By Maggy Howe
RISMEDIA, April 3, 2007-I am sorry to say that Peter was not very well during the evening. His mother put him to bed, and made some chamomile tea; and she gave a dose of it to Peter! "One tablespoon to be taken at bedtime." The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter
It was the gentle yet powerful actions of chamomile that finally eased him into a restful sleep.
The two most popular types of the herb are German chamomile (Matricaria recutita syn. M. chamomilla), an annual that can often be found growing wild along roadsides, and Roman chamomile (Anthemis nobilis syn. Chamaemelum nobile), a perennial that is frequently used for ground cover. Pillows and beds stuffed with chamomile and lavender were once thought to comfort, relax, and summon pleasant dreams with their calming aroma. Today we can achieve the same soothing effects in our homes by simply sprinkling dried chamomile blossoms onto our carpets just before vacuuming to leave a fresh, clean scent.
Rosemary Gladstar, author of Herbs for Reducing Stress and Anxiety (Storey Books; 1999; $8.95) and director of Sage Mountain Herbal Retreat Center and Native Plant Preserve, in East Barre, Vermont, cites chamomile as one of her all-time favorite botanicals.
"Many Americans believe chamomile to be a fairly weak remedy, because it's safe for animals, infants, and the elderly, but in actuality chamomile is as powerful as it is gentle on the body," Gladstar notes.
She prescribes chamomile to treat skin irritations and to use as eyewashes, as well as for nervous and digestive complaints.
"If a client is under serious stress, I recommend that she soak in chamomile baths once or twice a week. To treat mild stress, I suggest sipping chamomile tea throughout the day," says Gladstar.
Chamomile owes its anti-inflammatory properties to the compound azulen, a principal component of the herb's beautiful blue essential oil. Add the oil to a warm bath to soften the skin and induce relaxation or apply it topically along with lavender oil at the nape of the neck and on the temples to help relieve headaches. Lukewarm chamomile tea, administered with a sterile eyedropper as an eyewash, can revive tired, bloodshot eyes and treat mild conjunctivitis. To reduce puffy eyes, place a warmed chamomile tea bag directly on closed eyes for several minutes.
Barbara Close, founder of the holistic spa Naturopathica, recommends applying a cold compress of chamomile oil and fresh peppermint leaves to soothe skin following too much sun exposure. Her new book, Well-Being: Rejuvenating Recipes for Body and Soul (Chronicle; $18.95), offers recipes for this and other seasonal herbal treatments, including an aromatic chamomile herbal bath bouquet and a chamomile face serum for nourishing dry skin.
Look for chamomile the next time you go shopping. The flower's widespread popularity has made it available at most local supermarkets. Keep it on hand, experiment, and add it to your list of favorite herbal remedies.
General dosage for chamomile tea is one teaspoon per cup of water; steep for 5 to 10 minutes. The longer chamomile steeps, the more powerful its calming effects will be.
According to Vermont author and herbalist Rosemary Gladstar, after about 10 minutes of steeping, chamomile's bitter properties are released, making it an excellent anti-inflammatory and digestive aid, soothing stomach irritations as well as easing the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.
For an easy afternoon pick-me-up-without caffeine jitters-add 1/2 teaspoon of dried chamomile flowers to a cup of green tea. Let the flowers steep in the tea, strain, and enjoy.
"When preparing a chamomile bath," says Gladstar, "you don't have to be precise." She recommends making a strong batch of tea in a half-gallon jar with up to 1/2 cup of chamomile per batch and then adding it to the bathwater. Or, for really deep relaxation, mix in equal parts lavender or lemon balm — totaling 1/2 cup — in a nylon stocking or muslin bag. Let the bag run under hot water first, then adjust the water temperature by adding cold water.