February 01, 2023
German Chamomile: Matricaria chamomilla or Matricaria recutita
Roman Chamomile: Anthemis nobilis
Part Used: Flower head
History & Cultural Significance:
Though the chamomile, the more it is trodden on, the faster it grows, so youth, the more it is wasted, the sooner it wears.
William Shakespeare, Henry IV.
Accounts of chamomile’s “heal all”herbal properties are found in ancient cultures all throughout both types of chamomile’s native ranges. Chamomile was listed as one of the nine sacred herbs of the Lacnunga, an ancient Anglo-Saxon herb guide. Ancient Greek physicians, like Dioscorides, made frequent mention of prescribing the herb chamomile for a variety of ailments. Medieval herbalists bred double-flowering varieties of chamomile to increase the plant’s healing parts, as it is the plant’s flowers that are used for herbal remedies. Chamomile plants were used as low-growing lawn plants throughout Europe and in parts of North America, long before the traditional turf lawn became popular.
Chamomile plants are still widely cultivated for herbal use, though fresh chamomile from the garden is far more potent than the dried herb you can purchase as tea. Roman and German chamomile are used for their natural sedative, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, anti-allergen, antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. They are used to treat digestive problems, ulcers, menstrual troubles, allergies, asthma, arthritis, colic, headaches, insect bites, eczema, wounds, burns, eye inflammation, cold sores and most commonly anxiety. Most people are familiar with the calming, soothing effect of a cup of chamomile tea, and it is listed as one of the safest herbs to administer to young children. Chamomiles are also used in beauty products because they naturally soften and lighten skin and hair, and also treat acne and other skin problems.
The plants that we generally hear referred to as the herb chamomile are actually two separate plants. Roman or English chamomile is of the genus and species Chamaemelum nobile. This is considered the true chamomile. It is a perennial that is native to Western Europe and North Africa. German chamomile, or Matricaria recutita, is an annual native to Europe and Asia. It is considered to be the false chamomile.
Because of their similar herbal qualities, both plants have been widely cultivated and used interchangeably. Both plants have also been associated with deities of the sun in many ancient religions. In ancient Egypt, chamomile was sacred to the sun god Ra and was highly revered over all other herbs. Chamomile flowers are found depicted in many ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics dating back to over 2,000 years. Chamomile was valued not only as an herb that could heal any ailments, but Egyptian nobility also used it in their beauty regiments.
Use: Chamomile has many uses including insomnia, anxiety, menopausal depression, dyspepsia, gastric ulcers, diarrhea, colic, aches and pains of flu, migraine, neuralgia, teething, vertigo, motion sickness, conjunctivitis, inflamed skin, urticaria, and many others. It is probably the most widely used relaxing nerving herb in the Western world, is safe for use in all types of anxiety and stress-related disorders and is especially valuable when anxiety and tension produce digestive symptoms such as gas, colic and even ulcers. Chamomile makes a wonderful late-night tea to ensure restful sleep.
Actions: Nervine, antispasmodic, carminative, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, bitter, vulnerary.
Constituents: Sesquiterpenes (chamazulene, alpha-bisabolol, bisabolol oxide); sesquiterpene lactones (matricin, matricarin); flavonoid glycosides (6% to 8%): apigenin, luteolin, quercetin, isorhamnetin.
Safety Considerations: Chamomile may cause allergic reactions for people sensitive to plants in the Asteraceae family.
Formulator's Notes: Chamomile has several varieties growing throughout the world but the two most sought-after varieties are the German (Matricaria chamomilla) and Roman (Anthemis nobilis). Locally, we have a false chamomile (Matricaria perforata) and pineapple weed (Maticaria discoidal) the latter of which is a common edible plant with many of the same benefits as its German and Roman counterparts. I've considered foraging for pineapple weed and using it in my products but decided against it because it is often found in driveways and waste areas and could be contaminated with exhaust from vehicles or other unwanted chemicals. While sourcing chamomile for maceration, I learned that German chamomile, which is scented like sweet straw is primarily harvested for the flowerhead, while Roman chamomile is harvested for processing into essential oil which smells like fresh apples (it's very delightful!). For this reason, I use German chamomile for infusion and the essential oil of Roman chamomile for aromatherapy and its scent.
Hoffman, D. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, Vermont, Healing Arts Press, 2003.
Larum, Darcy. September 20, 2018. All About Chamomile Plant History. Gardening Know How Blog. https://blog.gardeningknowhow.com/tbt/chamomile-plant-history/