In the language of flowers, chamomile has been said to mean “patience in adversity,” and it is a meaning that whispers through all its many soothing and healing uses throughout history and today. A cousin to the daisy, the chamomile flower has also been called the “plant’s physician,” as it has been observed to help languishing plants regain their health when grown nearby. But for most of us, chamomile sees far more use in our teacups before bedtime. There is so much more to chamomile, however, than its reputation as a sleep aid.
Where Does Chamomile Come From?
There are two types of chamomile that are used in the field of health: German chamomile (Matricaria retutica) and Roman/English chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile). While Roman chamomile is a low-growing perennial plant—growing year after year and requiring minimal upkeep—and native to Europe and North Africa, the German chamomile flower can grow up to three feet tall and lives only annually, originating from Eurasia.
The name “chamomile” derives from Greek and means “ground apple,” so called for its sweet, fruit-like aroma and for the Roman variety’s closeness to the ground.
How is Chamomile Used?
Ancient Egyptians, besides dedicating the sun-shaped flower to the sun god, Ra, considered chamomile to be a universal remedy, with Egyptian women finding use for it even in their cosmetics, placing tea bags or a poultice over their eyes to reduce puffiness.
Because of chamomile’s anti-inflammatory, disinfecting, sedative, and aroma-therapeutic properties, today it continues to be applied in a variety of forms to treat and provide relief from a host of maladies, including:
- chest colds
- slow-healing wounds
- gum inflammation
- skin conditions
- stomach complaints
- sleep disorders
- menstrual pain
- and much more.
Depending on what it is used for, chamomile can be applied in many forms: infusions, tinctures, syrup, poultices, lotions and salves, essential oils, dietary supplement, bath additives, and steam inhalation.
While chamomile has offered relief and aid to vast amounts of people over the years, those with ragweed allergies may be allergic to the plant. Those who are pregnant, nursing, or using medically prescribed blood thinners should also exercise caution and consult with a physician before incorporating chamomile as a remedy for any issue.
Surprising Facts About Chamomile
- In Germanic lore, Woden (Nordic Odin) gave chamomile to the ancient Anglo-Saxons in combination with eight other “Sacred Herbs.”
- In Wales, it was believed that sprinkling chamomile around a home could break spells and hexes while gamblers would wash themselves with the plant for luck.
- Planting chamomile on graves is said to ensure happiness in the afterlife.
- Nordic blonds would wash their hair in chamomile tea to further brighten the color.
- Ancient Egyptians used chamomile in the mummification process as an insect repellent.
- In Ancient Rome, chamomile was used in baths and incense, flavored drinks, and as a treatment for headaches, liver and kidney inflammation, and more.
- Ancient Greeks are said to have worn chamomile garlands for the aroma and the belief that the plant would bring spiritual peace.