Chamomile

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by Jemma

 

Today’s blog post is going to focus on Matricaria chamomilla, which is more commonly known as chamomile or scented mayweed.

 

It is a highly aromatic shrub native to Europe and Western Asia. Chamomile grows up to 0.5 metres tall and possesses yellow daisy-like flowers that bloom in early- to mid-summer. Sometimes viewed as a weed, this plant is found near roadsides, landfills and in cultivated fields. It needs open soil to survive.

Chamomile flowers  Image taken from http://calphotos.berkeley.edu/cgi/img_query?enlarge=0000+0000+0207+0114
Chamomile flowers
Image taken from http://calphotos.berkeley.edu/cgi/img_query?enlarge=0000+0000+0207+0114

 

Medicinal uses

Chamomile has been used as far back as the ancient Egyptians and Greeks. They used it to treat fevers, digestive and menstrual problems, and as an insecticide.

 

In herbal medicine today it is used as a mild laxative, a sleep aid, an anti-inflammatory, and to treat digestive problems. In large doses, Matricaria chamomilla can cause nausea and vomiting due to small amounts of the toxin coumarin it contains, though this is extremely rare.

Herbarium sheet showing chamomile
Herbarium sheet showing chamomile

The plant has been studied extensively using pharmacological models, animal experiments and clinical tests. These studies showed that chamomile has anti-inflammatory, muscle relaxing, ulcer-protecting, bactericidal and fungicidal activity. Chamomile’s properties arise from the interaction of many different chemical compounds, such as bisabolol, chamzulene, matricin and apigenin. Bisabolol, a complex alcohol, seems to be partially responsible for the majority of chamomile’s medicinal effects. Recent studies have also reported that Matricaria chamomilla extracts could have some anti-cancer effects.

Materia Medica jar containing chamomile
Materia Medica jar containing chamomile

 

Other interesting facts

Garlands of this plant were found on Tutankhamun’s mummy along with chamomile traces being found on the body of Rameses II. Chamomile produces a strong yellow dye that has been used to dye textiles and is now a popular all-natural hair dye. Matricaria chamomilla is a relative of ragweed that can cause allergic reactions in some people.

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