For as long as humankind has suffered ailments, healers have administered chamomile. There is perhaps no medicinal remedy as ancient or as widely used.
Chamomile is a member of the Asteraceae (daisy) family. It was originally named chamaimelon, from the Greek “earth-apple”, a tribute to its sweet, apple-like aroma. Revered throughout much of history, chamomile continues to be a widely used and popular herbal remedy for a myriad of ailments.
Chamomile Through the Ages
Chamomile’s medicinal use stretches back as far as the Neolithic period, but our first surviving record is found in Eber’s Papyrus from 1550 BCE – one of the oldest medical papyri of ancient Egypt. There, the chamomile flower was revered as a gift from the sun god, Ra. It was crushed into the skincare and cosmetics of royalty, infused in calming teas, used to embalm the dead, and administered to cure a fever.
Across the Mediterranean Sea, Greek childen plucked chamomile flowers to make fragrant garlands. Nearby, Roman physicians prescribed the herb for headaches, sleepless nights, skin rashes, pain, and swelling. Chamomile was often used in the ancient Levant for skin conditions caused by the dry climate.
The curative properties of German chamomile trickled down through the writings of the ancient scientists Pliny, Hippocrates, Dioscorides, Galen, and Asclepiades. In the 10th century CE, the Saxons inscribed chamomile as one of the nine sacred herbs in the herbal manuscript known as Lacnunga, which means ‘remedies’.
Chamomile was a widely used remedy for digestion and nerves by the medieval age. It was prescribed by 16th and 17th-century doctors in the form of plasters, pouches, ointments, and medicinal baths for a range of ailments. And in 1753, German chamomile was bestowed its botanical name, Matricaria recutita, chosen perhaps because it was at that time widely used to treat gynecological ailments, or “diseases of the womb”.
The Many Health Benefits of Chamomile
According to the Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, chamomile can be administered for about 50 ailments, mainly inflammatory, digestive, and stress-induced conditions.
Chamomile’s anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic properties have been used to treat conditions such as colic, constipation, diarrhea, diverticulitis, eczema, gas, gastritis, heartburn, indigestion, juvenile RA, menstrual cramps, muscle tension, nausea, and stomach aches.
Chamomile’s calming, restorative effects have been administered for alcohol withdrawal, anorexia nervosa, anxiety, ADHD, binge eating disorder, epilepsy, hypertension, insomnia, and anxiety.
Studies have yet to confirm chamomile’s efficacy for all the above conditions, but researchers have made strides in a few important areas.
1. Chamomile for Sleep Quality & Insomnia
Chamomile is traditionally renowned for its sleep-promoting benefits. A 2017 study found that when older people living in nursing homes took a certain dose of chamomile before bed, they experienced better sleep quality than those who didn’t receive the treatment.
Chamomile was shown in a meta-analysis to improve sleep quality. Animal studies have also shown that chamomile can significantly decrease the time it takes to fall asleep, which will come as much relief to those with insomnia.
Studies have shown that chamomile contains a flavonoid called apigenin that binds to benzodiazepine receptors and boosts GABA A receptors, which are responsible for calming the body before sleep. So while chamomile may not directly knock you out, it does put the body in the most optimized state for good quality sleep.
2. Chamomile for Stress & Anxiety
Traditionally, chamomile has been administered by doctors and mothers around the world for ‘nerves’. Now, researchers are investigating the precise efficacy of chamomile for anxiety.
In one trial, patients with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) took chamomile, reporting positive improvements in all outcome measures for GAD, including psychological wellbeing.
A later study investigated camomile as a treatment to ward off the relapse of GAD. Participants taking chamomile in the long-term follow-up reported a significant reduction in symptoms of GAD. In a separate placebo-controlled trial on participants with co-morbid anxiety and symptoms of depression, chamomile showed considerable antidepressant and anti-anxiety activity.
3. Chamomile for Digestive Health & Stomach Cramps
For much of human history, chamomile has been used for stomach cramps, indigestion, and other digestive ailments.
A study published in 2018 found that chamomile exerts muscle-relaxing properties, meaning it may relieve digestive problems like indigestion. As chamomile tea is anti-spasmodic, it can be especially helpful for menstrual cramps.
Several studies have shown that herbal mixtures containing chamomile may prevent stomach ulcers, reduce acidity in the stomach and inhibit the growth of bacteria that contribute to ulcer development. Additionally, animal studies have shown that chamomile exerts anti-diarrheal and antioxidant effects in rats.
4. Chamomile for Reducing Inflammation
Chamomile has historically been used to treat many ailments that are actually inflammatory conditions, including eczema, gout, neuralgia, and rheumatic pains.
A 2010 study confirmed the anti-inflammatory activities of chamomile. Chamomile blocked the pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-1β and IL-6, and TNFα-induced nitro oxide (NO) levels.
Chamomile has been found moderately effective for atopic eczema, as it seeps into the deeper layers of the skin to exert its anti-inflammatory properties. Animal models have also found that bisabolol, the active ingredient in chamomile, can effectively reduce inflammation and arthritis.