traditional medicine in
a soothing cup
Chamomile tea is one of my most frequent recommendations for herbal medications. It has been used for generations in cultures from Europe to Latin America and has a long track record for safety. It is one of the few herbs I regularly recommend for young children because of this long history of safe use as a traditional medicine.
While there are few scientifically conducted studies on herbal medications in children, chamomile is one of the few that has actually been studied in infants. Chamomile has long been considered and used as a traditional remedy for infant colic, but no modern study has looked at chamomile as a single ingredient for this. But in a published study from Italy of infants with colic, aged 2 to 8 weeks, an herbal tea of chamomile combined with vervain, licorice, fennel, and mint balm, up to 5 ounces was given with every episode of colic but no more than 3 times daily; compared to babies who received placebo, the herbal tea treated infants had significantly decreased colic symptoms. Of course the babies were happy about this, and the parents were ecstatic!
Chamomile tea in my experience practicing holistic medicine is also useful in older children or adults who are bothered by indigestion, spasms of abdominal pain, or the routine “tummy aches” of life. And there are plenty of experimental data in science journals which back up this use.
Historically, this herbal medication has been used widely as a sedative and to relieve anxiety. While adults can benefit from this, I am most pleased to have something I can offer children who may be facing anxiety or sleep problems from stress or worry. There are major safety worries when thinking about prescription sedatives and sleep medication for children, so being able to recommend chamomile tea with its long history of safe use in children also helps me to sleep better as their doctor.
One additional area to mention where chamomile is useful: that is relieving irritated skin and mouth membranes. The use of a chamomile cream or lotion has been shown to provide partial relief of eczema. When used as a mouth rinse, it has even helped cancer patients reduce the symptoms of mouth sores that are so common in chemotherapy.
Two types of chamomile have been used historically: German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is thought to be more potent than Roman chamomile (Anthemis nobilis), but both are useful.
When making a cup of chamomile tea, if you are using commercially available tea bags, make it strong. Use 3-5 tea bags in 8 ounces hot water and steep for 5-10 minutes. A weaker tea can be nice, but to really get the medical effect of this herbal infusion, be generous with the amount you use. There can be rare allergic reactions in people who are also allergic to ragweed, asters, and chrysanthemums. But generally I feel comfortable recommending this traditional medication for anyone wanting to feel well without resorting to prescription drugs.
To your health and wellness,
Robert Pendergrast, M.D.