Chamomile is a gentle herb known for its calming properties.
Although its best known as a popular bedtime tea, chamomile has other health-supporting benefits.
In this article, we will look at the health benefits of chamomile, its safety, and its history.
Table of Contents
- What is Chamomile?
- Health Benefits of Chamomile:
- Chamomile Herb Safety:
- Naming & Taxonomy:
- History & Traditional Use:
What is Chamomile?
Chamomile is an annual plant in the Asteraceae family. It was originally native to Europe and Asia but is now cultivated around the globe.
The scientific name for this herb is Matricaria recutita, however, it is commonly known as German chamomile or just chamomile.
Another variety of chamomile, Roman chamomile (Anthemis nobilis), has similar effects to German chamomile but is chemically and physically different. Roman chamomile is a perennial native to the Mediterranean area that grows closer to the ground than German chamomile. Both chamomiles have similar uses, however, Roman chamomile has a heightened antispasmodic and antimicrobial effect.
In traditional medicine, German chamomile florets or flower heads have a calming effect on the body. As an infusion, it has been used to promote relaxation, improve digestion, and relieve gastrointestinal tension. Chamomile has also been used topically to improve skin health and wound healing.
Modern research shows that chamomile’s anti-inflammatory, fever-reducing, and spasmolytic actions can possibly be attributed to its sesquiterpene content. The flavonoids in chamomile are said to potentially be responsible for chamomile’s anxiolytic properties.
The long historical use of this plant speaks volumes about the medicinal benefits of chamomile. It is no surprise it is one of the most in-demand herbs worldwide.
Health Benefits of Chamomile:
There are many purported health benefits of chamomile. These benefits include uses for bacterial skin disease and inflammation, support for mental health and sleep problems, and reduction in gastrointestinal spasms.
Below we have listed the top research-backed benefits of chamomile and its active constituents.
1. May Reduce Anxiety and Depression
Anxiety and depression are mental health disorders that affect mood and behavior. Many people commonly use chamomile to quell mild anxiety and depression and there is much clinical research to support this claim.
In a 12-week randomized controlled trial, researchers found that 500mg chamomile capsules taken 3x/day significantly lowered stress and moderate-to-severe generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) symptoms. There were few side effects reported which led to the conclusion that long-term use of chamomile appears to be safe.
In a similar 8-week trial, chamomile demonstrated “statistically significant and clinically meaningful” improvements in individuals with anxiety. The Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale (HAM-A) was used to determine the results. Researchers noted that this outcome was comparable to the effectiveness of conventional anxiolytic drugs.
A 2009 study presented evidence that Matricaria recutita may have an anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) effect through its interaction with neurotransmitters in the brain. Administration of chamomile over 8 weeks significantly reduced HAM-A scores in participants with mild-moderate anxiety. The chamomile was also well-tolerated with few adverse effects reported.
Some researchers believe that along with the anxiolytic effects, chamomile may also exhibit antidepressant effects through various neurotransmitter interactions. An exploratory study using the HAM-D anxiety index observed that chamomile produced a significant reduction in scores spanning patients with only depression, only anxiety, and those with both. Antidepressant effects were seen in all subjects.
The flavonoid, apigenin, in chamomile has shown an affinity for benzodiazepine receptors, which may contribute to the evidence behind chamomile’s anxiolytic effects.
Summary:Clinical research shows that chamomile may help to relieve mild anxiety and depression.
2. May Improve Sleep
Getting adequate amounts of quality sleep is important for physical and mental health. Although chamomile is not considered a heavy tranquilizer that puts you to sleep, it is known to be an effective natural sleep aid.
In a clinical trial involving sleep-disturbed postnatal women, sleep inefficiency and depression symptoms improved after daily administration of German chamomile tea. Although the study only lasted 2 weeks, improvements took effect immediately. It should be noted that due to the short span of the trial, evidence still needs to be gathered for the long-term effects of chamomile on sleep.
In a 2017 study utilizing the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, chamomile extract capsules safely improved sleep in elderly subjects. Although chamomile did not directly affect sleep duration, it did have a significant effect on sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep), sleep efficiency (the percentage of time in bed that one is asleep), and sleep quality (how rested and restored one feels) of the subjects.
A surprising relaxing effect from chamomile tea was discovered in a study observing the cardiac effects of chamomile. The study aimed to observe how chamomile tea might affect heart health in patients with cardiac disease. When the tea was administered, 10 out of 12 patients fell into a deep sleep shortly after ingestion. Although they could be woken up, each patient fell back into a deep slumber immediately. Due to the anxiety of the cardiac procedure they were undergoing, researchers mentioned it is unusual for patients to be able to sleep.
Summary:Research, as well as traditional use, shows that chamomile capsules or tea may help to support improved sleep quality.
3. Anti-Inflammatory Properties
Chamomile is noted for its anti-inflammatory properties, although few human studies have been conducted. Most scientific observations of these actions are animal studies or test-tube research.
Researchers found that administering German chamomile extract topically on skin oedemas worked to reduce inflammation. This was a result of chamomile’s potential inhibition of a specific gene expression that plays a role in inflammation.
Lab research shows that chamomile has promising anti-inflammatory effects. One study explained that due to chamomile’s effect on enzyme activity, it may have a mechanism of action similar to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Another found that the daily topical administration of fluid chamomile extract reduced inflammation in rats.
Summary:Lab research shows that chamomile has anti-inflammatory properties. This may be beneficial, especially for skin health.
4. May Have Anticancer Activity
Various lab studies show that German chamomile and its active constituents may have anticancer activity.
In vitro research involving both German chamomile and calendula observed promising anticancer effects. Although the study involved two herbs, the strongest results were seen with the methanol extract of chamomile. Researchers discovered that chamomile has a cytotoxic (cell-killing) effect on melanoma and carcinoma cancer cells.
One of chamomile’s major constituents, apigenin, was discovered to inhibit cancer cell growth in a lab-based study. In a 2007 study, various chamomile extracts were used against human cancer cell lines. While the chamomile had very little effect on healthy cells, it was able to significantly slow the growth of cancer cells.
Further, in an animal study, apigenin was able to reduce cancer growth and kill human prostate cancer cells that were implanted in mice. Researchers presented evidence that this effect was due to the upregulation of specialized protein molecules. It should be noted that this trial involved isolated apigenin and did not include any whole herb chamomile products.
Summary:Lab research shows that chamomile may have anticancer effects. Human clinical trials are needed to verify these findings.
5. Antimicrobial Properties
There is scientific research to back evidence that chamomile may show promising antimicrobial effects.
An animal study found that chamomile flower extract had a higher antimicrobial effect on skin infections than traditional drugs. Mice given chamomile extract twice daily were completely cured after 14 days, while mice given the pharmaceutical cream still had a bit of redness and inflammation after the same span of time.
An in vitro study found that chamomile essential oils have a promising effect in fighting microbial infections compared to the other solutions. Chamomile EOs induced apoptosis (cell death) and showed significant growth inhibition against a plethora of microbial strains.
Summary:Lab research shows that chamomile has antimicrobial properties. Human clinical trials needed to verify its impact in the human the body.
6. May Benefit Digestion
Clinical research shows that chamomile may be effective in supporting digestive health.
Researchers found that oral administration of Matricaria recutita resulted in spasmolytic, antidiarrheal, and antisecretory effects in mice. Chamomile extract may have produced these effects through K+ channels activation.
Another animal study showed that German chamomile extract produced significant protection against castor-oil-induced diarrhea and fluid accumulation in rats. It should be noted that these results were dose-dependent.
Chamomile has been used internally for inflammatory diseases of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, as well as GI spasms.
Summary:Lab research shows that chamomile may support the digestive system. Clinical research needs to be conducted to verify these claims for humans.
Chamomile Herb Safety:
Safety Class: 1 (can be safely used when consumed properly)
Interaction Class: A (no clinically relevant reactions are expected)
Chamomile is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the FDA.
People with sensitivities/allergies to herbs in the Asteraceae family should avoid using chamomile. A skin patch test is recommended to check for an allergic reaction prior to use.
This reaction is rare, and in general, this herb is well tolerated and safe to take for most individuals.
Standard dosing for chamomile is as follows:
Infusion (tea): Add 1 cup of boiling water to 2-3 tsp of dried herb and allow to infuse for 10 mins in a covered cup (in order to capture the beneficial essential oils). Drink 1 cup 3-4x per/day.
Tincture (1:5): 1-4 ml, 3x/day
Liquid Extract (1:1): 1-4 ml, 3x/day
The demand for sustainable, organic, fair-trade chamomile is very high, and countries have been working to meet this increase in production.
Although chamomile is not on the United Plant Saver’s “at-risk” list (sensitive to the impact of human activities), it is recommended to cultivate chamomile rather than forage for it in the wild. This supports the protection of the biodiversity of this plant.
Naming & Taxonomy:
Chamomile’s official, the scientific name is Matricaria recutita, however, it is also known as M. chamomilla and Chamomilla recutita.
This herb belongs to the Asteraceae family, and although chamomile is an annual, it does self-seed very easily and tends to come back year after year. The plant itself resembles a tiny daisy and has a gentle aroma that was characterized by ancient Greeks as similar to an apple.
Chamomile prefers dry soil and ample sunlight.
Other common names include Babunj, Hungarian chamomile, German chamomile, Camomilla, and pinheads.
History & Traditional Use:
Chamomile is an herb that has been utilized for thousands of years, dating back to ancient Rome, Egypt, and Greece. It can be found in writings from Greek botanist/physician Hippocrates (5th c. BCE) and Roman physician Galen (2nd c. CE).
Anglo-Saxons believed that God gifted nine sacred herbs to humanity and that chamomile was one of them.
In ancient times, the chamomile plant was used to promote the health of a garden and was said to support sickly plants if it was cultivated nearby.
Native to western Asia and Eastern/Southern Europe, chamomile has now spread throughout the world and can be seen cultivated or wild almost everywhere. It is said to probably be the most widely used relaxing herb in the Western world.
Chamomile can cover a range of health ailments but is especially supportive for those that experience mild anxiety and sleep problems. It is also nourishing for inflamed skin.
It also appears that this herb has strong anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.
This herb is safe for both adults and children to consume, and tastes delicious as tea.
It’s worth looking into German chamomile if you are needing support in any of these areas. As always, make sure to consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet or adding a new supplement.
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