Chamomile is a flowering herb. It looks like a tiny daisy, with a yellow central disc surrounded by delicate white petals. A member of the Asteraceae family, chamomile is closely related to echinacea, sunflowers, marigolds, and other daisy-like flowers. The name comes from the Greek word chamaimēlon, meaning “ground apple.” The flowering herb has been used as a medicinal tonic and topical remedy for thousands of years. Though its use likely predates the period, it is known to have been drunk by Ancient Egyptians. Chamomile was also used as both a beverage and incense by the Romans.
There are two main types of chamomile: Anthemis nobilis (Roman chamomile) and Matricaria chamomilla (German or wild chamomile). The Roman variety was named by a botanist in the 19th century who found it growing near the Colosseum in Rome. German chamomile tends to have a more robust, almost pungent scent, while Roman chamomile is sweeter and fruitier.
The most widespread use of chamomile is as an herbal tea. Chamomile is also used in other beverages, such as liquor infusions, a beer additive, and to make wine. It’s commonly used in Spain to flavor Manzanilla sherry and is found in Greek cuisine as well. The floral flavor can be infused into syrups and used in ice cream, other desserts, or savory dishes such as soups.
Due to its aroma and healing aspects, it is common to find chamomile in topical lotions, oils, soaps, shampoos, and cosmetics. Many of these products use chamomile essential oil, which should never be ingested or applied directly to the skin on its own. The oil may be used in aromatherapy applications, including diffusers and candles.
The chamomile plant’s flowers and buds are harvested for tea as the flowers open. It continually blooms for a few months, depending on the climate in which it’s grown. Egypt and Eastern Europe lead chamomile cultivation, though it’s grown worldwide, and German chamomile often grows wild. After harvest, the flowers are dried to prolong the shelf life. When this occurs, the white petals turn a pale yellow and may fall off the yellow head, which is its most recognizable form.
Chamomile might benefit the quality of your sleep. It contains apigenin, an antioxidant that binds to receptors in your brain that may promote sleepiness and reduce insomnia. Apigenin has also been shown to fight cancer cells, especially those of the breast, digestive tract, skin, prostate and uterus. One study of 537 people observed that those who drank chamomile tea 2-6 times per week were significantly less likely to develop thyroid cancer than those who did not drink chamomile tea.
In one study, postpartum women who drank chamomile tea for two weeks reported better sleep quality compared to a group that did not drink chamomile tea. They also had fewer symptoms of depression, which is often linked with sleeping problems.
Another study found that people who consumed 270 mg of chamomile extract twice daily for 28 days had 1/3 less time lying awake and fell asleep 15 minutes faster than those who did not consume the extract.
A few animals studies have found that chamomile extract has the potential to protect against diarrhea. This is attributed to its anti-inflammatory properties. Another study found chamomile to be helpful in preventing stomach ulcers, as it may reduce acidity in the stomach and inhibit the growth of bacteria that contribute to ulcer development.
Chamomile has been used to treat several digestive ailments, including nausea and gas.
Drinking chamomile tea may also aid in lowering blood sugar levels. Its anti-inflammatory properties may prevent damage to the cells of your pancreas, which occurs when your blood sugar levels are chronically elevated. The health of your pancreas is extremely important, as it produces insulin, the hormone responsible for removing sugar from your blood. In one study of 64 diabetic people, those who consumed chamomile tea daily with meals for eight weeks had significantly lower average blood sugar levels than those who consumed water.
Several animal studies suggest that chamomile tea may lower fasting blood sugar levels by a considerable amount, and it may also be beneficial for preventing blood sugar spikes after eating.
How to Buy
Whole, dried chamomile flowers can be purchased at natural food stores, tea shops, and online. Packages may include just a few ounces or up to a pound. Larger bulk quantities are available, though the flowers do not weigh much: One pound should fill a one-gallon jar. Chamomile tea bags are very common and available at grocery stores.
How to Store
Fresh chamomile is dried for long-term storage. If you harvest them from your garden, spread the flowers out and place in a dry, cool spot out of the sun for up to a week. They can also be dried in a food dehydrator or oven.
Once dry, store chamomile in an airtight container out of direct sunlight and away from heat and humidity. It will retain its flavor for up to a year.
How to Cook
When using chamomile to make tea, use between 1 and 4 tablespoons of fresh or dried flowers for each cup of water. The recommended water temperature is 200 degrees Fahrenheit or near boiling. Steep the herb for 3 to 5 minutes, depending on your taste.