Chamomile is to Germany what ginseng is to China--a panacea. And though it may not be quite that versatile, it seems to do a lot, from calming an upset stomach to soothing mouth sores and skin inflammation. Many herbalists cite chamomile as a good "beginner herb" for those testing the waters of herbal remedies--probably as much for its safety as for its effectiveness.
Dried chamomile flowers have been a valued remedy dating back to ancient Greek and Egyptian times. While many varieties of this member of the daisy family exist, German chamomile (Matticaria recutita) is the most researched and most popular.
What it Might Do: In the U.S., chamomile is most often used to aid digestion, ease gas, bloating and intestinal cramps, and calm stress-related stomach complaints. Chamomile may even aid long-term management of chronic digestive conditions, like irritable bowel syndrome, gastritis and ulcers. Commercial tea labels often imply chamomile aids sleep. One of its constituents does have potential sedative effects, but this action hasn't been confirmed in people.
In Europe, chamomile is also put into mouthwashes, inhalations, baths and ointments to treat mouth, throat and respiratory infections, hemorrhoids and skin conditions.
How it Might Work: German chamomile is known to contain anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic and antimicrobial compounds, which soothe the digestive lining and other mucous membranes, and help fight minor infections.
If You Take: In the U.S., we think of chamomile as a tea. To make, pour one cup of boiling water over one heaping tablespoon of dried flowers. Cover to prevent the volatile oil from escaping, and steep for 10 to 15 minutes. For gastrointestinal complaints, drink three to four cups a day between meals. With capsules and tinctures, follow the recommended dose. As an essential oil, chamomile is inhaled or applied to skin in diluted form. (See page 7.)
Caution: If you're allergic to ragweed or other plants in the daisy family, be cautious. In rare instances, skin reactions and breathing difficulties have been reported from various forms of chamomile. Otherwise, this is considered one of the safest herbs.
EN Weighs In: Given the vast body of literature on chamomile, its long history of use and its nearly flawless safety record, there's little reason not to try three or four cups a day to quell a stomach uprising. Or, if you'd like to do as the Romans did and Germans do today, try a mouth rinse of strong chamomile tea for minor mouth and gum infections.