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Herbal Medicine Materia Medica: Chamomile

David Hoffmann L. BSc (Hons), MNIMH ©



Matricaria recutita

Part used: Flowering tops

Constituents: There is a wealth of information about the whole range of components. However, this does not tell us much about the value and benefits of the herb as used in healing. The activity of the whole plant is always more than the sum of its parts, just as a person is more than the sum of their biochemistry. Herbal medicine treats the unique individual and not just the disease present. Herbs can be very powerful in addressing symptomology, but we limit their potential if we stay at this level. Knowing the chemistry of sesquiterpenes is not the same as knowing Chamomile!


The essential oil is a wonderful blend of many individual oils. In addition to a wonderful aroma, these oils all have anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic and anti-microbial activity in the body. When freshly distilled this oil is blue due to the presence of azulene. Some of the other components of the oil include a-bisabolol, chamazulene, farnesene and herniarin.


Following much pharmacological research, the a-bisabolol has been credited with the ulcer-protective properties of the herb and chamazulene as the main anti-inflammatory. It has been suggested that there is a stimulation of local prostaglandin synthesis, thus strengthening the protective mucosal barrier against ulceration. Azulene imparts the deep blue colour to the essential oil.

Major constituents of Matricaria recutita & their actions.


Constituent Properties




cyclic sesquiterpene



cyclic sesquiterpene

anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic

bisabolol oxide

isomeric cyclic sesquiterpene

anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic





alkylated flavonoid

anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic


alkylated flavonoid

anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic


alkylated flavonoid

anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic






Important flavonoids have been found that include quercimeritin, which is involved in the reduction of capillary fragility. Other relevant constituents are anthemic acid, anthemidine, tannin and matricarin.

Actions: Nervine, anti-spasmodic, carminative, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, bitter, vulnerary


Indications: A comprehensive list of Chamomiles' medical uses would be very long. Included would be insomnia, anxiety, menopausal depression, loss of appetite, dyspepsia, diarrhea, colic, aches and pains of flu, migraine, neuralgia, teething, vertigo, motion sickness, conjunctivitis, inflamed skin, urticaria etc. etc.. This may seem too good to be true, but it reflects the wide range of actions in the body.

It is probably the most widely used relaxing nervine herb in the western world. It relaxes and tones the nervous system, and is especially valuable where anxiety and tension produce digestive symptoms such as gas, colic pains or even ulcers. This ability to focus on physical symptoms as well as underlying psychological tension is one of the great benefits of herbal remedies in stress and anxiety problems. Safe in all types of stress and anxiety related problems, it makes a wonderful late night tea to ensure restful sleep. It is helpful with anxious children or teething infants, where it is used as an addition to the bath.

As an anti-spasmodic herb, it works on the peripheral nerves and muscles, and so it indirectly relaxes the whole body. When the physical body is at ease, ease in the mind and heart follows. It can prevent or ease cramps in the muscles, such as leg or abdomen. As the essential oil added to a bath, it relaxes the body after a hard day whilst easing the cares and weight of a troubled heart and mind.

Being rich in essential oil, it acts on the digestive system, promoting proper function. This usually involves soothing the walls of the intestines, easing griping pains and helping the removal of gas. It is an effective anti-inflammatory remedy internally for the digestive and respiratory system as well as externally on the skin. A cup of hot Chamomile tea is a simple, effective way of relieving indigestion, calming inflammations such as gastritis and helping prevent ulcer formation. Using the essential oil as a steam inhalation will allow the same oils to reach inflamed mucus membranes in the sinuses and lungs.

Chamomile is a mild anti-microbial, helping the body to destroy or resist pathogenic micro-organisms. Azulene, one of the components of the essential oil, is bacteriocidal to Staphylococcus and Streptoccusinfections. The oil from 0.10g of flowers is enough to destroy in 2 hours three times the amount of Staphylococcal toxins.

As an anti-catarrhal it helps the body remove excess mucus buildup in the sinus area. It may be used in head colds and allergy reactions such as hay fever. Mucous is not a problem in itself. It is an essential body product, but when too much is produced it is usually in response to an infection, helping the body remove the problematic organism, or as a way of the body removing excess carbohydrate from the body.

A review of recent scientific literature shows how much interest this venerable folk remedy is still receiving. Most of the clinical, therapeutic research comes from Europe, reflecting the respect Chamomile receives in the medical community there. Anti-inflammatory effects have been the main focus of research, being the official criteria for its inclusion in the Pharmacopeia. These properties explain the herbs value in a wide range of digestive intestinal problems. Taken by mouth or used as an enema it is particularly helpful in colitis and irritable bowel syndrome. A fascinating recent German study demonstrated the efficacy of chamomile on the healing of wounds caused by tattooing. A common problem with tattoos is a 'weeping' wound where the skin has been abraded. The healing and drying process was compared between patients that were treated with Chamomile & a similar group that were not. The decrease of the weeping wound area as well as the speed of drying was dramatically improved using Chamomile.

Clinical and laboratory research demonstrates statistically what the herbalist knows experientially, that it will reduce inflammation, colic pain and protect against ulcer formation in the whole of the digestive tract.

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