People popularly know chamomile as a flower with a daisy-like appearance. However, this member of the Asteraceae or Compositae family is actually a potent herb. There are two known chamomile plants today: German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) and Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile).
German chamomile flowers are tiny and have white collars and hollow receptacles, surrounding a raised and cone-shaped yellow center.
The flowers are less than an inch wide, grow on long, thin and light green stems and are distributed in a comb-like arrangement. The plant’s leaves are tiny and twice-divided into linear segments. German chamomile develops wild and close to the ground, but can be also found in herb gardens. This plant, which grows up to 3 feet tall, is native to Europe, North Africa and some parts of Asia.
Meanwhile, Roman chamomile has inch-wide white flowers, a disk with a broader conical shape and a solid receptacle. Its leaves are flatter and thicker and are twice or thrice divided into linear segments, and its flowers sit atop slightly hairy stems. Roman chamomile is usually found in Western Europe, northward to Northern Ireland.
There are many vital health benefits of chamomile:
- Calming down nerves, promoting general relaxation, relieving stress and controlling insomnia.
- Combating allergies, eye inflammation and infections.
- Alleviating muscle spasms and menstrual cramps.
- Relieving nausea, heartburn and stress-related flatulence.
- Helping to ease stomach ailments, gastritis, ulcerative colitis, diverticular disease, Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel problems.
These benefits are linked to the volatile oils found in chamomile flowers, which include bisabolol, bisabolol oxides A and B and matricin, as well as other bioactive ingredients: Chamazulene, Farnese, Glycosidese, Hydroxycoumarins,Flavonoids, Coumarins, Terpenoids and Mucilage.
Chamomile is known for its medicinal uses, especially in ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilizations. It helps treat or alleviate conditions like:
- Chest colds.
- Sore throats.
- Gum inflammation or gingivitis.
- Minor first-degree burns.
- Inflammatory bowel disease or ulcerative colitis.
- Stomach ulcers and cramps.
- Chickenpox, diaper rash, colic and teething problems in children.
Nowadays, chamomile can be used to relax muscle contractions, typically the smooth muscles of the intestines. It’s added to salves, lotion or a wash or compress to relieve hemorrhoids, wounds, burns, irritation, cold or canker sores, pink eye, dermatitis and inflammations of mucous tissue. Some salads, soups or drinks use fresh or dried chamomile flowers. The essential oil and flower extracts are also added into foods, while chamomile leaves can be used in salads or steeped into tea.
Sometimes, chamomile is incorporated into skin and hair care products, ointments, shampoo, soap, detergent, perfume and cosmetics. Chamomile extract may be useful for these purposes:
- Mosquito repellent.
- Biological pest control.
- Improvement of dairy.
- Veterinary medicine.
- Reclamation of sodic soils.
- Bioremedication for metals like cadmium.
To grow chamomile, use seeds that are relatively easy to grow or plants that can be established quickly into your garden. Plant chamomile in an area with cool weather and under partial shade, not in areas where summers are hot and humid, and in dry soil with an acidity between 5.6 and 7.5.
Ensure that chamomile plants are at least 6 inches apart from each other. Growing chamomile actually involves little fuss, and going overboard on fertilizer may lead to weakly flavored foliage and few flowers. Over watering should be avoided too, and you must allow the soil to become virtually dry and then soak thoroughly.
Chamomile is drought-tolerant and may only need to be frequently watered during prolonged drought. Chamomile plants are recommended as a companion plant alongside vegetable crops, since the strong scent keeps potential pests away. Just make sure to check the plants thoroughly. If plants are weak due to a lack of water or other issues, they may attract insects like aphids, mealybugs or thrips.