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Monday, January 25, 2010

Chamomile Essential Oils: Truly Soothing Therapeutics

Depending on what part of the country you live in you may or may not be familiar with chamomile and its characteristics. If you have been in cultivated fields or along roadsides in moderate climates that you probably recall this fragrant daisy-like plant regarded as one of the gentlest essential oils available. Chamomile refers to two different plants with similar yet varying characteristics -- German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) which is the more popular and Roman chamomile (Anthemis nobilis). These true chamomiles are botanically placed in the Asteraceae family and used to treat similar human conditions, yet their life cycles and size are quite different. German chamomile grows low to the ground and is an annual herb with flowers on single stems. Roman chamomile however grows to about 36 centimeters above the ground, is a perennial species and has branched flower stems.

Chamomile FlowersThe active ingredients of both chamomile essential oils set them apart from one another. German chamomile has been found to possess sesquiterpenes (chamazulene) and sesquiterpenols (alpha-bisabolol), the strength of which is hard to find in any other essential oils. These two molecular components are mainly responsible for Maticaria's strong anti-inflammatory and antiallergenic properties. The chemical profile of Roman chamomile is rather different in nature, containing nearly 80% esters, an amount rarely found in essential oils. These esters provide Anthemis with its noted soothing effects, ability to relieve spasms and cramps and to some extent anti-inflammatory properties. It is well regarded in essential oil circles that Roman chamomile, even in very small concentrations whether alone or in combinations with other oils has a soothing effect.

The essential oil distillates as well as their fragrance of these true chamomiles are distinguishable. German chamomile is characterized by its dark blue/green color and viscous consistency and has a strong, sweetish warm herbaceous aroma. Roman chamomile however is pale-yellow in color and more liquid in nature with a softer scent than Matricaria, having a tea-leaf odor with an infusion of fresh apple. Anthemis is suggested as an oil of choice if using for an aromatic. For other uses, German chamomile has had a wider breadth of research and is more commonly used.

Historical Uses

German Chamomile Essential OilSince antiquity, chamomile has been used to calm frayed nerves, to treat various digestive disorders, to relieve muscle spasms, and to treat a range of skin conditions and mild infections. Chamomile in general is regarded as one of the gentlest of essential oils and safe to administer to children. Because of their varying chemical compositions, these two species of chamomile have certain shared treatment capabilities and ones that stand out between them.

German chamomile flowers are extensively used in teas and its oil used widely in cosmetics. Depending on the developmental stage of the plant, the quantity of alpha-bisabolol will differ reaching a maximum at full bloom. Together with chamazulene, these active ingredients provide an excellent topical anti-inflammatory. The cooling, harmonizing effects of German Chamomile make it effective against nervous tensions, migraine and all kinds of stress related disturbances.

Roman chamomile has been used medicinally in the Mediterranean region for over 2000 years and continues to be a popular remedy. For centuries, parents have used this species to assist in calming crying children and relieving the pain of teething. The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia recognizes this herb for the treatment of dyspepsia (indigestion), nausea, anorexia, vomiting in pregnancy and dysmenorrhoea. It is also known to helps relieve cramps, spasms, and can assist in mild shock. Topically, Roman chamomile is known to soothe sensitive skin and overall used as a calming agent, specifically to alleviate anxiety and stress.Interestingly, studies indicate that the white headed variety of essential oil may have more potency as a sedative that the yellow-headed variety.

Recent Studies Using Chamomile

According to the University of Maryland website (www.umm.edu), studies have identified chamomile as possessing antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties as well as antispasmodic (relax contracted muscles, especially in the intestine) properties.Over the years, researchers have been investigating chamomile for its medicinal applications. In the last five years alone researchers have found chamomile to be an effective virucidal agent, an effective partner with antihistamine drugs and as a nerve tonic for young men diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder ( ADHD).

When I was in college, viruses were quite the unresolved topic of discussion -- are they alive or dead? And, why are they so bizarre in shape and character? Although this paper does not address such questions, it does investigate the effectiveness of chamomile as a virucidal agent. Viruses are often the cause of sexually transmitted diseases. Genital herpes is known to be a chronic, persistent infection that continues to spread and transmit disease through the population. In the Department of Virology at the University of Heidelberg, Germany (Phytomedicine 2008 Jan; 15(1-2): 71-8) scientists screened for inhibitory effects of chamomile against herpes simples virus type 2 (HSV-2). This study found that chamomile exhibited a high selectivity index for inhibiting HSV-2 in vitro and thus conclude that chamomile is a promising topical treatment for herpes genitalis.

Antihistamines are always a topic of discussion, especially in the spring. Conventional treatment for histamine reactions such as rashes, itchy skin and sneezing is usually with topical or oral pharmaceutical drugs. Such drugs sometimes have side effects and are not always effective. A study done by Nigata University, Japan (Journal of Ethnopharmacology 2005 Oct 3; 101(1-3): 208-12) found that German chamomile was able to assist with effectiveness of antihistamine drugs in mice. What impressed the researchers was that administration of the antihistamine alone could not resolve puritus (itchy irritation) but when combined with chamomile essential oil the antihistamine effectiveness was greatly enhanced. One could thus conclude that chamomile is a safe and even necessary herbal remedy for those that suffer from allergies and wish to increase the effectiveness of medications specified for their known allergens.

It is common to read or hear about schools reporting a rising number of students being diagnosed with ADHD. Statistics published by the Center for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov), state that 3%-7% of school-aged children suffer from ADHD, which rates being possibly higher in certain communities. Boys are also more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls.A very recent study (Phytomedicine 2009 Apr; 16(4): 284-6) examined the effects of chamomile on behaviors of boys ages 14-16 that were clinically diagnosed with ADHD. noted that the subjects exhibited a reduction in behaviors associated with ADHD such as hyperactivity and distraction. Since chamomile is regarded as a gentle and safe botanical medicine, it is apparent that chamomile would be a first consideration when treating children with ADHD.

Concluding Thoughts

Chemically, German and Roman chamomile are quite different, yet their gifts of service to support health and healing are centuries old. Matricaria recutita, or German chamomile, is more popular and more researched of the two, having exceptional anti-inflammatory capabilities. Anthemis nobilis, or Roman chamomile, is softer in fragrance and well regarded for its sedative properties, particularly known for alleviating anxiety and stress. These true chamomiles have been welcomed by parents throughout the ages for their gentleness and assistance in alleviating pain associated with teething infants. Recent medical research has found remarkable qualities of chamomile as a virucide, an enhancer of antihistamine drug effectiveness as well as reducing unwanted behaviors in teenage boys associated with attention-deficit disorder (ADHD). It can be safely concluded that chamomile is an excellent botanical medicine suitable for all members of the family.

By Brenda Renyolds, Masters of Education, for the Ananda Apothecary


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