Chamomile: the plant that keeps giving

This summer, chamomile (matricaria chamomilla) graces my side garden with abundance.

  • Jul. 31, 2014 8:28 p.m.

This summer, chamomile (matricaria chamomilla) graces my side garden with abundance.

Since June I have, most mornings, been picking chamomile flowers. The more flowers I pick the happier chamomile becomes and offers up more blooming smiling flowers. Chamomile is a plant that just keeps giving.

When a herbalist hears someone whining, whether a two-year-old, 42-year-old or 90-year-old, she thinks of chamomile and smiles knowingly. Chamomile tea calms the whiny child hidden inside even the most composed adult. Perhaps it is chamomile’s giving nature that opens up the “me, me, me,” attitude and allows a little light into the burdened heart, allowing one to receive life’s many gifts.

From a medicinal point of view, chamomile has several uses. It is a calming digestive herb that supports the activity of the liver. Many people find a cup of chamomile tea helps them sleep. It soothes both anxious minds and colicky stomachs. A wash of chamomile flowers was traditionally used for tired, sore eyes.

So how do these practical uses relate to chamomile’s medicine for those whiny moments when one can only see what one does not have while dismissing what one has been given?

A synonym for whining is “bellyaching.” Chamomile is the herb for (along side peppermint, menthe piperita) for bellyaches that are caused by job stress, spicy curry or gas and constipation. I even use it in formulas for more serious conditions like celiacs, stomach ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease and diverticulosis.

The volatile oils in chamomile, along with its mildly bitter taste, co-ordinates and calms the movement of the small and large intestines, and facilitates the emptying of the stomach (easing bloating).

The mildly bitter taste of chamomile tea encourages the release of digestive enzymes from the pancreas and bile from the liver, to aiding assimilation of nutrients from the meal just eaten.

Chamomile, more often than not, will cure a bellyache. Sipping chamomile tea takes the stress out of the belly leaving it feeling pleasantly nourished. No more whining.

Any mother knows the sound her child, standing next to the bed in the middle of the night, face crinkled up, hands pressing against the abdomen, whining, “I can’t sleep. My tummy hurts, can I sleep with you?”

After several years of working with those suffering with insomnia, I have come to conclusion that insomnia is most often caused by the inability to digest life (or at the very least an incredibly stressful, hectic day). Just as going to bed with a really full stomach disrupts sleep, going to bed with a really full head disturbs sleep.

Again, chamomile tea comes to the rescue. Just a warm cup of tea made with fragrant chamomile flowers eases restless thoughts from the mind.

Taking a cup of chamomile tea before bed sets one up for cheerful optimism in the morning, as opposed to whining about not sleeping and the hectic day ahead.

The digestive tract makes up to 95 per cent of the body’s serotonin, the sunny disposition hormone.

Although this is a relatively new finding, it seems nature has always know this. I find it interesting that plants like chamomile, long before the word serotonin existed, have been used soothe both the mind and digestion.

Not all chamomile tea is created equally. A good cup of chamomile tea smells like honey and sunshine.

In the mouth, it has a silky texture, not watery.

At the back of the tongue, there is a mildly bitter taste. In the tea bag or the loose tea (my preference), there should be whole flowers, not bits and pieces of flowers or even worse dust of flowers.

Sipping chamomile tea while reading troublesome emails from work or watching scary, adrenaline-producing TV before bed does not support chamomile’s calming medicine. It is best to turn off all screens, sit quietly with a somewhat boring book or magazine and quietly linger over a cup of chamomile’s tea.

Chamomiles bright yellow centre surrounded by white petals are reminiscent of a child’s drawing of the sun. Seeing the tangle of chamomile sweeping across the garden each morning lifts the burden of busyness from my heart and reminds of the simple joys of sunlight, summer mornings and bare feet on warm soil.

How fortunate that a medicine like chamomile grows so abundantly in the garden here right in Central Alberta. Chamomile is medicine for all ages in this age of complexity and always wanting more.

Herbs for Life is written by Abrah Arneson, a local clinical herbalist. It is intended for information purposes only. Readers with a specific medical problem should consult a doctor. For more information, visit www.abraherbalist.ca. Arneson can be reached www.abraherbs.com.

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