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Chamomilla recutita - German Chamomile: Western and Ayurvedic Perspectives

by Anne McIntyre(more info)

listed in herbal medicine, originally published in issue 202 - January 2013

Delicately fragrant chamomile, with its familiar daisy-like flowers, has long been popular as a bedtime tisane to induce sleep; its sedative and mood enhancing properties as well as its suitability for children were immortalized by Beatrix Potter. My children were often given chamomile tea, not only when sleep escaped them but also for a wide range of different maladies such as headaches, stomach aches, fevers, infections, catarrh, itchy skin, inflamed eyes, anxiety.. it is one of the most versatile herbs for children and adults alike.

chamomile

As a practitioner combining Western and Ayurvedic use of herbs, I have explored how European herbs including chamomile (also called Matricaria chamomilla) can be used from both perspectives. Chamomile’s list of physiological actions is impressive; it is antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antispasmodic, nervine, sedative, antiulcer, antihistamine, digestive, antiseptic, vulnerary, ophthalmic, antimicrobial, probiotic, hepatic, immuno-stimulant, diaphoretic, febrifuge, diuretic, emmenagogue, antiemetic and decongestant.

These actions are supported by an equally imposing list of constituents including volatile oils (bisabolol oxide A and B, bisbolone oxide A, chamazulene and farnescene), flavonoids (quercetin, apigenin and luteolin), sesquiterpene lactones, coumarins, fatty acids, cyanogenic glycosides, salicylate derivatives, choline, tannins, mucilage, minerals (calcium, iodine, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus) and Vitamin B2.

In India chamomile is known as Babuna. According to Ayurvedic classifications, its qualities (gunas) are light and dry; its taste (rasa) is bitter, pungent and astringent; its post-digestive effect (vipak) is pungent; its potency (virya) cooling. It can be used to reduce excess pitta and kapha and balance vata. It has an affinity with certain tissues (dhatus): plasma (rasa), blood (rakta), muscle (mamsa), nerve (majja), and bone (asthi). It exerts its action in the following systems (srotas): respiratory (prana), digestive (anna), nervous (majja) and reproductive (shukra) (McIntyre and Boudin 2012). Chamomile is veritably one of the best herbs for cooling excess heat and inflammation associated with high pitta.

Nervous system:  With its nervine properties, chamomile reduces sadhaka pitta (pitta in the heart and mind) and is considered a medhya (brain tonic) and nidrajanana (sleep inducing) herb. It reduces anxiety, irritability, intolerance and oversensitivity to pain; it lifts the spirits and can be helpful in low self-esteem. The anxiolytic properties may relate to the affinity of apigenin and other constituents to central benzodiazepine receptors (Viola et al 1995). It relaxes smooth muscle and relieves tension and spasm throughout the digestive, respiratory, urinary and reproductive tracts, making it excellent for stress-related problems.  Its analgesic properties ease headaches, migraine, neuralgia, toothache, aches and pains of flu, cramps, shingles, arthritis and gout.

Chamomile is particularly useful for hyperactive, irritable and highly sensitive children, prone to digestive problems and allergies, and for restless babies with colic, teething and sleeping problems. It can help prevent febrile convulsions.

Digestive System: Chamomile has an affinity for the stomach and small intestine, the main site of pitta (known as pachaka pitta). With its amlapittahara action, it relieves hyperacidity, heartburn and indigestion. Chamazulene has an anti-inflammatory action, possibly by means of inhibiting leukotriene synthesis (Safayhi et al 1994), and Bisabolol helps prevent and speed healing of ulcers, making chamomile an exceptional remedy for gastritis, peptic ulcers, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, IBS and stress-related digestive problems. Its antimicrobial effects help combat dysbiosis and gut infections.

With is anulomana action, it regulates the flow of apana vata, and is excellent for problems associated with excess vata including colic, abdominal pain, wind and distension. By regulating peristalsis it eases both diarrhoea and constipation. The bitters stimulate secretion of digestive juices and flow of bile from the liver, improving appetite and digestion.

Immune system: As an immune enhancer, Chamomile helps prevent and resolve infection. Its jwaraghna (fever reducing) and kasasvasahara (relieving coughs and breathing problems) actions are useful in respiratory infections including sore throats, tonsillitis, colds and flu. By inducing sleep it speeds recovery, particularly in children for whom rest is probably the best medicine. The volatile oil is antimicrobial, active against bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus, and fungal infections, including Candida (Carle et al 1987). Its antihistamine effect (udaraprasamana) reduces sensitivity to allergens including pollen and house dust, relieving allergies including eczema, acne, urticaria, hay fever, chronic catarrh and sinusitis. Its relaxant effect helps reduce bronchoconstriction in asthma.

Chamomile reduces inflammation, helpful in problems such as arthritis, gout and carpal tunnel syndrome. With its caksusya (benefiting the eyes) action and its affinity for alochaka pitta, chamomile can be used as an eyewash or compress in painful and inflammatory eye problems including styes, meibomian cysts, conjunctivitis, blepharitis and iritis.

Genito-urinary system: Chamomile has an affinity for shukra dhatu (reproductive tissue) and has artavashamana (regulating menstruation) action. It eases dysmenorrhoea, and pain in mastitis, premenstrual headaches and migraine. It makes a good cooling remedy during menopause. The tea can ease nausea in pregnancy and can be drunk throughout childbirth to reduce pain. With it mutrala (diuretic) action it relieves fluid retention, and since its antiseptic oils are excreted via the urinary system, chamomile can relieve inflammation and infection in the bladder

Externally: Soothing, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory, chamomile speeds healing of skin problems, sores, burns, varicose ulcers, bites and stings. It has demonstrated mild superiority over 0.5% hydrocortisone cream in atopic eczema (Patzelt-Wenczler et al 1985), more beneficial than 1% hydrocortisone ointment in the management and healing of peristomal skin lesions in colostomy patients (Charousaei et al 2011). It can be used for mouth ulcers and gingivitis, sore throats and inflamed eyes. It is excellent in baths for cystitis and as a douche for vaginal infections. Dilute chamomile oil can be massages into inflamed joints and neuralgia. 

Precautions: Contact eczema and allergic reactions have been reported. High levels of pesticides and heavy metals have been reported in Eastern European sources. Organic chamomile is suggested.

Drug Interactions:  None known

Safety: Avoid with Warfarin and other anticoagulant medications. Caution with CNS depressants, (eg. alcohol, opiates, benzodiazepines, tricyclic antidepressants, anaesthetics, anti-epileptics).

Sources:

  • Carle R, Isaac 0. Z Phytother  8: 67-77. 1987.
  • Charousaei F, Dabirian A, Mojab F. Ostomy Wound Manage 57(5): 28-36. 2011.
  • McIntyre A and Boudin M. Dispensing with Tradition: a Practitioner’s guide to using Indian and Western Herbs the Ayurvedic Way. 2012.
  • Patzelt-Wenczler R. Dtsch Apoth Ztg  125 (43 suppl 1): 12-13. 1985.
  • Safayhi H, Sabieraj J, Sailer ER, Ammon HP ‘Chamazulene: an antioxidant-type inhibitor of leuktriene B4 formation’ Planta Med  Oct;60(5):410-3. 1994.
  • Viola H, Wasowski C, Levi de Stein M et al. ‘Apigenin, a component of Matricaria recutita flowers, is a central benzodiazepine receptor-ligand with anxiolytic effects’ Planta Med  61: 213-215. 1995.

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About Anne McIntyre

Anne McIntyre FNIMH MAPA is a fellow of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists and a member of the Ayurvedic Practitioners' Association. She has been practising as a herbalist for 30 years and has also trained in remedial massage, aromatherapy, counselling, homoeopathy and Ayurvedic medicine. She is the author of several books on herbal medicine, including The Complete Woman's Herbal (Gaia), The Complete Floral Healer (Gaia), The Herbal Treatment of Children (Elsevier), The Top 100 Remedies (Duncan Baird), The Complete Herbal Tutor (Gaia) and Healing Drinks (Gaia). Anne's latest book Dispensing with Tradition: A practitioner's Guide to using Indian and Western Herbs the Ayurvedic Way has recently been published. She teaches regularly in the UK and USA and spends as much time as she can in her herb garden which she opens to the public by appointment. She practises at Artemis House, Great Rissington, Gloucestershire, (Tel: 01451 810096) and in London and Wales once a month. She may be contacted on Tel: 01451 810096  www.annemcintyre.com

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