Friday, January 28, 2011

10 reasons to love blessed Chamomile (matricaria recutita)

I've been feeling so uninspired to write these days- feeling like I have nothing new or interesting to say about herbs.  Its snowy here, so snowy, it requires utmost effort to even go for a walk - first bundling up appropriately- not too much, but not to little, then buckling on the snowshoes (which is an acrobatic sport in and of itself), and then trudging through the knee deep snow at a snails pace.  15 min to get to the woods, 45 min to the river.  It's not exactly easy these days.  And the plants are all but covered up.

There are the trees of course, sweetly dreaming in the winter dormancy, and I feel anxious for blossoms for making elixirs.  Evergreen needles beckon to be added to winter brews.  But I've got the winter blahs.    I thought maybe if I wrote about nothing fancy, nothing special, the most basic of herbal friends- without trying to be new or different or unique or stand out somehow with something   !WOW!  I'd find the joy in writing about plants again.

So I randomly picked an herb- well know, loved by all, used by herbalists and lay people and muggles alike.
The herb of grandmothers tea for upset tummies, and teething babies, and cranky pants adults and teens.  Humble and beautiful Chamomile.
Here are my 10 reasons to love chamomile right now.
1. Unsuspecting bitter digestive tonic.

 Yeah, chamomile is bitter. Did you know this?  Have you ever had a cup of chamomile tea that steeped a bit long?  It's truly bitter.  I think herbalists and folks forget this property of this humble herb.  The bitter taste is usually lacking in most American diets.  So they say take bitters- gentian, dandelion, oregon grape etc.  Yes, and drink chamomile tea before you eat.  Its gentle bitterness is paired with energetic warmth and aromatic carminative properties.  Not only will it fill the bitter need in our taste senses, and improve digestive secretions through this bitterness, it will, served warm, warm up the crockpot of the stomach to prepare it to digest food.  And those aromatics stimulate peristalsis and help to eliminate gas (especially if like many americans you don't chew your food well, and swallow air as you gulp down your meal.)

2. Unrecognized antiinflammatory
I use chamomile frequently in tea blends for inflammed digestive systems with much success.  Chamomile is often the perfect remedy for those folks who are generally stressed out, crabby-cranky, and have a digestive problem like IBS, food allergy related leaky gut, colitis etc.  It gently soothes their cranky nerves, and moderates inflammation on the digestive tract tissues.  Most folks think of chamomile as a good tea for nausea or upset stomach, but its effects reach much deeper, and I find it to be a supreme remedy for serious digestive complaints as well.  The nice thing about it is that everyone KNOWS chamomile.  Anyone will be willing to go to the store and buy some chamomile tea.   (though I do think quality of those tea bags is somewhat questionable).  But chamomile isn't scary.  Its easy, its familiar, its safe.   I also find that its gentle warmth is usually NOT too intense for folks with a warm constitution, but if concerned it can be combined with something cooling like marshmallow, or peppermint.

3. Ladies friend for PMS
  It's not always the strongest of remedies, but I've seen a strong chamomile infusion zap spasmodic, cold menstrual cramps in many women, at the same time pacifying their cranky baby irritability.  The classic indication for chamomile is for adults acting like children.  You know, when you feel like you are about 2.  and want to stamp your feet, have a tantrum, and whine till the cows come home.  Go make a cup of tea.  Or better yet, have your partner bring it to you. No complaining.

4. Be beautiful skin ally
  I love chamomile for the skin.  Just as it is an effective anti inflammatory for the digestive tissues, chamomile can be an excellent remedy for the skins many inflammations.  Itchy rashes- try a chamomile tea compress or bath.  You might want to put some oatmeal in the blend too, but even by itself, chamomile can clear up rashes and mild infections on the skin quite well.  Chamomile also contains a highly sought after plant chemical known as azulene.  You can find it in other herbs like yarrow as well, but azulene is this amazing BLUE oil that is used in skin care formulas as an antiiflammatory.  It also evens the skin tone, reduces dark circles and spots, and calms redness.  Azulene in chamomile can soothe burns- both from the sun and from the stove.  And it will turn your homemade cream blue.  Thats just too cool.    And don't forget the chamomile tea bag over the eyes trick.  Takes down the dark circles, addresses mild eye inflammation and infection- try it on styes, pink eye, allergy eyes, and plus, it feels great to lay there with cool sweet smelling chamomile on your eyes.  We should all do that more often.

5. Sweet Night cap
Instead of finishing off the night with a glass of wine or a hot toddy, try a hot infusion of chamomile.  I know, its simple, chamomile tea before bed.  But I love it.  Chamomile tea with a hint of lavender is one the best bedtime remedies I know, for adults and children alike.  It soothes any last remaining belly achin from the evening meal, calms and soothes the nervous system and eases the body gently to rest.    I told you I was getting simple and back to basics.  I'm tired of fancy specific indications all the time.  I bet your clients and skeptical family members are more likely to take a cup of tea than that bitter "to bed" tincture formula.  I agree, sometimes you need the big guns, but lets not forget the simplicity and beauty of simple, well known plants.  Chamomile tea- before bed, sweet dreams and sleep deeply.   Chamomile also happens to be a lovely remedy for those who get nightmares- I think it best in combination with flower essences, talking it out, and other specific herbs for the situation, but this can really soothe the frightened soul of a child or adult who has woken from a horrible dream with tears and sobs.

6. Pain easer
  Chamomile, a strong preparation, is a wonderful analgesic and pain reliever.  Another reason to use it on your burns or cuts and scrapes.  Chamomile tincture rubbed on teething gums soothes baby's complaints.  A cool tea bag as a poultice in the mouth for inflammed sore gums from erupting wisdom teeth, inflammed tissues, or post oral surgery.   Or try a cotton gauze soaked in the strong infusion or diluted tincture.

7. Bathing herb
I've mentioned this above, but I love chamomile in baths.  You can use blue chamomile essential oil if you like, or a strong tea of chamomile flowers. ( Make a gallon and pour it strained into the bath water).  Soothing, relaxing, pain relieving and antiinflammatory.  This makes a perfect bath before bedtime for young ones, or anyone, and is a wonderful way to treat yourself when feeling stressed and blue.

8. Easy to grow
I've managed to grow chamomile in a pot, in the desert, and beyond.  You can grow chamomile pretty much anywhere!  It spreads widely,  and can take a cutting.  Its fragrant blossoms and leaves gently waving in the wind, beckoning you to lay down in the field and take a nap.  Grow chamomile from seed, or seedling.  If you want a large bed, enough to harvest from, you will want several plants, and several feet of planting area.  But i've found I can harvest a decent amount for myself from just a few plants.  Harvest the flowers as they open fully, gently pulling the blossoms up and off between your fingers, or use a small collecting rake (used for blueberries as well).  The plants will continue to bloom even as you harvest daily.

9. Fermenting fun with chamomile.
I love to add chamomile to kombucha, but its also a lovely addition as a bittering agent with sweet aroma to homemade beers (herbal and standard alike) and is marvelous added to apple cider to ferment into a bubbly hard cider.

10. Yummy!
One of my favorite things about chamomile is it is YUMMY!  So many of our herbs are exceedingly bitter, nasty, unpleasant. Its nice to have a few reliable standby herbs that are so effective and multipurpose, but are also delicious.  I've not met too many people who object to a bit of chamomile tea with honey.  Healing medicines shouldn't always be unpleasant.  Effecting healing in a gentle and pleasant way is often just what the person needs.  I like to remind myself that often the most effective medicines are seemingly the most simple, and "unsexy."  Plain ol chamomile tea.  Its good.  Use it.

Delicious chamomile tea for all reasons

1 pt chamomile blossoms
1 pt lemon balm leaf
1 pt peppermint
1/4 pt lavender flowers
1/2 pt lemon verbena or lemongrass (optional)

Steep 1 tbsp of herbs in 8-12 oz hot water, covered, for no more than 5-7 min.  Serve with chamomile or lavender infused honey.  Yummy!

Floracopeia Essential Oils
Want to buy blue chamomile essential oil?  Floracopeia!

A passion for organics picture frame
Need to buy chamomile?  Mountain Rose Herbs!


Michael DeMarco said...

Excellent post on Chamomile. The bitters aspect is often understated. Yes, the winter blahs! Herbal allies are so helpful with mind and body. Just thinking and writing about them can inspire as we dream by the fire. Cheers!
PS Nice blog, wild woman.

Nourishing Words said...

Thank you, especially for the eye treatment and bedtime tea (with lavendar!) reminder. I may have two feet of snow on the ground, but I have some lovely jars of plant material there, ready for nurturing winter treats.

Anonymous said...

wow, what a timely post. i *just* made an infusion of chamomile tea this morning, but for a reason not mentioned in your blog! a cooled, diluted infusion is an excellent remedy for damping off or other fungal problems with seedlings. i have a mini-sprout farm growing on my windowsill and noticed some are succumbing to a fungal infection. enter chamomile!

and yes, i have noticed chamomile's bitter aspect... we often add a few leaves to our mixed greens and herbs salads during spring and summer! the leaves are decidedly bitter but aromatic at the same time.

in my garden are 3 chamomile plants i grew from seed and they bring me much joy. in late fall the plants were still deep, vibrant green mounds, almost like moss. scented of heaven and sturdy enough to withstand chicken scratching!

thanks for one of many great posts!

katie (in maine as well!)

Amber said...

What a nice post! I hope your inspiration grows with the days growing longer. :)

Chamomile was my first ally...she soothed me into sleep and made me love honey, and she was the first plant I used in my infused honeys, along with vanilla bean.

This is a great article! Keep up the good work, and spring will be here soooon!

Rachel Soumokil said...

What a great post. Chamomile is wonderful for inflammation. I love the poem at the bottom of your page. Can you tell me who the author is?

New follower.


Irene Sturla said...

Thanks for the chamomile post...I did not know about the azulene and its ability to turn salves / cremes blue...

Rosalee de la Foret said...

A great post on one of my favorite herbs. Sometimes it really is all about simplicity!

Sarah said...

Great post, Darcy. When Ann McIntyre spoke at my herb festival last September, the herb she spoke about which we all remembered was chamomile - as an immune protective agent because it works so well on the digestive system and the two systems are so closely linked. Another herbalist friend of mine successfully cured a really bad case of MRSA with chamomile water - such a versatile herb!

Elissa said...

Have you ever had an experience where your chamomile tea had a salty or soapy taste? I made some recently from a plant that had tasted great the first time, rather too bitter the second time, and then distinctly salty the third time.

Lorna said...

Thank you for this wonderful blog! I love herbs and am just in the process of making t-bags in preparation for Christmas presents. I was wondering what to add to the Camomile to reduce the bitterness and Lavender has turned out to be perfect - I'm enjoying a cup right now!

I also have a blog although of a completely different nature, if you care to have a look you can find us at:

"The mother of us all, the oldest of us all, Hard, splendid as rock, Let the beauty you love, be what you do. There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the earth"~ Rumi ~