Matricaria chamomilla, M. recutita
Pineapple Weed / Wild Chamomile M. discoidea
Roman Chamomile Chamaemelum nobile
Chamomile is a well known and much-loved herb. Its fame dates back to the ancient Egyptians, who used it in sacred ceremonies.
The ancient Greeks called it ground-apple because of its pleasant, apple-like aroma. Chamomile was strewn on the floors during the Middle Ages to create a pleasant scent. Known as maythen to the Anglo-Saxons, chamomile was one of their nine sacred herbs. Hildegard von Bingen used chamomile to relieve stomach ailments. A fine tonic for the digestive system, a cup of warm chamomile tea taken an hour before mealtime stimulates the appetite.
Chamomile’s antispasmodic properties help relax intestinal cramps, giving it a well-deserved reputation as “just the thing” for babies with colic. I use a teaspoon or two of chamomile tea in a bottle or dropper. A larger dose for adults, 1-2 cups of tea, can allay nausea and irritable bowel syndrome. Chamomile tea also counters indigestion, heartburn and sluggish bowel movement. Germans call it mutter’s-kraut, mother’s herb. Nursing mothers enjoy a cup before breastfeeding.
Chamomile is highly regarded as an emmenagogue. It helps bring on late menses, regulates menstruation and eases menopausal discomforts. Chamomile is an exemplary remedy for those dealing with uterine cramping or congestion.
When I feel stressed, tense or nervous, I sip a cup of chamomile tea to calm and soothe my jangled nerves. Wound-up children relax quite nicely after a cup (or two). Fresh or dried chamomile flowers make a wonderfully relaxing bath herb, especially for babies.
Inuit Eskimos use pineapple weed flowers, M. discoidea, in herbal steams to relieve lung congestion. Cheyenne chew them for endurance, the Crow for their aroma. The Flathead treat female disorders with pineapple weed, including menstrual cramps.
Chamomile flowers make an excellent hair rinse for light colored hair, and a muscle relaxing massage oil with an exceptionally pleasant scent. Anti-inflammatory chamomile oil gives excellent results when applied to eczema, allergic skin eruptions and hypersensitive skin. Well-strained chamomile tea put directly in the eyes remedies conjunctivitis and eye strain. I put 5-10 drops of the tincture into a cup of warm water and use it a few drops at a time.
Chamomile is a good choice to help bring down a fever. Ancient Egyptians used it for this and clinical studies concur: chamomile can lower body temperature by 3-3.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Chamomile offers lots of nerve soothing niacin and high levels of magnesium, phosphorus, riboflavin and sodium. It also provides calcium, iron, manganese, potassium, silicon and vitamin C. Among chamomile’s other constituents are volatile oil, chamazulene, flavonoids, rutin, valerianic acid, coumarone, tannins, calculates and glycosides. Chamazulene is intensely blue, crystalline and an excellent anti-inflammatory agent.
In Southern Italia, Matricaria (literally meaning dear or devoted mother) is associated with Sant Anna, (Saint Ann) the mother of Mary. Sant Anna is the patroness of our village and we pray to her for all issues having to do with fertility, pregnancy, childbirth and matters involving the family. We employ the use of chamomile to address these same issues. Matricaria recutita, known as Hammamilla in Italia, grows abundantly throughout our area and is best known for its anxiolytic and sedative properties. My grandmother, Maria Giuseppa Cammarano Quagliozzi, taught me that chamomile is a “cure-all” and she offered a cup of its tea to ease headache, relieve menstrual cramps and to settle upset stomach as well as feelings. The aerial parts are also used as a yellow dye.
Chamomile flowers are delicate. Steep dried blossoms five minutes for tea. Ten minutes makes a full strength medicinal infusion. A cup of dried chamomile infusion, sipped slowly, is the recommended dosage.
Flower Essence Chamomile flower essence restores calm after emotional upset, relieves tension in the “gut” and helps one cultivate a serene disposition. It can help reverse hyperactivity in children.
Magical Lore Often used in ceremonies that honor the sun, such as summer solstice, chamomile is a sunny protector of any area. Sprinkle chamomile flowers over newborn babes to bless them with a sunny disposition. Old wives say chamomile flowers in a magic bag guarantees the success of any endeavor.
Culture Pineapple weed, or wild chamomile, is native to western parts of North America but traveled east with European settlement and is now naturalized on the east coast and Canada. It grows abundantly in well-traveled areas such as driveways. It grows 6-8 inches high with short, bright green, yarrow-like leaves topped with little golden buttons (usually lacking little white petals) that smell like pineapple when crushed.
Easy-to-grow German chamomile, the physician of plants, is planted around the garden to keep nearby plants healthy. Chamomile seeds are very tiny, so we sow them lightly and press into the top layer of soil - no need to cover them. Chamomile grows quickly, making a beautiful bright green carpet followed by a flower-laden paradise.
Pick the white-petaled German chamomile flowers as they appear, and dry them quickly on screens to maintain the healing energies. I place a sheet of brown paper under my screens to catch all the seeds that fall through. The fresh flowers can be infused in oil or honey, but should not be used for tea. Use dry flowers for making teas and tinctures.