Camomile (Matricaria chamomilla L.) is one of the most oft-used medicinal plants for home remedies. The name for its botanic genus, Matricaria, refers to its use in folk medicine as a herb to treat women's issues. "Camomile" is derived from the Latin camomilla and Greek chamaímêlon, meaning "apple growing on the ground". This is reflected in old German colloquial names for camomile: Apfelkraut, Oepfelkraut, Opfelblüamli. Matricaria plants are also sometimes called "mayweed". In Norse mythology, camomile represented the sun, and the flower is called "Baldur's Eyebrow". It is said to be a plant from Asgard, the garden of the gods.
Germinator and easy to cultivate
This delicate Asteraceae plant is a germinator and is quite easy to cultivate. Camomile prefers sandy, loamy soils and can also be found growing wild on unsprayed grain fields. Originally a native plant of Southeast Europe and Western Asia, camomile has meanwhile spread over all of Europe as well as to North America and Australia. True camomile is an annual herb plant that can grow to 50 cm in height. Matricaria has a characteristic scent that differentiates it from other camomile species. The genus Matricaria represents seven varieties that grow in Europe and Asia Minor. Worthy of mention alongside true camomile are pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea), scentless mayweed (Matricaria inodora), and sea mayweed (Tripleurospermum maritimum). The well-known dog fennel (Anthemis) is not of the same genus as other camomile species, but rather forms its own genus. There are close to 160 different species of Anthemis. Chamaemelum nobile likewise has its own genus and is the only species therein used as a medicinal plant like true camomile.
Occurrence and species of camomile
Camomile has a long history as a medicinal herb. It has long been used as an anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and soothing remedy. In 2002 it was selected as the Medicinal Plant of the Year by NHV Theophrastus, an association promoting natural healing according to the Swiss physician-philosopher Paracelcus. In 2019 the camomile was named Aromatic Plant of the Year by VAGA, the association for aromatherapy practitioners. Camomile has anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, healing, soothing, carminative and deodorising properties. Both the Commission E and ESCOP (the European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy) have rated it highly.
Camomile as a medicinal plant
Its recognised medical uses include being taken internally to treat gastrointestinal inflammations and spasms, and external application to treat wounds, superficial skin injuries and irritations, burns, chilblains, bacterial skin diseases, as a mouthwash to sooth gum disease, in sitz baths for diseases in the genital area, and inhaled to soothe respiratory complaints.
Use of camomile
The flower heads are harvested in early summer, then gently dried and used to make tea blends. They are also used in tinctures or macerated oils. The blossoms contain an essential oil that is
obtained through steam distillation. This essential oil is also called "blue camomile oil" because of its characteristic hue. Camomile's soothing properties also make it ideal for use in the manufacture of cosmetic creams and ointments. Liquid extracts are also used as baths, poultices and washes for wounds that are slow to heal. In folk medicine, sitz bath preparations make use not only of the flower heads, but the herbage as well. The herbage was also decocted in earlier times to dye fabrics, as it gave them a bright yellow colour. Here, however, Anthemis tinctoria, aka dyer's camomile, a subspecies of dog fennel, is arguably the plant of choice, as it provides a more intense, yellow-gold hue.
The effect of camomile
The most important substances in common camomile include its essential oil, flavonoids, phenolic acids, mucilaginous substances, polysaccharides, and coumarins. The azulene "chamazulene" is biosynthesized from proazulenes such as matricin through steam distillation and gives camomile essential oil its typical blue colour. This substance is not originally found in the plant itself.
Like with humans, camomile can also have calming, soothing, and anti-inflammatory effects on animals. Camomile acts as an antispasmodic in the gastrointestinal tract and soothes irritated skin and mucus membranes, which is why it is used both in cough remedies and in externally applied ointments and creams for slow-healing wounds. In folk medicine, camomile is also said to have sedative and anxiety-relieving effects.
Camomile is a healing plant that no household should be without. It has no known side effects. Only in the case of known allergies to plants of the Asteraceae family or hypersensitivities should one avoid applications containing camomile.
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