Chamomile comes in many forms, Roman and German being the most popular here in North America. For the most part, it’s associated with Western home remedies because of how soothing and safe it is to use chamomile. Even infants, the elderly, and those who are quite frail or debilitated are generally safe with Chamomile’s gentle touch.

In light of that, Chamomile has been pushed aside by modern herbal practitioners of all lineages in favor of more dramatic, fast-acting or obviously potent plants. This may be linked to our modern fascination with instant gratification in healing as well as in life in general. Our culture here in the west is most certainly full of fire and air, quick on it’s feet and craving endless stimulation and immediate results. Considering the environment we’re navigating, it’s high time we reconnected with the gentle yet powerful medicines of our ancestors. Chamomile, both German and Roman, is precisely that.

German Chamomile, or Matricaria recutita, is the most popular variety in Traditional Western Herbalism and in modern practice. Although M. recutita is gentle, it’s powerful, kind of like a cool breeze on the coast that Just. Won’t. Quit. Matricaria recutita is a mother’s medicine for that reason. It’ll soothe the cry-baby in her charge with the skill of a thousand mothers and nannys.

Chamomile’s bitter qualities nudge the liver and gallbladder into action to process whatever’s bugging us: Flu, food poisoning, stress, an argument, uncertainty, trauma, chronic emotional or digestive imbalances, imbalance and exhaustion in general…if it’s got your stomach upset and is wreaking a bit of havoc or threatening to do so in your intestinal tract, M. recutita will help move it along and won’t take no for an answer, just like that dear Mum who got you out of bed, dressed, and out the door to school (or work!) even while you cried and resisted the whole time.

Traditionally, Herbalists have used German or Roman Chamomile, also known as Chamaemelum nobile, as a nervine for the digestive system and as an antispasmodic for the digestive system or topically for pain relief. Both herbs are slightly cooling and drying, making them good for the over-heated and damp conditions that arise when the system or area has been stressed to the point of exhaustion. Matricaria recutita has gained more popularity than C. nobile in modern herbal practice in part because it tends to be more strongly cooling or anti-inflammatory than C. nobile.

As an internal medicine, M. recutita has a particular affinity for easing the digestive and mental-emotional disorders that arise from stress, an overly fast-paced lifestyle, repeated exposure to that which aggravates including both allergens and toxic situations. Matricaria recutita is gentle and unyielding as it moves the body-mind toward balance. Again like a Mum, M. recutita reminds your digestive system and the connected nervous system to “Clean it up,” helping to soothe irritated mucus membranes and nerves alike while moving the irritation along.

Chamomile and Traditional Western Herbalism

According to Matthew Wood, either German or Roman chamomile is well suited to the tissue states of constriction, stagnation, and irritation. Look for whiny-baby symptoms, akin to one being unable to bear the pain and wanting attention only to rebuke or rebuff any attention given, he advises. The inability to tolerate the pain, even if it seems to be a low-grade sort of pain and especially if it is so, is a hallmark of the Chamomile individual in Traditional Western Herbal practice.

Chamomile is well suited for nursing mothers with babies who are teething or experiencing earaches and similar mild pains, as chamomile is reputed to be transmitted through breast milk to the baby. Additionally, taking a cup of chamomile tea can help any parent relax under the strain of a little one who’s ill or whiny for any reason.

Wood recommends using fresh flowers for conditions that center on the sensory organs, earache or hypersensitivity to touch for example, while he suggests dried flowers for conditions that are experienced more deeply in the body, like digestive upset or stomach ache. My own experience is limited with fresh chamomile flowers, but I can attest to the power of a cup of chamomile tea with nothing else in it except maybe a touch of honey for easing anxiety and the associated butterfly-in-the-stomach or upset stomach feeling.

Traditional Chinese Medicine and Chamomile

Chamomile, regardless of variety, is not a typical Chinese herb or part of the most popular materia medica for the Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner. Thus, it doesn’t have a long-standing connection to the TCM system. Despite that, Western herbalists like Michael Tierra who have studied acupuncture, Chinese Herbalism, and Traditional Chinese Medicine offer us a view into how chamomile can be viewed within the TCM system. Energetically, chamomile is described as bitter, spicy, and neutral in its effect, according to Tierra. He connects chamomile with the liver, stomach, and lung meridians. As such, it would serve well in a formula designed to cool and move stuck energies, as is the case with some types of digestive or menstrual cramps. According to Tierra, chamomile contains calcium in a form that’s easy to absorb, giving it that affinity for pain relief and easing spasm, particularly those in the abdomen when taken internally or in the muscle tissues when applied topically.

Ayurveda and Chamomile

Ayurvedic practice has not traditionally included any variety of chamomile as a part of its traditional materia medica. Chamomile travels through India as an expat, a Western herb in Ayurvedic dress. That’s not altogether bad, really. Chamomile is balancing to Kapha while it reduces Pitta and increases Vata. For folks who tend toward an excess of Pitta, chamomile is a perfect ally.

Mixed with ginger, as suggested by Dr. David Frawley and Dr. Vasant Lad, chamomile makes “a perfectly balanced beverage that counters any emetic effect it might have.” In other words, chamomile is a powerful balancing agent that can counter the fire of ginger in formula to assist the body in healthy digestion. For folks who experience digestive upset while traveling, chamomile may well offer precisely the soothing and balance needed. Those, too, transplanted into a climate that’s more fiery than their native digs may find chamomile a good ally for assimilating the parts of their new local culture that are most beneficial.