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Chamomile: Small Wonder

Chamomile has always been one of my favorite herbs. In fact, it was probably one of the first herbs I knew about. As far back as many of us can remember, our mothers have most likely had chamomile tea on hand for upset tummies and as a comforting bedtime treat. So it’s not much of a surprise to learn that Chamomile is one of the oldest and most broadly used medicinal plants in the world, and it has been well documented for a variety of healing applications.

It has been used for centuries as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and mild astringent to treat wounds, ulcers, eczema, gout, skin irritations, bruises, burns, canker sores, neuralgia, sciatica, rheumatic pain, hemorrhoids, mastitis and more. It has also been used externally to treat diaper rash, cracked nipples, chicken pox, ear and eye infections, blocked tear ducts, conjunctivitis, nasal inflammation and poison ivy. And the tea has been used to calm nerves, treat insomnia and other sleep problems, for gastrointestinal distress, and to treat colic, croup and fevers in children. Wow, what a resume!

German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita), an upright growing annual and Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile), a perennial ground cover, are the two common varieties, the former being the most widely used and better tasting. During distillation, German Chamomile also produces higher levels of azulene, a blue-tinted, active organic compound, so it is sometimes referred to as Blue Chamomile.

The Latin word for womb, matrix, is the root of the plant’s genus, Matricaria, and the name Chamomile stems from the Greek kamaimelon, meaning “earth apple.” Its Spanish name, Manzanilla, means “little apple.” Germans refer to it as alles zutraut, meaning “capable of anything.”

The ancient Egyptians both used Chamomile extensively and gave it as an offering to the gods. In European folklore, it was viewed as a cure-all with magical implications for attracting money. Native Americans have long utilized the entire plant by making tea, jewelry and perfume. In Mexico, has been used to support healthy respiratory function, soothe the stomach and assist digestion. The Tzeltal Maya incorporate it with orange and lime leaf into a mood-lifting tea.

These members of the Asteraceae family bear small, white, daisy-like blossoms and a heady, fruity scent, similar to apples. They like moist, light and sandy loam with good drainage. German Chamomile tends to perennialize in warmer climates and can re-seed itself. In the Bay Area, you can expect blooms as soon as eight weeks after starting your seeds, continuing until frost. Summer flowers should be harvested early in the day, when temperatures are cool and dried immediately, out of the sun.

Chamomile is one of my favorite herbs to use in skin care preparations for its anti-inflammatory, soothing effects and its wonderfully fruity scent. It can be found in my hand and body cream, exfoliating facial grains, brightening face mask and baby balm, which will be up online soon. These products are also currently available at my retailers Urban Sanctuary and Flora + Fauna in Santa Cruz.