Chamomile is such a useful and versatile herb that I find it difficult to know where to start when singing its praises. Shall I begin by telling you about its ability to soothe inflamed conditions or should I focus on its use as a digestive bitter? Or perhaps, as every Beatrix Potter fan knows well, I should speak about the usefulness of chamomile as a sleeping aid for naughty rabbits? You can see the problem.

But with a little thought, I feel I can tie everything that is wonderful about chamomile down to one word: soothing. Chamomile is an herb that soothes. From the digestive tract to the skin to the nervous system, the sweet smelling flowers of German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) are the very first thing I think of when there is a condition requiring a soothing action. Typically, these types of conditions involve irritation of some kind stemming from hyper-reactivity to stress and the environment, and more often than not this irritation and hypersensitiveness can be seen manifesting in multiple ways within the same person.

So what exactly does this hyper-reactive and irritable state look like? Well, just imagine the irritable child (of any age) who has worked themselves up into such a frenzy that they have a stomach ache, a headache, they can’t sleep and they’ve broken out all over in into hives. I’m sure we can all picture multiple people like this; maybe we’ve even found ourselves in such a state on certain occasions. This is the person to whom you want to give a big steaming mug of chamomile tea before sending them to bed.

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Chamomile accomplishes its magic by working on the interface between the gut, the immune system and the nervous system. We often think of these systems as being distinct, but they are intimately connected through millions of neurons. When we are stressed, our nervous system reacts by altering digestive and immune function. Similarly, when the digestive tract is irritated, it alerts the immune and nervous systems and can put things on over-drive. In both cases, chamomile helps to bring the body back to baseline, both by soothing the nervous system with its aromatic essential oils, and by working directly on the digestion – stimulating function with its mild bitter flavor and soothing muscle spasms and tissue irritation with its moistening, inflammatory and spasmodic soothing actions. The combined effect is one of relaxation on all levels.

Just as chamomile exerts its effects directly on the tissues of the digestive tract, it can also be used topically to soothe other tissue inflammation  – namely in the respiratory tract and externally on the skin. Chamomile tea in a neti pot is a great ally during allergy season to provide direct topical comfort for sinus irritation. Warm chamomile tea bags can also be placed on the eyes to relieve dryness and irritation or can be used as a poultice to soothe and cool down a hot, itchy rash. You won’t be surprised when these topical applications also leave you feeling calm and relaxed.

So there you have it; when you think of chamomile, think of soothing. Or better yet, when you find yourself or someone you love in an irritable state of any sort, think of chamomile.

Writer Danielle Charles Davies has a BSc in Herbal Science from Bastyr University and in addition completed two years of clinical training at the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism. She has a Masters Degree in Writing and has written for the the American Herbalists Guild and has also served as a food columnist. Her musings, and recipes, can be found at her blog, Teacup Chronicles.

For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.