Matricaria chamomilla, commonly referred to as the chamomile plant, is a member of the Asteraceae (Aster family), and is native to Europe and Western Asia (Renuka, 1992). It is an annual herb that has escaped to the wild and is now naturalized on almost every continent (Jackson, 2000). It can now be found growing along fencerows, roadsides, and in sunny open fields from Southern Canada to Northern U.S. west to Minnesota (Jackson, 2000). Chamomile is easily cultivated, and prefers full sun and a light, well-drained soil (Jackson, 2000). Chamomile is really two different plants that are used in western herbalism. Roman Chamomile (Anthemus nobilis) is a perennial, low-growing plant with a slightly stronger fragrance than the other type, German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) (ermasherbs.com, 1998). Both have daisy-like flowers that bloom from late spring through late summer (Appelt, 1985). The branched stem is somewhat erect, round, and hollow, and grows to about 20 inches tall (Jackson, 2000). The leaves are bipinnate, finely divided, light green and feathery (Jackson, 2000). The entire plant has a pineapple or apple scent (Jackson, 2000).
Chamomile has been used as a medicinal plant for centuries. In the West, over a million cups of chamomile tea are consumed daily (tnp.com, 1997), primarily for its reported relaxation benefits. Today, chamomile is the most widely used herb for relaxation in the western world (ermasherbs.com, 1998). The flowering tops of both A. nobilis and M. recutita are harvested and used in herbal remedies (Scalia, et. al., 1999). Dried flowers of A. chamomilla are largely used to provide sedative as well as spasmolytic effects (Avallone, et.al. 2000). Throughout history, chamomile has been (and still is) used in a variety of ways: healing baths, teas, poultices, air fresheners, hair rinse, cosmetics, insect repellents, wine flavoring, dyes, companion planting, potpourris, and landscaping (ermasherbs.com, 1998). Chamomile is medically specific to be useful with all of the following: soothing, calming, sedative, relaxation, anti-inflammatory, tenseness, aching muscles, indigestion, acidity, hay fever, asthma, morning sickness, eczema, sore nipples, and exhaustion (Maday, et. al. 1999). Chamomile is known for its calming effect on smooth muscle tissue, and is still a popular remedy for nervous stomach, menstrual cramps, and other common problems related to stress (Avallone, et. al. 2000). Used externally, it is also useful as a treatment against skin inflammation and hemorrhoids (go-symmetry.com, 1996). Used as a mouthwash, it can relieve the pain of a toothache (go-symmetry.com, 1996). Matricaria chamomilla is among several medicinal herbs that are popular in Hispanic folk medicine (Appelt, 1985).
The active substances in chamomile belong to chemically different structural types (Maday, 1999). The largest group of medically important compounds forming the essential oils includes chamazulene, apignenin, bisbololoxides, and spathulenol (Maday, 1999). Flavonoids, coumarins, and mucilages found in the chamomile flowers also have pharmacological effects (Maday, 1999). Species of M. chamomilla contain compounds that possess significant pharmacological activity (Appelt 1985).
The pharmacological property examined in a fraction isolated from a methanolic extract of M. chamomilla was identified to be apigenin (Avallone, 2000). Apigenin reduces the latency of picrotoxin-induced convulsions (Avallone, 2000). Moreover, apigenin injected in rats reduced locomotor activity, but did not demonstrate anxiolytic, myorelaxant, or anticonvulsant activities (Avallone, 2000). Those results seem to suggest that the inhibitory activity of apigenin onlocomotor behavior in rats cannot be ascribed to an interaction with GABA(A)-benzodiazepine receptor but to other neurotransmission systems (Avallone, 2000).
Intragastric and parenteral administration of heteropolysaccharides of M. chamomilla is found to normalize developing of the immune system response upon air-cooling and enhance, but not normalize, this process upon immersion cooling (Uteshev, et. al. 1999). This effect is attributed to initiation of immunostimulating properties of macrocytes, activation of immunoregulation cells of peripheral blood, and increased sensitivity of effector cells to helper signals (Uteshev, et. al. 1999).
Chamomile has several other clinically proven effects. The flowers produce a compound called chamazulene, which is a remarkable anti-allergenic and is useful in the treatment of asthma and hay fever (Jackson, 2000). Chamomile tea dosage is commonly studied for its effects. Chamomile flower tea is used as a sedative and is used to treat insomnia and many other nervous conditions when taken in larger doses as a strong tea (Jackson, 2000). Milder tea in just as large doses was proved to treat fevers, sore throats, aches and pains due to colds, flu, and allergies (Subiza, et. al. 1989). Chamomile also has clinically proven effect when applied externally. The flowers can be made into a salve for use on hemorrhoids and wounds (Jackson, 2000). When applied externally as a wash or compress, it can treat skin inflammations, sunburn, burns, and can also be added to baths for relaxing tired, achy muscles and feet, and softening the skin (Merfort, et. al. 1994).
Scientists reported significant relief from burns, diaper rash, and serious leg ulcers using chamomile (Maday, 1994). They found that for burns or diaper rash, cool chamomile is most effective, as well as adding chamomile to bath water (Maday, 1994). Chamomile is also useful for soothing babies with upset stomach or colic and for helping them to sleep (Jackson, 2000).
Chamomile exists in many folk remedies as well. One example is that the Egyptians dedicated chamomile to their sun god and valued it over all other herbs for its healing qualities. Due to its sedative and relaxing properties, chamomile was an ingredient in some love potions in the Middle Ages (Jackson, 2000).
Side effects of chamomile are quite common. Since it is a member of the daisy family, anyone who is allergic to this family, including ragweed, should not use the chamomile herb (go-symmetry.com, 1996). An 8 year-old boy who ingested a chamomile-tea infusion experienced a severe anaphylactic reaction (Subiza, et. al. 1989). The patient suffered from hay fever and bronchial asthma caused by a variety of pollen grains (Subiza, et. al. 1989). This severe reaction was developed after his first ingestion of chamomile tea (Subiza, et. al. 1989). These findings suggest a Type I IgE-mediated immunological mechanism as being responsible for the patient's anaphylactic symptoms and also suggest that the patient cross-reacted the pollens of M. chamomilla contained in the chamomile tea because he was previously sensitized to Artemisia pollen (Subiza, et. al. 1989). People who have allergies to members of the Compositae may experience contact dermatitis or other allergic reactions when using chamomile and should be cautious when using this herb (Miller, 1996).
Matricaria chamomilla is a very common plant used for its medical attributes. It has been used for centuries and is still used today. It can be used to treat very unique disorders, as well as the common cold and other ailments that people come across on a daily basis. For these reasons, chamomile is an important medicinal plant.