Friday’s Flora and Fauna: Chamomile

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) has been a staple on this homestead for many years. Diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome in my early 20’s, chamomile quickly became a valued friend. It is an effective carminative and considered by many herbalists to be specific for any and all digestive complaints. In fact, it has been proven to be “a good remedy for a number of diseases ranging from the common cold and flu to digestive disorders, diarrhea, menstrual cramps, nervousness and insomnia” (Tierra 110) During my herbal apprenticeship with Michael Ford and Joanne Pacheco of Apollo Herbs in Lincoln, Rhode Island, I came up with what I call my “Digest Tea” as a part of my herbal roadshow–the practical half of our final exam where we actually used herbs to make certain medicines, health and beauty aids and/or herbal products. Chamomile was the main ingredient. I’ve been making this tea on a regular basis for almost 9 years. Yes, it is a very effective tea for someone with digestive complaints, but chamomile also tastes good; not at all like a “medicine”.

I also suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Again, chamomile, with its nervine and calmative properties is the herb of choice. I don’t think it has ever made me so drowsy that I’m a threat to society behind the wheel of a car–but I’ve also never put it to the test and, with tongue in cheek, would advise: DO NOT DRINK AND DRIVE! Instead, it is best enjoyed sitting by the fire on a cold winter’s night or else curled up in bed just before bedtime with a good book.

The aforementioned uses for chamomile are fairly common–even for those not as familiar with herbs. Quite a number of commercial tea manufacturers/distributors have a Sleepy Time Tea (or an equivalent) and, again, chamomile tends to be the main ingredient. However, a recent reading in James Duke’s “The Green Pharmacy” brought to light another effective use for chamomile–one that is proving timely for me.

Every summer my legs break out in this itching, burning rash. It is more of a nuisance than anything else, but I refuse to wear shorts or short skirts outside of the house even in the hottest temps because of its unsightliness. It almost looks like poison ivy but a.) I’m one of those weirdos that usually doesn’t react to poison ivy and b.) in this infernal heatwave that I’ve been complaining about ad nauseum in previous posts, I’m not doing anything to come into contact with poison ivy. It seems most prevalent behind the knees, and around the ankles and feet. Many years ago my doctor gave it a name but it escapes me. However, it is a dermatological reaction caused by the sap from weeds and tall grasses when weed whacking. Another electric weed whacker died earlier in the summer; this rash, once it erupts, stays most of the season. Anyway, I have tried everything–both common anti-itch methods such as hydro-cortisone creams and Calamine lotion to holistic approaches such as a spearmint leaf decoction, which works great for poison ivy rashes but, apparently, not any other kind of foliage-based rashes.

Anyway, in “The Green Pharmacy”, James Duke writes “Aromatherapists, especially in Europe, recommend massaging with camomile preparations to treat skin allergies such as hives and itching”. Yesterday I was desperate. This rash is extremely itchy and I have all of the self-control of a 5 year-old child. If it itches, I scratch it (don’t go there…). I know it doesn’t help the unsightliness of my legs to have bloody runnels everywhere but that is the usual effect after a good scratching. So I decided to give chamomile a try. I brewed a standard infusion of chamomile (1 tablespoon of dried chamomile leaves and flowers in a cup of hot water (turn off the heat just before the water comes to a full boil; boiling water may destroy some of the healing properties of the herb); cover, and allow to steep for 20 minutes) and, after it had cooled, dipped a cotton ball in it and began bathing my legs with it.

Almost instant relief. It was amazing. Of course, I also took a bath in Epsom salt prior to the application and I’m sure that had a hand in helping, too. But it was the chamomile that seemed to provide the most soothing relief. Within moments there was a visible reduction in inflammation. It was wonderful. And I am so grateful that He led me to this passage in James Duke’s book; it is truly a godsend. Like any other treatment, you will need to re-apply it. It stayed with me for about 5 hours and then a few of the worse areas started itching again–not quite as bad as before the first application but enough that it was time to re-apply.

Hopefully, this will help others in a similar situation. I do need to add a few words of caution: chamomile is a member of the ragweed family. If you have a sensitivity with ragweed, you may want to proceed with caution before using chamomile, especially taking it internally. If using it topically, apply the chamomile infusion in your bathroom where there is a shower or faucet where you may quickly wash it off. As with all things, seek professional medical attention if the rash gets worse.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This presentation is intended for informational purposes only; it is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor be taken as medical advice.

Works Cited

Duke, J. The Green Pharmacy: The Ultimate Compendium of Natural Remedies from the World’s Foremost
Authority on Healing Herbs.
Rodale Press, PA: 1997.

Tierra, M. The Way of Herbs. Simon & Schuster, Inc, New York: 1998.

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