Thursday, December 24, 2009

Medicinal Herbs: Roman Chamomile

Roman chamomile


There are two plants known as chamomile. One is the more popular German chamomile (Matricaria recutita), while the other is called the Roman, or English, chamomile ( Chamaemelum nobile). Although they belong to different species, they are used to treat similar conditions. Both are used to calm frayed nerves, to treat various digestive disorders, to relieve muscle spasms, and to treat a range of skin conditions and mild infections. Chamomile can also be found in a variety of face creams, drinks, hair dyes, shampoos, and perfumes.
Most research on chamomile has been done with German chamomile, which has similar, but not identical, active ingredients.
Traditionally, Roman chamomile has been used to treat nausea, vomiting, heartburn, and excess intestinal gas. It is widely valued for its anxiety-relieving properties. Used topically, this herb may also reduce inflammation associated with cuts or hemorrhoids. It may ease the discomfort associated with conditions such as eczema and gingivitis (swollen gums).
Test tube studies have also shown that chamomile has antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties. It also has antispasmodic properties, meaning it helps relax muscle contractions, particularly in the smooth muscles that make up the intestines.

Plant Description

Roman chamomile originates in northwestern Europe and Northern Ireland, where it creeps close to the ground and can reach up to one foot in height. Gray-green leaves grow from the stems, and the flowers have yellow centers surrounded by white petals, like miniature daisies. Its leaves are thicker than German chamomile, and it grows closer to the ground. The flowers smell like apples.

What's It Made Of?

Chamomile teas, ointments, and extracts all start with the white and yellow flower head. The flower heads may be dried and used in teas or capsules or crushed and steamed to produce a blue oil, which has medicinal benefits. The oil contains ingredients that reduce swelling and may limit the growth of bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

Available Forms

Roman chamomile is available as dried flowers in bulk, tea, tinctures, and in creams and ointments.

How to Take It

There are no known scientific reports regarding the appropriate pediatric dose of Roman chamomile. Herbal practitioners may recommend dosing similar to German chamomile, 1 - 2 oz. of tea per day. Talk to your doctor to determine a proper dose before giving Roman chamomile to a child.
  • Tea: Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 2 - 3 heaping tbls. (2 - 4 g) of dried herb, steep 10 - 15 minutes. Drink 3 to 4 times per day between meals.
  • Liquid extract (1:1, 70% alcohol) 20 - 120 drops, 3 times per day.
  • Bath: Use 1/4 lb of dried flowers per bath, or add 5 - 10 drops of essential oil to a full tub of water to soothe hemorrhoids, cuts, eczema, perineal pain, or insect bites.
  • Cream/Ointment: Apply cream or ointment containing 3 - 10% chamomile content.


The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects and can interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a health care provider.
Roman chamomile is considered generally safe.
Chamomile may make asthma worse, so people with asthma should not take it.
Pregnant women should avoid chamomile because of the risk of miscarriage, but sitz baths with Roman chamomile may help heal the perineum after birth.
If you are sensitive to asters, daisies, chrysanthemums, or ragweed, you may also be allergic to chamomile.
Drinking large amounts of highly concentrated chamomile tea may cause vomiting.

Possible Interactions

If you currently take any of the following drugs, you should not use German chamomile without first talking to your health care provider.
Anticoagulants (blood-thinning medication) -- Chamomile may increase the risk of bleeding when taken with anticoagulant drugs such as warfarin.
Sedatives -- Chamomile can increase the effect of drugs that have a sedating effect, including:
  • Anticonvulsants, such as phenytoin (Dilantin) and valproic acid (Depakote)
  • Barbituates
  • Benzodiazepines, such as alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium)
  • Drugs to treat insomnia, such as zolpidem (Ambien), zaleplon (Sonata), eszopiclone (Lunesta), and ramelteon (Rozerem)
  • Tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline (Elavil)
  • Alcohol
The same is true of herbs with a sedating effect, such as valerian, kava, and catnip.
Other drugs -- Because chamomile is broken down by certain liver enzymes, it may interact with other drugs that are broken down by the same enzymes, including:
  • Fexofenadine (Seldane)
  • Statins (drugs taken to lower cholesterol)
  • Birth control pills
  • Some antifungal drugs

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