Health benefits of chamomile explained by medical herbalist Nicola Parker
Chamomile is one of the most versatile herbs and can be used to aid digestive issues, anxiety, sleep problems and skin conditions.
Chamomile is one of the most versatile herbs I have in my medicine cabinet. It has particular value when used to aid digestive issues, anxiety, sleep problems and skin conditions. I adore the smell of fresh chamomile and fresh chamomile tea always tastes more vibrant that the store bought versions. Sadly, I don’t have the space in my garden to grow the amount of chamomile I’d like, so most of my time with the plant involves dried flowers in my medicine cupboard.
Chamomile is a calming herb, one that is especially good for poor sleep and anxiety in children. Since it’s so gentle, it’s very safe to use in young people, while still being potent enough to have a marked effect on adults.
Chamomile flowers can be used in a similar way to lavender, sewn into small pillows and placed near the head at bedtime. Unlike lavender, chamomile is more sweet than fragrant and not quite as over powering, so it’s ideal for those with sensitive noses.
The flowers can also be sewn into pouches and used in the bath to make a calming soak. This is another great way of helping children that can be a little hyperactive at bedtime. It contains mucilage and anti-inflammatory compounds, giving it a soothing action on the skin when used either in the bath or applied in creams. For any dry, red or itchy skin condition, adding chamomile to bathwater can help take the worst of the itch from conditions like eczema, psoriasis and dermatitis, promoting a calmer nights sleep with less scratching.
The flowers can also be ground up and used as a powder, as a soothing liner to the digestive tract. The same anti inflammatory action it has on the skin occurs within the digestive tract, making chamomile powder a great remedy for acid reflux. When mixed with a little water to form a paste, chamomile power can be swallowed after meals to provide a protective barrier on the gullet.
If acid should rise, escaping from the stomach, it comes into contact with the chamomile rather than the delicate tissues, helping to prevent the burning pain associated with heartburn.
For this reason, I also use chamomile for gastritis (stomach inflammation) and to assist with the healing of ulcers in the stomach. As chamomile works it’s way through the digestive tract, these healing properties start to take effect on the bowel. Gentle oils help to open up and relax the muscles of the digestive passageways, letting gas move through more easily, reducing pain associated with IBS and belly cramps. Regular bouts of diarrhoea can be a sign that the bowel is upset and inflamed but chamomile can calm this down, soothing the inside of the body, much in the same way that it heals red, inflamed skin.
If you suffer with any of these condition, including diarrhoea, IBS, stomach pains or heartburn, chamomile tea is a lovely, gentle remedy that is safe to take regularly. Like ordinary black tea, it has a high tannin content though, so I’d avoid drinking it with meals. Tannins are great at reducing inflammation, but they can also affect our absorption of minerals.
If chamomile tea isn’t to your taste and you find the idea of mixing powders into a paste a little too faffy, then consider using chamomile as a herbal tincture or as a capsule.
Remember, that if you want it to work on your upper digestive tract for heartburn, a capsule will bypass this area completely and go straight into the stomach, so using a liquid tincture or a powder is much better. For children, the flowers can be cooked in warm milk, making a soothing bedtime drink, or even used to make syrups to be added to food or taken as a medicine straight of the spoon.
For such a small humble flower, it’s incredibly versatile and the sweet taste it boasts means that it’s an easy medicine to enjoy for children and adults alike. If like me, you can’t grow enough to satisfy your taste for chamomile, the dried flowers, powder or tincture makes a fine addition to any medicine cabinet.
l For more information or to make an appointment at the herbal medicine clinic, contact Nicola o 01524 413733.