Comforting Chamomile: The Healing Herb
Anyone who has known the comfort of a piping hot cup of chamomile tea knows that there is something special about it. From the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans to present day, this member of the daisy family is recognized as a true healing herb, and has been put to a variety of uses for health, beauty, and well being.
Throughout history, people viewed chamomile as a cure-all. Physicians, herbalists, and midwives used the crushed, dried flowers to treat asthma, insomnia, colic, fever, skin conditions, nerves, labor pains, and even cancer. Chamomile was given not only as a tea, but also in tinctures, salves, and poultices.
According to 15th century herbalist Nicholas Culpeper, boiled chamomile flowers made for a relaxing bath. In his Complete Herbal, he wrote, “The flowers boiled in lee, are good to wash the head, and comfort both it and the brain.”
Other Uses of Chamomile
- Garden Doctor: In her early 20th Century book Herb Garden, Frances Bardswell referred to chamomile as the “plant’s physician.” She said no other plant can equal chamomile’s ability to keep a garden healthy. Not only did it prevent disease, but one could revive sickly plants by planting chamomile nearby.
- All-Natural Air Freshener: Throughout the Middle Ages and up until the past century, homemakers scattered fresh chamomile on floors because walking on the herb crushed it and allowed it to release its pleasing scent. More recently, people have used chamomile in sachets, pomanders and potpourri to freshen dresser drawers and closets.
- Soap Making: To soap makers, chamomile had it all – a strong scent reminiscent of apples, the ability to help you relax, and mysterious properties that made things cleaner. Those old-time soap makers had the right idea. Research over the past two decades proves that chamomile works well as both an antifungal and an antibacterial agent.
- Lightening Hair: These days, you can buy highlighting and bleaching kits for your hair at the drugstore. However, there was a time when beauty didn’t come as easily. Women used chamomile rinses to bring out natural highlights and brighten light hair by a shade or two. And if you don’t like using chemicals, simply steep 2 tablespoons of dried chamomile in 2 cups boiling water. Strain and let mixture cool. Use this tea as a final rinse after shampooing and conditioning (do not rinse after tea is applied).
- Sleep-Aid: If you suffer from insomnia like millions of people, brew a cup of the tea as directed below. Chamomile — nicknamed the “sleep tea” for a reason, contains a flavonoid called chrysin that helps induce sleep.
What Modern Science Says About Chamomile
Today, chamomile is incredibly popular for both commercial and home uses, particularly among cosmetics and aromatherapy products. Scientists are also beginning to take another look at this herb. They’ve found that in addition to the antibacterial and antifungal properties, chamomile also acts as an antispasmodic and an antiseptic.
Hundreds of studies have documented the medicinal and therapeutic uses of chamomile. One of the most interesting findings is that chamomile has potential as a cancer-fighting agent. Preliminary research shows that apigenin, one of the substances found in chamomile, slows the growth of cancer cells.
Yet another study found that topical applications of chamomile were 60% as effective as hydrocortisone cream in the treatment of eczema. One variety in particular, Manazana chamomile, was actually more effective than hydrocortisone.
And that’s in addition to chamomile’s proven use as a home remedy for cold and flu symptoms. Simply breathing the steam from a cup of hot chamomile tea helps soothe inflamed airways and relieve itchy, runny noses. Drink the tea, and the antispasmodic compounds help to quiet a cough.
Whether you’d like to try out some of these uses or you simply enjoy the relaxing flavor of homegrown chamomile in your tea, this is one herb that deserves a place of honor in your garden. In fact, you can try it for yourself with the following recipe.
Comforting Chamomile Tea
1 heaping teaspoon dried chamomile flowers
1-2 small pieces of crystallized ginger
8 ounces water
1 teaspoon peppermint for an invigorating flavor
1-2 teaspoons honey as a sweetener
1 lemon wedge for a fresh flavor
Bring the water to a boil in a kettle or microwave-safe mug. Add the dry ingredients to a tea infuser, place the infuser in the boiling water and let it steep for at least 10 minutes. Then add sweeteners or lemon and enjoy!