The History of Chamomile Tea
Part of the vast Asteraceae family in the Aster genus — which also includes daisies, ragweed, and sunflowers, in addition to more than 32,000 other species in 13 sub-families – chamomile has been used as a medicinal herb for thousands of years. It is primarily known for its calming and relaxing effects and is most popularly used to promote sleep and calm the stomach.
Not all chamomile species are used, or even safe, for ingestion; the most common species of chamomile used in herbal teas is usually either Chamaemelum nobile – more commonly known as English, garden, or Roman chamomile – or Matricaria chamomilla – commonly known as German chamomile.
While most popular in the Western world as an herbal tea, chamomile’s many other uses include facial cleansing and softening, flavoring in foods, as a hair softener in shampoo, and as a dye for fabrics and textiles. Recipes and instructions for these and other uses go as far back as at least the 11th Century in Western literature, and chamomile was used by Eastern cultures for thousands of years before that!
While people with certain allergies should avoid it and is not recommended for use by pregnant women or those with certain cancers, chamomile is very gentle. It can also interact poorly with certain medications and other herbs and herbal concoctions. However, chamomile is regularly suggested for use by children and is widely available on grocery store shelves through the United States.
In this article, we will examine the history of chamomile’s use, its reputed benefits, some of its uses, and potential side effects.
Its uses as a mild sedative and anti-inflammatory agent go as far back as Ancient Egypt when chamomile’s first recorded use is known to have taken place. They used it to cure fever, as well as in their embalming mixtures used to mummify the deceased. Romans used it in incense, as a medicinal component, and for flavoring. The Spaniards still use it for a light sherry named manzanilla, which means “little apple” – which is also its name in Spanish. Chamomile’s fragrant petals were even spread on the ground in Medieval times.
Today, it is in widespread use throughout the world, mostly as an herbal tea and non-pharmaceutical anti-inflammatory and sleep aid.
Chamomile is used in conjunction with any number of other ingredients, depending on how and what it is being used for, but it can also be used on its own. While chamomile tea only uses the flower, the entire plant is used for ales, beers, and other recipes. On its own, it has a bitter taste which pairs well with other bitter ingredients, such as hops and barley.
Some tea mixtures meant to induce sleep may include lemon balm, lemongrass, rose petals, lavender, and other herbs. These mixtures are often flavored with lemon or orange peel, though chamomile tea is traditionally made of nothing more than the petals steeped in hot water.
Although it can be eaten raw with no preparation, chamomile is not very tasty.
Chamomile has numerous benefits or is at least reported to. While some doctors disagree with prescribing herbs as medicinal aids as a general rule, many say that chamomile is a perfect, and perfectly safe, the solution to certain ailments, including menstrual pain, lack of sleep, poor digestion, and more. As previously mentioned, chamomile is safe enough for children to use and is sold as an herbal tea in most supermarkets, so it can be ingested regularly or as needed.
Chamomile tea is renowned as a sleep aid. In fact, this is its most common usage in the West. It can also help those with disorders such as sleep apnea and restless sleep. Drinking a cup of chamomile tea at bedtime induces sleep and improves your quality of sleep. Regular usage is said to help you fall asleep faster and also wake-up more refreshed.
Its second most common usage is for digestive problems, including upset stomachs, bloating, and IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Chamomile’s anti-inflammatory properties are said to reduce the pain and swelling associated with these and other stomach ailments, such as ulcers and intestinal spasms. It is also used to soothe heartburn and nausea and even stop vomiting.
Several recent studies seem to show that chamomile may be a powerful aid in the fight against diabetes, reducing sugar levels and helping to regulate insulin. Although this information has been published in peer-reviewed publications including the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry and Journal of Endocrinological Investigation, always consult your health professional before changing your diet and never use chamomile as a replacement for prescription medications unless directed to do so by a doctor.
Recent studies at Tufts University in Boston also seem to indicate that chamomile promotes heart health. In the study, regular chamomile tea drinkers experienced lower levels of LDL cholesterol and blood pressure. Another recent study also suggested that it reduces the incidence of other cardiovascular issues. Neither study is conclusive, though.
Chamomile tea has long been used to reduce stress and anxiety. It works by increasing the levels of serotonin and melatonin, which are naturally occurring hormones that decrease anxiety. Although a single cup helps, regular usage brings about the best results.
Finally, chamomile tea is often used externally as an astringent and skin softener. It may help fight acne and eczema, reduce wrinkles, and lessen blemishes. It is a common ingredient in soaps, skin cleansers, and shampoos and conditioners, though you can make your own treatments if you choose. Many recipes are available online and in books and publications dedicated to natural living and herbalism.
Other possible benefits include everything from boosting the immune system to fighting hemorrhoids, mouth sores, and seizures. However, like many herbal supplements, there is too little peer-reviewed research to verify the efficacy of these uses. If you suffer from any of these issues and there is no reason you should avoid chamomile, it is certainly worth trying. As with most things, the effectiveness varies widely between individuals, so you may or may not see any beneficial results.
Anyone with common allergies could suffer potentially serious side-effects from chamomile, even if not ingested. It is noted that those who are allergic to ragweed, in particular, are likely to also be allergic to chamomile and other plants in the Asteraceae family. If you are uncertain, consult a doctor before trying anything containing chamomile.
Expecting mothers should avoid it, as well. Not only can they suffer adverse reactions, but chamomile also is not suggested for infants or the unborn. It can also be passed through breast milk, so nursing mothers should avoid it, as well.
Chamomile has been known to show contraindications when taken with anticoagulants and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Due to a lack of research, it may also interact with other pharmaceuticals, prescription medications, and over-the-counter substances, including vitamins and herbal and dietary supplements.
Finally, those with a history of cancers of the breast, uterus, or ovaries, or endometriosis or uterine fibroids should also avoid chamomile unless cleared by a doctor. Though some research indicates that chamomile may actually help fight cancer cells, it is far from conclusive; other research appears to suggest that it is ineffective or perhaps even harmful to those with these types of cancers.
Although there is no standard or official dosage of chamomile tea, it is available in pill form at various milligrams and widely available as a commercially packaged herbal tea. One to four cups of tea daily is considered safe and effective.
While generally deemed safe at any level, all herbs and substances should be used in moderation – at least until you know how you are going to react to them. This is especially true for anyone who takes prescription or over-the-counter medications, ingests other herbs or herbal supplements, takes dietary supplements of any kind, or has allergies – specifically to ragweed, daisies, sunflowers, or other plants in the Aster genus.
While a cup of chamomile tea each night before bed is the general recommendation for use as a sleep aid, those using it as an anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, or pain reliever may need to drink more for best results.
Chamomile can also be added to baths, used as a gargle or mouthwash, applied directly to the skin or fashioned into a poultice or cream for topical application, or made into a tincture or essential oil. Recipes and instructions for preparation can be found online and elsewhere.
Conclusion on Chamomile tea
With few exceptions, chamomile is a safe and readily-available herb used as a medicinal treatment for a number of common ailments that affect many people. It is renowned for its use as a sleep aid and digestive supplement and has a myriad of other benefits, as well. While some with pre-existing conditions, expecting and nursing mothers, or those who are currently on medication should avoid it unless their doctor says otherwise, most people should have no problem ingesting chamomile tea or using it externally.
As always, be sure to consult a doctor before starting any new health regimen, especially one involving herbs, dietary supplements, or medications of any kind.