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chamomile

What Is It? 
Health Benefits
Forms
Dosage Information
Guidelines for Use
General Interaction
Possible Side Effects
Cautions
References
Evidence Based Rating Scale 

What Is It?

One of the safest medicinal herbs, chamomile is a soothing, gentle relaxant that has been shown to work for a variety of complaints from stress to menstrual cramps. This Herb has a satisfying, apple-like aroma and flavor (the name chamomile is derived from the Greek kamai melon, meaning ground apple), and it's most often taken as a delicious, mild therapeutic tea. Concentrated extracts of chamomile are also added to healing creams and lotions or packaged as pills and tinctures. Chamomile also is used as a homeopathic remedy, especially for excessive irritability and oversensitivity to pain in children who want to be carried constantly--perhaps because of colic, teething, or ear infections--and in women with pre-menstrual syndrome, and dysmenorrhea. Read more about the individualized use of homeopathy in the WholeHealth MD Reference Library

Two species of chamomile--German chamomile and Roman chamomile--have similar chemical properties and are used in healing for similar applications. In North America and central Europe, products made from the German--sometimes called Hungarian--chamomile (Matricaria recutita) are the most familiar and commonly used. In Great Britain, Roman (or English) chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile or Anthemis nobilis) is more commonly sold.

The plant's healing properties come from its daisy-like flowers, which contain volatile oils (including bisabolol, bisabolol oxides A and B, and matricin) as well as flavonoids (particularly a compound called apinegin) and other therapeutic substances. Chamomile may be used internally or externally.

Health Benefits

Although best known as a muscle relaxant and antispasmodic, chamomile also has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory capabilities. Both types of chamomile have been used to treat some digestive disorders, mild infections, and skin disorders and to relieve muscle spasms and stress.

Specifically, chamomile may help to:

  • Promote general relaxation and relieve stress. While animal studies have shown that chamomile contains substances that act on the same parts of the brain and nervous system as anti-anxiety drugs, it is not clear exactly which component is responsible for the sedative activity of chamomile. Some preliminary research indicates the apigenin in German chamomile can bind to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors, which communicate between nerve cells and help to keep stress-related nerve impulses at bay. (1) However, other research indicates German chamomile does not affect GABA receptors, and that other constituents may be responsible for the herb’s sedative effects. (2) In a 2006 study of 30 bovines receiving German chamomile and 30 not treated, levels of the stress Hormone cortisol were significantly lower in the treatment group. (3)
  • Relieve insomnia. Chamomile's mildly sedating and muscle-relaxing effects may help those who suffer from insomnia to fall asleep more easily. Increased GABA levels have been shown to decrease sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep) and to improve the quality of sleep that results. Thus, German chamomile’s ability to increase GABA levels may improve sleep; however most evidence is anecdotal, stemming from a long history as a folk remedy for insomnia. Chamomile tea, for instance, has long been used for its calming, sedative effects. But scientific research evaluating the use of chamomile for insomnia is limited. 
    In a
    2005 animal study, a significant decrease in sleep latency was observed in sleep-disturbed rats after treatment with chamomile Extract. Researchers concluded the chamomile showed benzodiazepine-like hypnotic action in the rats. (4) However, a 2005 review of herbal remedies and alternative therapies for insomnia found that studies evaluating the use of chamomile for insomnia are sparse, and no solid evidence of a hypnotic effect exists. (5) Further research is needed to determine the efficacy of chamomile in treating insomnia.
  • Treat diverticular disease, irritable bowel problems and various gastrointestinal complaints. Chamomile's anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic actions relax the smooth muscles lining the stomach and intestine. The herb may, therefore, help to relieve nausea, heartburn, and stress-related flatulence, but research in these areas is limited. Two studies in animals have found herbal formulas containing German chamomile have beneficial effects on the gastrointestinal tract. A 2007 study in mice found a combination formulation containing German chamomile extract, fennel extract and lemon balm (Melissa) extract significantly reduced upper gastrointestinal motility in mice. (6) A subsequent 2008 study found this formulation significantly inhibited gastrointestinal transit. (76) The best evidence in this area is regarding the use of chamomile for dyspepsia, or indigestion. Two double-blind, randomized, Placebo-controlled trials have shown a specific combination product containing German chamomile (STW 5-II) improves symptoms of dyspepsia. The combination includes chamomile plus peppermint leaf, clown’s mustard plant, caraway, licorice, milk thistle, celandine, angelica, and lemon balm. (8, 9) A 2004 meta-analysis of studies using this combination product concluded that taking 1 ml orally three times daily over a period of four weeks significantly reduced the severity of symptoms such as acid reflux, epigastric (upper abdominal) pain, cramping, nausea, and vomiting compared to placebo. (10) The anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic actions of chamomile also may be useful in the treatment of diverticular disorders and inflammatory bowel conditions such as Crohn's disease, but research is lacking. More research is needed to determine efficacy in these areas.
  • Soothe skin rashes such as eczema. Used as a lotion or added in oil form to a cool bath, the flavonoid and essential oil components of chamomile may ease the itching of eczema and other rashes and reduce skin Inflammation. A 2003 article published in Holistic Nursing Practice identified chamomile as effective as hydrocortisone in relieving the eczema symptoms of itching and inflammation. (11) In a 2000 German double-blind, randomized study comparing Kamillosan® cream (a combination of chamomile and lanolin) to hydrocortisone cream on patients with medium-degree eczema, the chamomile cream showed a mild superiority compared to hydrocortisone and a marginal difference compared to placebo after two weeks of treatment. (12) Prior, in a 1985 German study comparing the efficacy of Kamillosan® cream to hydrocortisone and two other formulas (fluocortin butyl ester, and bufexamac), the chamomile cream was as effective as 0.25% hydrocortisone and was superior to .75% fluocortin butyl ester and to the non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory agent 5% bufexamac. (13)
  • Heal wounds, minor burns and sunburns. The anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and anti-oxidant effects of chamomile may help speed healing and prevent bacterial infection. While anecdotal evidence indicates a cooling, soothing effect of chamomile on burns and sunburns, scientific evidence is lacking. Preliminary studies are underway, however. In a 2008 experimental study on the effect of topical German chamomile extract on wound healing in albino rats with second-degree burns, a significant improvement in the percentage of wound healing was seen in rats receiving topical chamomile treatment compared to placebo groups. (14) More research is needed in this area. 
  • Heal mouth sores and prevent gum disease. A chamomile mouthwash can help soothe mouth inflammations and keep gums healthy. This may be of particular interest to people with oral mucositis, a common complication of cancer therapy and radiotherapy. In oral mucositis, the effects of chemotherapy cause inflammation of the mucosa of the mouth, which ranges from redness to severe ulceration. Using a German chamomile oral rinse called Kamillosan Liquidum may help to prevent or treat oral mucositis. However, evidence is conflicting. A 1991 study at the School of Dental Medicine in Buffalo, New York evaluated the effectiveness of the oral rinse taken prophylactically by 20 cancer patients treated with radiation therapy and 46 patients treated with chemotherapy. Only one of the 20 patients undergoing radiation therapy developed grade 3 oral mucositis in the final week of treatment, and 10 of the 46 patients undergoing chemotherapy developed noticeable mucositis. Prophylactic treatment appeared to maintain tissue integrity, and treatment seemed to accelerate the healing of oral mucositis; however there was no comparator group. (15) In a 1996 double-blind, placebo-controlled study with 82 patients at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, using a chamomile mouthwash three times a day did not prevent fluorouracil (5-FU) chemotherapy-induced oral mucositis. (16) It’s unclear whether it might be more effective with stomatitis caused by radiation or other chemotherapeutic agents.

 Forms

  • Tincture
  • oil
  • lotion
  • dried herb/tea
  • cream
  • capsule
  • pill
  • homeopathic pellets

 Dosage Information

Special tips:

--Because chamomile is available in so many forms, it's important to read the labels for exact dosage. Look for pills and tinctures formulated with concentrated extracts of chamomile that contain at least 1% apigenin, one of the herb's key healing ingredients.

--Many people use chamomile tea for healing. It's important to know the proper brewing method: Use 2 teaspoons of dried flowers for each 8 ounces of water. Pour very hot (not boiling) water over the flowers, steep for 5 minutes, and then strain.

  • For muscle relaxation and antispasmodic effects: Drink two or three cups of chamomile tea a day (many people find that the process of simply brewing and drinking the pleasantly fragrant tea can have a relaxing effect). Or take 2 or 3 capsules or 2 or 3 teaspoons of tincture.
  • For insomnia: Drink a cup of double-strength chamomile tea at bedtime or take 1 capsule or 1 teaspoon of tincture. Alternatively, put half a cup of dried chamomile flowers in some cheesecloth, tie it up, and place it under the running water as you fill a tub; the resulting fragrant bath will produce a relaxing effect.
  • To soothe rashes, mild burns or sunburn: For quick relief of mild burns or sunburn, apply a dressing soaked in freshly made chamomile tea; cool the tea quickly in the freezer or with ice cubes first. Alternatively, add 10 drops of chamomile oil, or several cups of chamomile tea, to a cool bath (this also helps dry skin). Another option is to mix a few drops of chamomile oil into 1/2 ounce of almond oil (or another neutral oil) and apply it directly to the skin. Finally, you can apply a ready-made chamomile cream or lotion to the affected area three or four times a day.
  • For oral mucositis: Rinse the mouth with 10-15 drops of chamomile liquid extract in 100 mL warm water or saline three times daily during radiation or chemotherapy treatment. 

Be sure to check out our Dosage Recommendations Chart for Chamomile, which lists therapeutic dosages for specific ailments at a glance.

Guidelines for Use

  • Chamomile is gentle and safe at recommended dosages; however safety for longer than eight weeks of use has not been established.
  • Some chamomile lotions and creams sold as beauty products actually contain very little chamomile. Their fragrance makes them pleasant to use, but they are not actually therapeutic. For maximum healing effect, look for preparations with at least 3% chamomile.

 General Interaction

  • The therapeutic and adverse effects of German chamomile may be enhanced when taken along with other herbs that produce sedative effects, such as 5-HTP, kava, St. John’s wort, valerian, and others.
  • German chamomile may also cause additive effects and side effects when used along with benzodiazepines such as Xanax, Ativan or Valium; or when combined with sedatives.
  • Because German chamomile competes for estrogen receptors, the herb may interfere with the efficacy of birth control pills and other hormone therapies including tamoxifen. Similarly, it is contraindicated in hormone sensitive cancers.
  • Chamomile may interact with warfarin to increase its effect leading to overdose and bleeding.

Possible Side Effects

  • German chamomile is generally considered safe and nontoxic. Side effects are extremely rare.
  • Large amounts of Roman chamomile may cause vomiting, although evidence regarding this effect is conflicting.
  • When used topically, Roman chamomile may cause contact dermatitis.

 Cautions

  • Avoid use near the eyes due to potential allergic reactions. In general, if you suffer from allergies to plants of the Compositae family (a large group including such flowers as daisies, ragweed, asters and chrysanthemums), you may wish to be cautious about using chamomile at first. While there have been isolated reports of severe allergic reactions, causing skin rashes and bronchial constriction, most people can use this herb with no problem.
  • When using chamomile to treat burns, choose creams or tea-soaked dressings instead of greasy ointments. Ointments contain oils that can hold in heat and prevent air from getting at the wound. This can slow healing and actually increase the risk of infection

References

 1. Viola H, Wasowski C, Levi de Stein M, et al. Apigenin, a component of Matricaria recutita flowers, is a central benzodiazepine receptors-ligand with anxiolytic effects. Planta Med. 1995;61:213-6.
2. Avallone R, Zanoli P, Puia G, et al. Pharmacological profile of apigenin, a flavonoid isolated from Matricaria chamomilla. Biochem Pharmacol. 2000;59:1387-94.
3. Reis LS, Pardo PE, Oba E, et al. Matricaria chamomilla CH12 decreases handling stress in Nelore calves. J Vet Sci. 2006 Jun;7(2):189-92.
4. Shinomiya K, Inoue T, Utsu Y, et al. Hypnotic activities of chamomile and passiflora extracts in sleep-disturbed rats. Biol Pharm Bull. 2005 May;28(5):808-10.
5. Meolie AL, Rosen C, Kristo D, et al. Oral nonprescription treatment for insomnia: an evaluation of products with limited evidence. J Cin Sleep Med. 2005 Apr 15;1(2):173-87.
6. Capasso R, Savino F, Capasso F. Effects of the hearbal formulation ColiMil on upper gastrointestinal transit in mice in vivo. Phytother Res. 2007 Oct;21(10):999-1101.
7. Savino F, Capasso R, Palumeri E, et al. Advances on the effects of the compounds of a phytotherapic agent (COLIMIL(R)) on upper gastrointestinal transit in mice. Minerva Pediatr. 2008 Jun;60(3):285-90.
8. Holtmann G, Madisch A, Juergen H, et al. A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial on the effects of an herbal preparation in patients with functional dyspepsia [Abstract]. Ann Mtg Digestive Disease Week. 1999 May.
9. Madisch A, Holtmann G, Mayr G, et al. Treatment of functional dyspepsia with a herbal preparation. A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, multicenter trial. Digestion. 2004;69:45-52.
10. Melzer J, Rosch W, Reichling J, et al. Meta-analysis: phytotherapy of functional dyspepsia with the herbal drug preparation STW 5 (Iberogast). Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2004;20:1279-87.
11. Ross SM. An integrative approach to eczema (atopic dermatitis). Holist Nurs Pract. 2003 Jan-Feb;17(1):56-62.
12. Patzelt-Wenczier R, Ponce-Poschl E. Proof of efficacy of Kamillosan® cream in atopic eczema. Eur J Med Res. 2000 Apr 19;5(4):171-5.
13. Aertgeerts P, Albring M, Klaschka F, et al. [Comparative testing of Kamillosan cream and steroidal (0.25% hydrocortisone, 0.75%fluocortin butyl ester) and non-steroidal (5% bufexamac) dermatologic agents in maintence therapy of eczematous diseases.] Z Hautkr. 1985 Feb 1;60(3):270-7.
14. Jarrahi M. An experimental study of the effects of Matricaria chamomilla extract on cutaneous burn wound healing in albino rats. Nat Prod Res. 2008 Mar 20;22(5):422-7.
15. Carl W, Emrich LS. Management of oral mucositis during local radiation and systemic chemotherapy: a study of 98 patients. J Prosthet Dent. 1991 Sep;66(3):361-9.
16. Fidler P, Loprinzi CL, O’Fallon JR, et al. Prospective evaluation of a chamomile

Evidence Based Rating Scale 

The Evidence Based Rating Scale is a tool that helps consumers translate the findings of medical research studies with what our clinical advisors have found to be efficacious in their personal practice. This tool is meant to simplify which supplements and therapies demonstrate promise in the treatment of certain conditions. This scale does not take into account any possible interactions with any medication/ condition/ or therapy which you may be currently undertaking. It is therefore advisable to ask your doctor before starting any new treatment regimen.

Condition

Rating

Explanation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Burns

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Favorable results in patients indicates efficacy, but scientific research is lacking. A preliminary study indicates efficacy in rats. More research is needed to confirm or refute efficacy in humans.

 

 

 

Crohn’s disease

 

 

 

 

Not studied for this. Research is needed to determine efficacy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dyspepsia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anecdotal use and animal studies support use. Human studies demonstrating significant benefit have used combination formulas; so similar benefit may not be seen with chamomile alone.

 

 

Gum disease

 

 

Preliminary evidence indicates efficacy as mouthwash in relieving cancer treatment-induced oral mucositis, but evidence is conflicting with different agents. More evidence is needed to determine efficacy.

 

 

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

 

 

 

 

 

 

Antispasmodic action on gastrointestinal tract is reported, but studies are not available for review.
 

 

Insomnia

 

 

 

 

Favorable results in patients indicates efficacy, but scientific research is lacking in this area. More research is needed to confirm or refute efficacy.

 

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)

 

 

 

Not studied for this. Research is needed to determine efficacy.

 

Stress

 

Preliminary evidence in animals indicates efficacy of German chamomile. More research is needed to determine efficacy in humans.

 

Wounds

 

 

 

Favorable results in patients indicates efficacy, but scientific research is lacking. A preliminary study indicates efficacy in rats. More research is needed to confirm or refute efficacy in humans.

 

Ailments Dosage
Acne
Add 1 tsp. liquid extract to hot, not boiling water, and let cool. Rinse face. Or follow package instructions on chamomile cream.
Burns Use a strong tea: 2 or 3 tsp. dried herb for each cup of hot water. Cool quickly in freezer or with ice cubes. Apply tea-soaked cloth to the burn for about 15 minutes.
Crohn's Disease
Can be used in a tea form under direction of your practitioner.
Gum Disease
Use 1 cup cooled tea as a mouthwash. Or mix 1 tsp. liquid extract into 1/4 cup of water and swish around in your mouth.
Insomnia 1 cup tea 30 minutes before bed
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
2 or 3 cups tea a day; or 200-350 mg capsule (flowers and leaf) 3 times a day; or 1/2 to 1 teaspoon liquid extract 3 times a day
Stress Drink 2 or 3 cups tea a day.
Sunburn
For mild burns: Add 10 drops essential oil to a cool bath and soak for 30 minutes. Use with lavender oil.
For more serious burns: Mix a few drops essential oil with 1/2 ounce almond oil (or other neutral oil) and apply to skin twice a day; use with lavender oil. Chamomile cream applied to the affected area several times a day also promotes healing.

Drug/Nutrient Interactions
View Drug Interactions



Date Published: 4/19/2005
Date Reviewed: 5/14/2010



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