Healing Foods: Chamomile
Long revered as a calming beverage, chamomile has powers extending far beyond simple relaxation
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
The ancient Egyptians, Greeks,
and Romans had divergent cultures
spanning several millennia, but
they had one thing in common:
chamomile tea, their go-to potion
for frayed nerves. It seems the
ancients were spot-on—research
indicates that apigenin, an antianxiety
agent found in the delicate
daisy-like flower, binds to the same
receptors in the brain as prescription
sedatives. What’s more,
sipping the faintly apple-flavored
brew isn’t the only way to get the
benefit: When the calming effects
of a full-body massage were tested
on cancer patients using either
plain or chamomile essential oil,
“the chamomile group had significantly improved quality-of-life
scores, decreased symptoms, and
much less anxiety compared to the
patients who were massaged with plain oil,” says Jonny Bowden, PhD,
CNS, author of The Most Effective Natural Cures on Earth.
Chamomile calms more than the mind—it’s also effective at relaxing the gastrointestinal tract to ease gas and indigestion. In fact, chamomile was shown to relieve colic in infants twice as often as a placebo preparation. Researchers ascribe its cramp-stopping
powers to bisabolol, an antispasmodic, as well as to glycine, an amino acid that may help relax the uterus, relieving PMS and menstrual symptoms. The flower’s health perks don’t stop there: In an Imperial College of London study, researchers found that regular chamomile tea drinkers had elevated levels of hippurate, an antibacterial compound that can help fight infections brought on by colds. What’s more, hippurate levels stayed high for up to two weeks after their last sip! The
proof is so solid that the German Commission E has approved chamomile for cough, bronchitis, and inflammation of the mouth, throat, and skin, says Bowden.
A chamomile compress can help relieve minor skin problems, from cuts and burns to rashes and cracked skin. Simply steep a tea bag, and let it cool,
or mix dried tea with enough water to create a paste, apply to a piece of gauze, place on the affected area, and secure with surgical tape. “Chamomile contains anti-inflammatory flavonoids, namely apigenin, quercetin, and luteolin, that help relieve irritation,” says Ray Sahelian, MD, author of Mind Boosters: A Guide to Natural Supplements
That Enhance Your Mind, Memory, and Mood. It’s also rich in azulene, a natural antihistamine that blocks the itching, swelling, and redness triggered by allergies and insect bites. When shopping for chamomile, look for fresh flowers at farmers’ markets or select bulk German chamomile from the spice section or herbal tea display of a natural food store. (Fresh flowers are edible and can be used in salads and drinks.)
For tea or liquid-based recipes, steep fresh or dried chamomile at least 10 minutes to bring out all the flavor. Dried flowers or tea bags can be turned into a “soup” for fruit salad, says Eric Bedoucha, executive pastry chef and coowner of the Financier Patisserie in
New York. In summer, he combines coins of fresh ginger, chamomile flowers, one tea bag “to strengthen the flavor,” and equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan, brings it to a boil, then removes it from the heat. “Wait till it stops boiling, then pour it over crisp apricots and blueberries—it softens the fruit, brings out a nice color, and adds subtle flavor,” he says. You can also simply mix cooled chamomile tea with fruit juice for a refreshing spritzer or keep a pitcher of chamomile-infused lemonade (recipe below) in the fridge. That way, when you come home after a long, hot day, you can
pour yourself a glass, let go of that stress, and just… chill.
How to take it
To relieve minor cuts and skin irritations, apply a soaked and cooled
chamomile tea bag to the affected area as needed, or apply chamomile
cream to the area 1 to 4 times daily.For tension or digestive upset, steep 2 to 3 heaping teaspoons fresh or
dried loose chamomile flowers for 10 minutes, then drink.
Chamomile is listed on the FDA’s Generally Recognized as Safe list, though
its safety has not been established for pregnant or nursing women, or for
young children or people with liver or kidney disease. Because chamomile
has natural blood-thinning properties, avoid ingesting it if you’re taking
other blood-thinning medications.