Chamomile Introduction

Matricaria recutita is the plant commonly referred to as chamomile. It is a member of the Asteraceae family. [1] Chamomile has been widely used in Western herbalism, beginning in ancient times. It is still served as a culinary tea in restaurants throughout the Mediterranean, and has an equally long-standing tradition of use in Germany. Botanically, chamomile is described as a 1-2 feet high herb with an erect glabrous stem. [2] The flower is yellow with white rays, and it is this part of the plant which is responsible for its purported benefits on human health.

Regarded by the public as mostly a calming herb (sedative), chamomile has a wide range of actions, including:

  • carminative (relieve gas in the GI tract)
  • antispasmodic (relieve spasm in the digestive tract)
  • analgesic
  • anti-inflammatory and anti-septic
  • musculotropic
  • anti-peptic
  • anti-spasmodic
  • vulnerary (wound healing)
  • deodorant
  • skin metabolism stimulant
  • anti-ulcer
  • diaphoretic (increases perspiration)
  • anti-diarrheal
  • anti-emetic
  • anti-anaphylactic

There are two forms of chamomile, German and Roman, and each form contains a number of active constituents. In the United States, the German form is the plant that is most often used. The main compounds are the volatile oils (0.3 - 1.5%) and include; alpha bisabolol and alpha bisabolol oxides; sesquiterpenes (such as chamazulene); tricyclic and bicyclic alcohols; dicyclic ethers and matricin (usually converted to chamazulene during the extraction process). [3] Coumarins like umbelliferone and herniarin are also considered relevant substances, influential in chamomile’s many medicinal properties.

These volatile oils, also known as essential oils, are of primarily importance regarding the activity of this plant. Chamazulene is the oil that imparts a blue color to the extract. Chamazulene is converted to azulene with steam heat, such as with steeping a tea. The pharmacologic activity of these oils includes anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, and anti-microbial. The anti-inflammatory activity is thought to be due to effects on the pituitary adrenal axis, or directly via inhibition of leukotrienes (inflammatory mediators). [4] Spasms of the digestive tract are impacted by compounds (especially flavonoids and alpha bisabolol) that decrease sympathetic nervous system activity, thereby slowing down peristalsis by inhibiting smooth muscle contractions.

Chamomile also contains a number of flavonoids (methoxylated flavones and flavonols, apigenin, luteolin, quercetin) and glycosides (salicylic acid, choline, fatty acids, mucopolysaccharides ), as well. Extracts are often standardized to contain specific amounts of chamazulene and alpha bisabolol.

The chamomile industry is remains “big business” in Europe, and continues to grow in North America. In Germany alone, there are more than 90 licensed products that contain chamomile. [2] In the United States, chamomile is showing up everywhere; from herbal teas to shampoos and skin care products as well.

Chamomile Uses

Chamomile has been traditionally used by herbalists to treat, primarily, two areas:

  1. The Nervous System
  2. Conditions of the Digestive Tract

Traditionally, it has been used for flatulent and nervous dyspepsia, motion sickness, nervous diarrhea, restlessness, anxiety, teething, nasal catarrh, dysmenorrheal and amenorrhea. [5]

Clinical trials have supported a number of the traditional uses of chamomile. For the treatment of anxiety associated with cardiac catheterization, patients were given a tea prepared of chamomile. [6] Ten of the twelve patients experienced induction of deep sleep following administration of the tea. Furthermore, there were no side effects on the cardiovascular system. Another study examined the effects of chamomile on non-complicated acute diarrhea in children. [7] Subjects received a preparation of chamomile extract and apple pectin or placebo for three days in a double-blind randomized study. At the end of the treatment period, the group that received the chamomile preparation experienced a significantly higher increase in relief from diarrhea episodes. Parents noted that their children received continuous improvement with the treatment.

Chamomile can also be effective for another complaint in infancy that is thought to be related to the digestive tract - colic. Infants who were three weeks old were given a tea containing chamomile and some other digestive herbs following each episode of colic; not exceeding three daily doses, or a placebo. [8] After a week of this type of treatment, the infants taking the chamomile tea experienced a significantly higher level of elimination of symptoms and overall improvement over the placebo group.

Other uses for chamomile which have been scientifically studied fall in the dermatologic category. A common condition that affects many people in the Western world is eczema. A large survey of physicians prescribing a cream containing 2% chamomile extract observed that their patients tolerated the cream well, were able to decrease their level of corticosteroid cream, and received clinical efficacy from the treatment. [1] Another study compared chamomile cream to conventional steroidal creams and nonsteroidal preparations in the treatment of eczema. [10] The results showed a comparative effect to a 0.25% hydrocortisone cream and superior effect compared to actions of a 5% bufexamac and 0.75% fluocortin butyl ester.

Naturopathic physicians also recommend chamomile for patients with psoriasis. [11] They cite the ability of the flavonoids and volatile oils as effective components in combating inflammation and allergic reaction seen in individuals suffering from psoriasis. [12] Research has also supported efficacy of chamomile in addressing wound healing by decreasing weeping and drying effect following dermabrasion. [13] Other dermatologic conditions for which chamomile may be beneficial include desquamation from radiotherapy and varicose ulcers. [14, 15]

Experimental studies lend evidence to various other uses ascribed to chamomile, including sedation, antispasmodic effect in the gastrointestinal tract, peptic ulcers, and as an antimicrobial agent. [16-19]

Chamomile Dosages

Dosages vary according to whether the preparation is intended for internal or external use, and what preparation is being utilized. For internal use, a tea prepared of 2 teaspoons of dried herb infused for ten minutes should be drunk after meals for digestive complaints. [20] For external use, the dosage is not so important as long as the afflicted area is treated.

Chamomile Toxicities and Contraindications

Chamomile is a smooth muscle relaxant and therefore may cause miscarriage in pregnant women, especially before 12 weeks. It is probably best avoided in large oral doses in early pregnancy also due to its emmenagogue effect. [4] Patients with sensitivity to plants in the Asteraceae family (i.e. ragweed, daisies and chrysanthemums) should probably avoid the use of chamomile because of the possibility of contact dermatitis in these individuals. [5] One case report of an anaphylactic reaction in an 8 year old atopic child was regarded to be a rare occurrence and unlikely if one were to use an alcoholic extract. [21]

No toxicity or overdose has been observed with the use of chamomile. [5] Research in animals has not shown any toxic effects. Furthermore, there are no known drug interactions with the utilization of chamomile preparations.


1. Tilgner S. Herbal Medicine from the Heart of the Earth. Wise Acres Press, Inc. Creswell, OR, 1999:50-51.

2. Brown DJ. Herbal Prescriptions for Better Health. Prima Publishing, Rocklin, CA 1996:50-56.

3. Lininger et al. Healthnotes: Clinical Essentials, Herb Monographs, Prima Publishing, Rocklin, CA, 2001.

4. Botanical Medicine Herbal Monographs. Bastyr University, Kenmore, WA 2002.

5. Mills S and Bone K. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy. Churchill Livingstone, Edinburgh, UK 2000:319-327.

6. Gould L et al. J clin Phamacol 1973;13:475-479.

7. De La Motte S et al. Arzneim-Forsch 1997;47(11):1247-1249.

8. Weizman Z et al. J Pediatrics 1993;122(4):650-652.

9. Patelt-Wencler R. Dtsch Apoth Ztg 1985;125(43S1):12-13.

10. Aertgeerts P et al. Z Hautkr 1985;60(3):270-277.

11. Murray MT and Pizzorno JE. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Prima Publishing, Rocklin, CA 1998:768.

12. Mann C and Stab EJ. The Chemistry, Pharmacology and Commercial Formulation of Chamomile. JHSMP 1984;1:235-280.

13. Glowania HJ et al. Z Hautkr 1987;62(17):1262-1271.

14. Maiche AG. Acta Oncol 1991;30:395-396.

15. Aertgeerts J. Arztl Kosmetol 1984;14(6):502-504.

16. Viola H et al. Planta Med 1995;61:213-215.

17. REdaelli C et al. Z Phytother 1987;8:67-77.

18. Szelenyi I et al. Planta Med 1979;35:218-227.

19. Aggag ME et al. Planta Med 1972;22:140-144.

20. Hoffmann D. The New Holistic Herbal. Element Books Ltd. Shaftesbury, Dorset, Greet Britain, 1990:190.

21. Subia J et al. J Allergy Clin Immunol 1989;64:353-358.


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