Anthemis nobilis, Genuine chamomile, German Chamomile, Hungarian
chamomile, Matricaria chamomilla, Roman Chamomile Note: Many different
species of chamomile grow throughout the world. The type commonly available
in the United States is known as German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla).
It is slightly different from the Roman or English chamomile (Chamaemelum
nobilis or Anthemis nobilis) that is more common in Europe. While these
two plants belong to different species, they are closely related and both
are used for similar conditions.
Uses: In the United States, oral chamomile is used primarily for relaxation and sleep. As chamomile attaches to receptors in the body that are also the targets of prescription sedative medications, low doses produce a calming effect, while higher doses are more likely to cause sleep.
Chamomile also has antispasmodic effects, which means it may relieve or prevent uncomfortable muscle contractions -- especially in the gastrointestinal tract. Therefore, it has also been used to treat minor gastrointestinal complaints such as gas, motion sickness, and stomach cramps. Bisabolol, one of the chemicals in chamomile has shown antispasmodic activity in studies of laboratory animals. A small study of infants with colic showed that a tea containing chamomile and four other herbal ingredients relieved symptoms of colic about twice as often as a liquid with no active ingredients. All the children in the study were over two weeks old.
Chamomile is also thought to have a soothing effect on the tissues inside the mouth, nose, and throat. Sometimes, chamomile is boiled in water and the steam is inhaled to relieve a stuffy nose or congested chest. A chamomile mouthwash has been tested in clinical studies for the relief of mucositis -- painful mouth sores that develop in patients receiving radiation or drug therapy for cancer. Results are conflicting, however. In one study of about 100 cancer patients, a chamomile mouth rinse helped to prevent, delay, or lessen the occurrence of mucositis; but no particular benefit was seen in a later study. More research is needed for all of the potential oral uses of chamomile.
Topically, chamomile can be applied to the skin as a wash or a poultice for hemorrhoids and minor skin irritations. A poultice is usually a soft cloth that has been soaked in a medication, possibly heated, and applied to an aching or injured area of skin surface. Chamomile contains chemicals in a group known as azulenes, which are believed to block the production of histamine by body cells. Histamine is a chemical released in allergic responses. It causes inflammation and muscle spasms. Evidence from laboratory studies shows that chamomile has antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties; but no animal or human studies verify its anti-infective activity.
When should I be careful taking it?
Some evidence shows that chamomile can worsen asthma; therefore, individuals with asthma should avoid using it.
Women who are pregnant should not take chamomile because its antispasmodic effects may relax the uterus, potentially causing a miscarriage.
If chamomile is applied to the skin, it should be kept away from the eyes. To avoid eye irritation, do not touch the eyes if the hands have been used to apply chamomile cream, ointment, salve, wash, or other topical form.
What side effects should I watch for?
When chamomile was taken in extremely high doses, vomiting has been reported.
Multiple cases of skin rash from touching chamomile plants have been reported in the medical literature. Chamomile belongs to the same family of plants as daisies, so individuals who are sensitive to daisies, chrysanthemums, or ragweed may also be sensitive to chamomile.
What interactions should I watch for?
Chamomile contains chemicals that may increase the time blood needs to clot. When it is taken with antiplatelet or anticoagulant drugs, the effect of the antiplatelet or anticoagulant may be increased, resulting in uncontrolled bleeding.
- Antiplatelet drugs include Plavix and Ticlid
include heparin and warfarin
- Anticonvulsants such as carbamazepine (Tegretol), phenytoin (Dilantin), and valproic acid (Depakote)
- Barbiturates such as phenobarbital
- Benzodiazepines such as alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium)
- Drugs for insomnia such as zaleplon (Sonata) and zolpidem (Ambien)
antidepressants such as amitriptyline (Elavil), amoxapine,
doxepin and nortriptyline
- Allergy drugs such as fexofenadine (Seldane)
- Antifungal drugs such as itraconazole (Sporanox) and ketoconazole (Nizoral)
- Cancer drugs such as etoposide (VePesid), paclitaxel (Onxol, Taxol), vinblastine, or vincristine
- Drugs for high cholesterol such as lovastatin (Mevacor)
Chamomile can affect the ability of blood to clot after. Aspirin can also delay clotting, so chamomile should not be taken at the same time as aspirin.
The sleep-producing effects of over-the-counter products containing diphenhydramine can be enhanced by taking chamomile concurrently. Diphenhydramine is contained in many over-the-counter sleep aids as well as in some cough and cold products, therefore caution should be used when taking these medications with chamomile because excessive drowsiness may result.
Theoretically, if chamomile is used with other herbs that affect blood clotting, bleeding may occur. The most common herbal products that might inhibit blood clotting include:
- Devil's Claw
- Horse Chestnut
- Red Clover
- St. John's Wort
No interactions between chamomile and foods have been reported, but drinking alcohol when taking chamomile may result in increased drowsiness.
Some interactions between herbal products and medications can be more severe than others. The best way to avoid harmful interactions is to tell your doctor and/or pharmacist what medications you are currently taking, including any over-the-counter products, vitamins, and herbals. For specific information on how chamomile interacts with drugs, other herbals, and foods and the severity of those interactions, please use our Drug Interactions Checker to check for possible interactions.
Should I take it?
German Chamomile is native to southern Europe, northern Africa, and parts of Asia, but it now grows in most temperate climates. Its feathery leaves and white, daisy-like flowers appear on annual plants that grow to about two feet in height. The plants spread rapidly -- making them a nuisance weed for farmers and gardeners.
English (Roman) chamomile flowers are very similar to those of German chamomile -- with white petals surrounding a yellow center, but the plants are much different. English chamomile is a ground-covering perennial that seldom grows taller than about one foot. Believed to have originated in northern Europe, it grows in a much more limited area -- primarily the cooler countries of Western Europe.
The flowers of either chamomile species are gathered during the summer when they are blooming. Most commonly, they are dried to be used for medicinal purposes, but chamomile flowers may also be distilled to produce a blue oil. Chamomile is used to flavor foods and also as an ingredient in cosmetics, shampoos, and soap.
Dosage and Administration
Chamomile is usually taken as a tea that can be made by soaking 4 teaspoons of the dried flowers in about 6 ounces of boiling water for about 10 minutes. After the flowers are removed from the liquid, adults may take the warm or cooled tea up to four times a day. In clinical trials, infants were given tea no more than three times a day.
A liquid extract of chamomile is also widely available. Extracts are concentrated liquid preparations usually made by soaking chopped or mashed plant parts in a liquid such as alcohol, and then the solid particles are filtered out. A common dose of chamomile extract is 1mL to 4mL in water three times a day.
For application to the skin, chamomile tea is prepared, cooled and applied as often as needed. In Europe and South America, chamomile creams and ointments are common, but they are not available in the United States.
Chamomile is used mainly to promote relaxation and sleep. It is also used for motion sickness and stomach upset. Applied topically, it soothes irritated tissue.
Because chamomile might make asthma worse, individuals with asthma should not take it. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should also avoid chamomile because of possible negative effects to the fetus and infants . Chamomile should be kept away from the eyes to avoid eye irritation.
Few side effects are associated with taking chamomile, although when it is taken in high doses, vomiting may result.
Individuals allergic to daisies, chrysanthemums or ragweed may also experience allergic reactions to chamomile.
Because it promotes sleepiness, chamomile can increase the sedation associated with certain prescription drugs, non-prescription drugs, and other dietary supplements. Be careful when using it at the same time as you are taking drugs for anxiety, colds and coughs, epilepsy, or insomnia. Many other medications cause drowsiness, so check with your doctor before taking chamomile with any prescription, non-prescription, or herbal product.
Chamomile can also interfere with the way the body breaks down drugs in the liver. You should discuss your other medications with your doctor or pharmacist before you take chamomile.
Last Revised: March 1, 2004
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Last Revised: March 1, 2004