"How the Doctor's brow should smile
Crown'd with wreath of camomile..."

- Thomas Moore, Wreaths for the Ministers

While many people recognize the name chamomile (or camomile, an alternate spelling), few actually realize that two different species share the same name. Both possess the same medicinal properties and fragrance but have clear differences. Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) rarely reaches a foot in height and renders a bitter flavor. It was once a very popular groundcover for English lawns. German chamomile is the species likely to be found in herbal teas, medicinals and cosmetic preparations.

Although the chamomiles bear no resemblance to the fruit in any way, they were called kamai melon (to mean ground apple) by the ancient Greeks who favored their apple-like fragrance. The Spanish referred to chamomile as mazania, or "little apple," and used them to flavor their finest sherry. Inspired by chamomile's medicinal value, the Germans described it as alles zutraut, or "capable of anything."

Chamomile (German) has long been used to ease tension, indigestion and headache. You may recall that Peter Rabbit's mother nurtured his aching head with chamomile tea after he'd had a night of indulging in Farmer McGregor's garden.

Chamomile was also a popular remedy for muscle pain and menstrual cramps. In fact, the Romans rubbed the herb on sore muscles and sprains. Taken internally, chamomile does seem to have an anti-inflammatory action. A clinical study published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology in 1973 on the anti-inflammatory qualities of chamomile produced some interesting results. Ten out of twelve subjects who were given chamomile tea reportedly dozed off to sleep within ten minutes, even while they were undergoing a painful procedure. (Personally, I'm not very likely to rely upon chamomile at the moment of a tooth extraction, but I would highly recommend it for muscle soreness and headache.)

The therapeutic benefits of chamomile are due to the presence of chamazulene, bisabololoxides A and B and matricin. The flower heads contain quercimertrin, apigenin and luteolin (flavonoids) which also lend anti-spasmotic and anti-infammatory qualities, as well as the coumarins herniarin and umbelliferone. Chamomile may be an old-fashioned remedy, but more than 4,000 tons is cultivated and harvested each year world-wide.

A word of caution is warranted in the use of chamomile by allergy sufferers. The chamomiles (sometimes including yarrow) do contain some degree of allergens. Only 50 cases of allergic reaction have been reported between 1887 and 1982, however, with five of these being a direct result of consuming German chamomile. Still, it would be advisable to avoid frequent use of chamomile if you are known to be sensitive to chrysanthemums or ragweed.

Author's Bio: 

Karyn Siegel-Maier, owner of The Herbal Muse Press and founder of HerbalMusings.com, is a freelance writer specializing in botanical therapies. She has written for many magazines, including Let's Live, Natural Living Today, Real Woman, The Herb Quarterly, Your Health, American Fitness, Mother Earth News, Delicious!, Better Nutrition, Natural Pharmacy and several web sites. She is also the author of The Naturally Clean Home (1st and 2nd editions, 1999 and 2008), 50 Simple Ways to Pamper Your Baby (2000) and Happy Baby, Happy You (2008). She has been the subject of numerous interviews with national magazines and newspapers and has been a guest on several radio shows, such as Gary Null's Natural Living and The Deborah Ray Show.

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