Chamomile, or Matricara recutitra, got a bad rap long ago for being an herb for babies. While it’s true chamomile tea is a soothing remedy for an upset tummy (no matter your age!), its medicine is so much more than that. Chamomile is a deep and gentle gut healer we herbalists of today would do well to get to know once again.
The chamomile we have long thought of as a child’s medicine has a whole lot to offer grown-ups, especially those of us who might be described as stressed-out, overly sensitive, depression- or anxiety-prone, and most especially those of us who have chronic digestive problems.
Roman Chamomile vs. German Chamomile
Chamomile comes in two primary varieties, which is most clear when you’re looking for essential oils or seeds. This is one of those times when knowing your botanical or Latin names is helpful. There are actually a whole handful of different plants that are called chamomile in various regions. If you’re talking herbs among the pros, it’s good to know the botanical
The Chamomile you get from most herbal suppliers in North America is likely to be M. recutita or German Chamomile. It’s native to Eastern Europe and Western Asia. The essential oil of German chamomile is described as having a more sweet-grassy scent and has a blue hue due to a chemical called blue chamazulene, a powerful anti-inflammatory agent that contributes to German Chamomile’s medicinal use. It’s a pretty hardy annual that happily replenishes itself even in climates like that at Mocking Bird Meadows in Ohio, according to proprietor Dawn Combs.
Roman Chamomile, or Chamaemelum nobile, is one of several other chamomiles that are recognized in gardening and essential oil circles. When you hear tell of lawns of chamomile, which have been popular off and on through England, France, and Western Europe, it’s likely C. nobile folks are planting. Chamaemelum nobile or Roman chamomile is reputed to have a more apple-like scent than M. recutita, and it is lacking the blue chamazulene that makes M. recutita the favored among Western herbalists.
Roman chamomile is a spreading perennial that likes to grow low to the ground, making it a terrific companion to other low-growing lawn plants like English lawn daisy and Corinthian mint. The down-side is C. nobile isn’t quite as cold-tolerant as M. recutita. If you’re as far north as Ohio, you may need to replant after bitter winters and if you’re in the frigid White North of Minnesota where temperatures plummet well below freezing Roman chamomile will need replanting annually.
Which Chamomile should you use?
If medicine is what you’re after, both Roman and German chamomile have antispasmodic, nervine, and anti-inflammatory properties. Both have an affinity for the gut, making them both particularly helpful in remedies for soothing upset stomach, leaky gut, diarrhea and constipation, and related digestive upsets. As essential oils, both share many of the same topical uses, helping to ease sore muscles and joints, ease pain and improve depression and stress-related conditions. They also enjoy similar growing conditions, liking a full sun with well-drained soil.
Roman chamomile has a stronger digestive and anti-spasmodic character than German chamomile. German Chamomile has a stronger anti-inflammatory action. Thus, if you’re aiming to use chamomile to ease chronic digestive conditions like leaky gut, IBD, or Crohn’s Disease, German chamomile may be the way to go. If you’re aiming to soothe upset digestion or stomach related to illness, stress, bad food combinations, allergies, or similar first-aid types of situations, Roman chamomile may be the best choice.
If a lovely landscaping plant is what you’re after, consider your space, climate, and how you’d like to use (or not use) the blossoms. Chamomile tea can be made from either Roman or German chamomile blooms. According to Jeff and Melanie Carpenter of Zack Woods Farm, the highest quality dried chamomile comes from hand-picked crops. They prefer German chamomile for its tolerance for cooler temperatures, and suggest planting it alongside California poppy and Calendula.
German chamomile grows a little taller and will self-seed to keep itself growing year-to-year. Roman chamomile is annual and grows close to the ground, which may make it a trifle harder to harvest if you plant it at ground level. In a raised bed, however, it can make a lovely boarder to a flower tea garden.
Cautions for Using Chamomile
In truth, a little chamomile of either type is more likely to help than hinder whatever condition you’re treating. Chamomile has very few cautions, which is why it’s so well-known as a child’s medicine. Folks who are allergic to ragweed may want to avoid chamomile and M. recutita in particular. Beyond that, there is little data to suggest chamomile is contraindicated for any conditions and little to suggest caution if you’re taking prescription medicines of any sort. As you ought with all natural remedies, do your research, talk to your providers, and proceed with caution and awareness when adding chamomile to your treatment plan.
- Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer by Jeff Carpenter and Melanie Carpenter
- Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art
- “German Chamomile vs Roman Chamomile: What’s the Difference” by Dawn Combs