Matricaria suaveolens.

Common names for Chamomile include Earth Apple, Ground Apple, German/Roman/Hungarian Camomile, Garden Camomile, Low Camomile, Dog-Daisy, Whig Plant, Pineapple Weed, Wild Camomile, Matricaria, Anthemis, Scented Mayweed.  The word chamomile comes from Greek "chamaimÄ“lon", (chamai)", on the ground", (mÄ“lon), "apple", Earth-Apple, so called because of the apple-like scent of the plant. 

Chamomile is an erect, spindly, feathery looking annual growing up to 2 feet tall with branching stems. The leaves are very fine and linear. It has a typical composite flower, with white petals and a yellow conical center.

It usually grows near populated areas all over Europe and temperate Asia. It is widely introduced in temperate North America and Australia. As the seeds need open soil to survive, it often grows near roads, around landfills and in cultivated fields as a weed.

Chamomile is one of the most widely used flowers for herbal tea.  Chamomile Tea is so popular, it is found in most grocery stores in the tea aisle. It is used as a mild sedative, and is good for insomnia as well as many other nervous conditions.  It is nervine and sedative especially suited to teething children and those who have been in a highly emotional state over a long period of time.  Except for the small risk of allergy, Chamomile is also one of the safest herbs to use.

Chamomile flowers are used in alternative medicine as an anodyne, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, nervine, stomachic, tonic, vasodilatory.  The anti-inflammatory properties make it good for rheumatism, arthritis, and other painful swellings.

 Additional uses in herbal medicine include an antispasmodic for intestinal and menstrual cramps, relieving gas pains, and a very mild but efficient laxative.  It is splendid for kidneys, spleen, colds, bronchitis, bladder troubles, to expel worms, for dropsy and jaundice.  It makes an excellent wash for sore and weak eyes.

Applied externally as a wash or compress for skin inflammations, sunburn, burns, and added to bath for relaxing tired, achy muscles and feet, and softening the skin.  It is also good for the care of most skin-types, acne, allergies, boils eczema, inflamed skin conditions, earache, wounds, headache, insomnia, nervous tension, stress related disorders, and digestive.  It has a very low toxicity, so it is useful for children.  Milder tea in large doses is given throughout the day for fevers, sore throats, the aches and pains due to colds, flu, and allergies.

An infusion of Chamomile flowers is used as a shampoo, especially for fair hair and it can lighten hair color.  The flowers are sometimes added to cosmetics as an anti-allergenic agent or made into a salve for use on hemorrhoids and wounds.  The dried herb is made into potpourri and herb pillows, and is burned for aromatherapy. 

CAUTION:  If you suffer from ragweed allergies, it is best to avoid chamomile tea.  Consuming large amounts of highly concentrated preparations have shown to cause nausea and vomiting.

An essential oil from the whole plant is used as a flavoring and in making perfume. The dried flowers are used as an insect repellent.

The ancient Egyptians dedicated Chamomile to the sun god Ra, and valued it over all other herbs for its healing qualities as a cure for acute fever. In Spain it has been known for centuries as Mantazilla or 'Little Apple' and is used for flavouring the light sherry which bears its name. 

Chamomile was known to the ancient Romans and used for incense and in beverages.  Ironically, the name 'Roman Chamomile' by which it is sometimes known, does not stem from this time, but from a rather arbitary naming of the herb in the 19th century by a plant collector who happened to find some growing in the Colleseum in Rome! 

In the Middle Ages it was an ingredient in some love potions and used as a 'strewing' herb to improve the atmosphere at gatherings and festivals.  It was also one of the Anglo Saxon's 'Nine Sacred Herbs' and known as 'Maythen'.  In these times it was also used widely in Beer Making as a bittering ingredient.  Medieval Christians consecrated Chamomile to St. Anne, mother of the Virgin.  Its botanical name, Matricaria, was derived from "mater" and "cara" (beloved mother).  With its delicate but hardy nature, it came to stand for 'patience in adversity'.

Matricaria chamomilla is an annual herb originally from Europe which escaped to the wild and is now naturalized on almost every continent.  It can now be found growing along fence rows, roadsides, and in sunny open fields from Southern Canada to Northern U.S. west to Minnesota.  The branched stem is somewhat erect, round, hollow, and grows to about 20 inches tall.  The leaves are bipinnate, finely divided, light green and feathery.  The flowers are daisy-like about 1 inch across and bloom from May to October. 

When starting to grow sweet chamomile seedlings indoors then start about 7 weeks in advance. It should take the seeds about one to three weeks to germinate at 18 to 24 degrees Celsius. Once ready, transplant into the garden. 

Sow thinly in outdoors on soil surface at the start of spring, a light frost will help with germination.  They grow in sun or light shade, poor but well drained soil is preferred.  A plant food can be provided early in its growth.  Pinch tips and deadhead to promote bushy growth and continued blooming. They can be cut back to the ground in autumn.  Gather the above ground parts as soon as flowers bloom, dry for later herb use.

Chamomile tea can be used as a liquid feed and plant tonic and is effective against a number of plant diseases.  It is also beneficial when planted near ailing or sick plants, often aiding in a full recovery.


Alternative Nature Online Herbal:
Mother Herbs:
The English Chamomile Co.:
Plant Biology:

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