Chamomile has been described as meaning “capable of anything,” a good description for this popular herb that is used extensively in Europe and the United States as a soothing and calming tea. Historically chamomile has been a favored natural herbal remedy, with records of its use as a treatment for skin conditions, cramps and digestion dating back to the early Romans.
In Europe chamomile products are used extensively as carminatives to aid digestion, and in the form of bitters to stimulate ones appetite before meals. Chamomile is also an effective anti-inflammatory agent commonly used to treat skin disorders, and as an antispasmodic remedy for menstrual cramps.
There are two primary types of chamomile: Roman chamomile and German chamomile. Roman chamomile has long been used as an appetite stimulant and aid for digestion, but the vast majority of chamomile on the market comes from the flowertops of what is commonly called German chamomile.
Cultivated in Germany, the flowering tops of this plant are used to prepare a mild tea enjoyed as a mild sedative, as a remedy for insomnia, and as an aid for indigestion. Researchers documenting the effectiveness of this herb have found that subjects ingesting chamomile tea can fall asleep in as little as 10 minutes
The active ingredients in chamomile are found in the essential oils derived from the flowers. Scientists have found that chamomile contains many active compounds, though the principal ingredients are the volatile oil alpha bisabolol and the flavonoid apigenin. Apigenin is responsible for the calming, anti-anxiety effects. Apigenin also supports alpha bisabolol, which is responsible for chamomiles anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic effects. Researchers have also developed topical ointments containing alpha bisabolol and found them to be more effective than hydrocortisone in treating skin inflammation.
Chamomile tea is extremely safe, though ingestion of large amounts can lead to stomach upset. Some people, especially those allergic to asters, chrysanthemums and ragweed may experience hypersensitivity to chamomile products. Though these reactions are exceedingly rare, they can lead to sneezing, congestion, anaphylaxis or contact dermatitis.