Chamomile benefits & uses

Katja
Katja
Katja
Katja

I study landscape ecology and through my studies have discovered a love for plants. Plants are not only beautiful, but also have countless fascinating survival strategies. To bring a bit of nature into my home as well, I nurture my houseplants and herbs on every possible windowsill.

Favourite fruit: rhubarb and all kinds of berries
Favourite vegetables: onions and garlic

The healing properties of chamomile have been known for centuries. But what makes chamomile so good for our health, and what can you use it for?

close-up view of chamomile flowers
Chamomile has been used as a medicinal plant for hundreds of years [Photo: belizar/ Shutterstock.com]

Chamomile (Matricaria) is widely cultivated by people as a medicinal plant. Healers have known and utilised the benefits of chamomile for thousands of years. Anglo-Saxons believed it to be one of just nine sacred herbs given to humans from God. Germanic tribes and Egyptians revered the flower as a sacred plant of their sun deities. Still today, many people swear by its beneficial powers. Chamomile can be used to help treat many different ailments, such as inflammations, stomach aches and colds.

What makes chamomile so healthy?

The oil in chamomile is what makes it an effective remedy and medicine. Most of the oil is contained in the flowers, at 0.3 – 2.5%. This oil is called chamomile oil or blue chamomile oil. The main active ingredients of chamomile oil are bisabolol and matricine, which give chamomile its anti-inflammatory effects. When chamomile oil is extracted by steam distillation, chamazulene is formed. This too provides an anti-inflammatory effect and gives the chamomile oil a deep blue colour.

German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) contains the most active medicinal substances, but Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) can also be used as a medicinal plant. However, bear in mind that mayweed (Anthemis), which closely resembles chamomile, is considered slightly poisonous and should not be used in medicine or cooking. Other chamomile species are not poisonous, but also do not have any significant levels of active substances. They are therefore rarely used for anything other than as an ornamental flower.

double-petaled chamomile flowers
Not all chamomile species are used in medicine [Photo: Alex Manders/ Shutterstock.com]

The ingredients of chamomile also have an antibacterial effect, can help prevent the effects of inflammatory substances and can relax cramped muscles. Because of these properties, chamomile is used to treat a wide range of illnesses from colds to skin problems.

Is chamomile anti-inflammatory? Yes, chamomile has an anti-inflammatory effect − both externally and internally. Applied as an ointment to skin, chamomile proves its effectiveness by helping against inflammation and neurodermatitis. Enjoyed as a tea, chamomile is also anti-inflammatory, for example against mouth and throat ailments.

small bottle of chamomile oil
The deep blue colour of chamomile oil arises during steam distillation [Photo: Madeleine Steinbach/ Shutterstock.com]

Can you eat chamomile?

The flowers, buds and leaves of chamomile are all edible and can be used in the kitchen. The roots and stems, on the other hand, are not typically used. Animals too can eat and enjoy the chamomile’s health benefits. Chamomile tea can be calming for dogs and help against gastrointestinal issues. Roman chamomile is also suitable for human consumption. It smells and tastes subtly of apples. Keep in mind, some species closely related to and closely resembling chamomile such as mayweed (Anthemis), on the other hand, are considered slightly poisonous and should not be eaten. You should also keep pets, such as dogs and cats away from mayweed, but occasional nibbling is harmless. Horses and rabbits too can tolerate small amounts of mayweed.

Is chamomile poisonous to cats? Chamomile is not poisonous to cats, but some mayweed species can cause mild symptoms of poisoning if consumed in large quantities.

butterfly on a chamomile flower
Chamomile is safe for pets and loved by insects [Photo: antonella.lussardi/ Shutterstock.com]

Fortunately, chamomile is one of the few medicinal plants that can be used by the average person with virtually no side effects. It hardly ever causes any negative effects even when prepared or dosed incorrectly. Nevertheless, there are a few things to consider when using German chamomile as a remedy. People allergic to the daisy family (Asteraceae) should refrain from using chamomile as a home remedy. These people can suffer severe allergic reactions if there are contaminants from other daisy species such as mayweed. Confusion between German chamomile and mayweed is not uncommon. In addition, you should refrain from using homemade chamomile remedies in or around the eyes − they may have contaminants and cause eye infections.

mayweed plant blooming in garden
Mayweed looks confusingly similar to German chamomile, but can trigger allergic reactions [Photo: Peter Turner Photography/ Shutterstock.com]

Chamomile health benefits

German chamomile is a medicine cabinet staple because of how easy it is to use and its versatility. People can use it to make their own, homemade remedies − no professionals needed. Roman chamomile, with similar ingredients, can also be used in home remedies. Chamomile is also suitable for children. Appropriate doses of chamomile tea, for example, can be used for babies without a second thought.

Chamomile tea benefits

Many people are familiar with chamomile flower tea. Whether an upset stomach or the flu – this warm drink can help with a wide range of illnesses. But is it an old wives’ tale, or is chamomile tea actually good for you? As a matter of fact, the healing oils from chamomile dissolved in hot water can provide relief from minor ailments. Chamomile tea has a calming effect, relieves gastrointestinal cramps and can also be beneficial to those suffering from gastritis. Chamomile also helps against inflammation in the mouth and throat − used several times a day, mouthwash with chamomile has an anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effect. In Southern Europe, this healthy tea is also widely used as a sleeping aid and sedative. It is even said to have an antispasmodic effect on menstrual cramps.

Tip: You can also use chamomile tea for hair care. It soothes the scalp and slightly lightens hair.

small pile of dried chamomile
To make chamomile tea, the dried chamomile flowers are used [Photo: Leonella/ Shutterstock.com]

As a household remedy, chamomile tea is not only healthy, but also extremely popular. Is it any wonder though? After all, it is easy to make. To make a chamomile tea infusion, you can use either fresh or dried flowers. The best time to harvest chamomile is when the flower is fully open, before it fades. Infuse two to three teaspoons of dried chamomile flowers in a cup of hot, but no longer boiling, water. After the tea has steeped for about ten minutes, strain out the flowers, and enjoy. A daily dose of German chamomile is around 9 to 12 grams of the dried blossoms.

fresh chamomile flowers in tea
Is chamomile tea healthy? Yes, of course! [Photo: George Dolgikh/ Shutterstock.com]

Summary: Advantages of chamomile tea

  • Chamomile tea is easy to make.
  • It helps with a wide range of ailments.
  • Because of its calming effect, chamomile tea is a good sleeping aid.
  • The anti-inflammatory effects help against gastrointestinal issues and menstrual cramps.
  • In hair care, chamomile tea brightens hair and soothes the scalp.
  • Chamomile tea is classically used for colds.

Steam inhalation

Chamomile is probably best known for its soothing effect against respiratory issues and colds. In such cases, chamomile tea is not the answer. If you have a severe cold, it is time to sweat it out. The active ingredients of chamomile reach the lungs through inhalation. Inhaling the steam of a hot chamomile steamer can be unpleasant for some, but it provides relief to cold symptoms affecting your airways. To prepare a chamomile steamer, add two handfuls of chamomile flowers to a bowl of boiling hot water. Hang your head over the pot and a towel over your head (to contain the steam), and breathe deeply, in and out, for 10 to 20 minutes. This process is not pleasant, but it works wonders. The steam moisturises the dry and irritated mucous membranes, and the essential oils from the chamomile soothe the inflammation.

bowl of hot water with chamomile
Inhaling chamomile steam can help with respiratory issues [Photo: Johannes Ziegler Photo/ Shutterstock.com]

Chamomile ointments

Although most commonly used in tea, chamomile has also proven itself to be an effective external remedy for skin. Chamomile cream is beneficial for skin − it helps heal wounds and provides an antibacterial effect. A chamomile oil-based ointment can be applied, for example, to skin inflammations, mucous membrane inflammations or bacterial skin conditions. Chamomile ointment can also help treat mouth infections.

chamomile ointment in small jar
Ointments made from chamomile can help treat many skin conditions [Photo: Vitalii M/ Shutterstock.com]

Chamomile bath

Ointments and creams are not the only external treatment − adding chamomile to a bath or sitz bath can also have a healing effect. German chamomile can help with skin conditions such as neurodermatitis or mild sunburn, whereby its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects provide relief. To make a chamomile bath, infuse 50 to 100 g of chamomile flowers in one litre of hot water. After ten minutes, strain out the flowers, and then add the liquid to your bath water. Sitz baths, or hip baths, with chamomile also provide an anti-inflammatory effect for anal and genital conditions, such as haemorrhoids. When used in sitz baths, chamomile essential oils relieve discomfort and accelerate healing.

dried chamomile flowers in bowl
The yellow tubular flowers contain most of the beneficial active ingredients [Photo: P Kyriakos/ Shutterstock.com]

Chamomile oil

Chamomile oil is versatile and can be extracted from both German and Roman chamomile. Try adding chamomile oil to your bath water together with a spoonful of honey to enjoy its effects. You can also dip clean cloths in a bowl of water with a few drops of chamomile oil to make a compress. Apply the compress to areas with neurodermatitis or muscle tension.

Do you want to grow chamomile in your own garden? Here are some tips on how plant chamomile.

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