Chamomile has been one of my personal favorite herbs for a long time. Just because it’s gentle, it’s gotten a bad reputation for being too weak to offer the powerful medicine we modern humans crave. Being gentle and being weak are not necessarily the same, as Chamomile teaches. One can be gentle and quite powerful at the same time. This is Chamomile’s super power.
It’s my humble belief that in our modern world, with all the stress and challenges we face daily, Chamomile’s time has come. Our Ancestors used Chamomile for Anxiety, Depression, Stomach upsets, and to help those who are too weak themselves to handle whatever they’re trying to digest. This little daisy has been living quietly at our feet, supporting our many phases of growth and offering us the medicine we most need when life slides sideways or dishes out more than we can swallow. Heck, Chamomile just on it’s own makes a mighty powerful remedy.
Chamomile as a Single
As a single, Chamomile is perfectly tailored for “babies of any age,” according to Matthew Wood. His description of the emotions accompanying upsets for which Chamomile is best suited as a single is apt. He describes, in essence, the sensitivity and belligerence of a toddler with a mild tummy ache or a babe who’s cutting his or her first tooth. We adults can so easily act out when our body’s just a bit off, too.
No matter the age, when you’re dealing with stomach aches, poor digestion, and pains of any sort accompanied by emotional outbursts and seemingly incredible sensitivity to just about any attempts to help out, it feels like you’re dealing with a cranky toddler…and that’s when it truly helps to make a soothing, warm cup of Chamomile tea for your charge. Chamomile will help sooth the nervous system, aid digestion, and ease pains including those of a rather vague nature.
Chamomile’s Partners for Good Digestion
As a digestive, Chamomile pairs well with other players, too. Lemon Verbena helps both with digestive problems relating to stress or emotional duress and with those relating to illness. It’s got some anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties that support those same aspects of chamomile. Additionally, Lemon Verbena is a carminitive. I love how Kami McBride describes Lemon Verbena. She writes, a whiff of the scent of lemon verbena can bring on a mild euphoria that helps you release stress and brightens the world if even just for a moment.
Wood Betony or Stachys Officinalis is another herb I love pairing with Chamomile. It eases pain and soothes the nerves while reducing muscle spasms. Although Wood Betony is often connected with headaches and muscle pains, I’ve found it’s quite lovely at supporting the work Chamomile does. The types of digestive complaints Chamomile is particularly good at addressing are those rooted in how the body-mind processes what we take in. Often, there are elements of anxiety, depression, overwhelm, and irritability connected to Chamomile-type digestive problems. Wood Betony pairs well with Chamomile in easing the muscle tensions that arise in the digestive system and at the same time reducing the secondary spasms and pains that may even go somewhat unnoticed when the stomach or digestive tract is inflamed and irritable.
Consider adding a bit of Licorice Root to your Chamomile Digestive formula, particularly if dryness or swings between diarrhea and constipation are part of the picture. Licorice root helps harmonize the team of herbs, plus it’s supportive of a healthy mucilage state in the body. With Chamomile guiding the formula, Licorice Root will focus that balancing and harmonizing energy on the digestive system. It will also potentially help ease hormonal imbalances, making it particularly helpful for those who are managing digestive upset (or emotional upset) related to times of growth or great change, as is the case in adolescence and perimenopause to menopause.
Occasionally, I add a little Ginger to my Chamomile formulas. I find it’s particularly helpful for folks who tend toward nausea when their digestion is off. It’s also helpful for those who feel as if their digestive fire is weak for any reason, meaning they feel like it takes a long time for their stomach to empty once they’ve eaten and/or it feels like their body takes longer to complete the digestion process than it ought. Folks who don’t poo regularly or daily may benefit from a regular dose of Ginger, and Ginger blended with Chamomile makes both a lovely tea and a tasty bitters blend.
You can use fresh or dried Ginger. I tend toward fresh because it’s not quite as fiery as dried ginger and thus makes a lovely digestive support for a generally healthy digestive fire. If your fire is unstable or low, try both and see which you prefer…and consider a re-trial after a few weeks or months of using the one you liked best to see if your preference has changed.
Chamomile and Bitters Blends
When I’m formulating bitters using Chamomile, I like to draw on some of the less intense bittering herbs, like Damiana, as well as my personal favorite bittering herb, Artichoke. While Chamomile encourages the digestive system to get ready to work, Damiana offers up a little energy boost to get you started. Some folks find Damianna too stimulating, but when that get-up-and-go is flagging it can be the perfect support for boosting the body’s energy without overstimulating the nervous system.
Artichoke is described by Guido Mase and Jovial King as being super bitter. To my palate, it’s a lovely blend of sweet and bitter with a hint of astringency that perfectly fits my digestive system. Paired with Chamomile, Artichoke offers a little liver support, targeting the blend toward boosting one’s stomach acid without draining the liver’s energy in the process.
A little Orange Peel bitters or Hawthorn bitters balances the intense bitter flavor of Chamomile paired with Artichoke. Either can help lift the spirits a little too. Hawthorn has traditionally been used to treat depression related to digestive problems. Citrus fruits like Orange and Lemon have also been used to help lift the spirits, particularly when the depression is related to conditions outside one’s self, like when the weather’s cold and dark or when life’s circumstance feel like a cold, winter’s night. If you pair either Hawthorn bitters or Orange bitters with your Chamomile bitters blend, it’ll aid your body’s digestion as well as your digestion of the experiences of your life. Plus, they both taste quite lovely.
Formulating for Kids, Elders, and Weakened People with Chamomile
For folks who are debilitated or weakened, Lemon Balm and Tulsi are two of my preferred partners for Chamomile’s healing touch. Lemon Balm is uplifting and expansive because it’s a Jupiter plant, as described by Sajah Popham. It’s often included in depression formulas for exactly that reason. As a partner to Chamomile, Lemon Balm helps folks who feel dis-empowered due to illness or age hold their space and expand a little bit. Lemon Balm helps fight viruses and bacteria, as well, making it a natural for times when the body needs a little extra energy to recover.
Tulsi is another expansive remedy. It soothes the mind-heart, easing ruffled emotions and teasing out tensions that are unsettling the system. Tulsi is often described as being an adaptogen, in that it helps the body and mind find balance. Tulsi and Lemon Balm together with Chamomile go a long way toward soothing upsets of both emotional and digestive sorts and helping one to feel a sense of calm that allows the body to recover.
Chamomile for Anxiety
For Anxiety, Chamomile partners well with other mind-settling herbs, like Skullcap. Skullcap helps slow racing thoughts. Combined, Chamomile and Skullcap slow the anxieties down and make a space for them to settle, allowing the nervous system to soothe and refuel.
If depression or a feeling of being unable to do much about the situation that’s causing the anxiety is part of the picture, Rosemary is a terrific partner for Chamomile, too. Rosemary soothes muscle tensions internally or externally without depressing or slowing the nervous system. When you pair Rosemary with Skullcap and Chamomile, the body relaxes and the mind has a chance to work things through in a more grounded, empowered manner. Rosemary’s mildly stimulating nature gives one the boost that’s needed to take action once the excessive energy has settled and the situation has been digested.
Another trick I’ve used with Chamomile tea and formulas for anxiety is to add a pinch of salt to the cup. In Ayurvedic medicine, a little salt is indicated when Vata is unbalanced. Salt, particularly the kind that’s unrefined and thus filled with natural minerals, helps to ground the excessive air that’s flying about.
In more scientific terms, salts that contain a bit of magnesium and potassium, as do most unrefined salts, supports smooth flow and functioning of the nervous system and muscles. When the nervous system doesn’t have the minerals it needs to flow smoothly, the result can be a state of anxiety that seems ungrounded in any particular situation. When a situation has occurred that might cause anxiety, the body may take up the minerals that are in the system for use in processing the resulting stress hormones, which again can exacerbate anxiety. The easy fix is to add a pinch of unrefined salt, like Sea Salt or Himalayan Salt or one of the other unrefined salts you find in the health foods section of your favorite grocery or co-op. Be aware, though, that if you’re on a salt-restrictive diet, taking medications that alter the salt-mineral balance of your blood, or have been advised by your doctor to watch your salt intake, adding salt to your Chamomile tea or formula may be a poor choice; check with your medical professional before doing so.
Chamomile for Depression
If I’m working with Chamomile for Depression, I like to add a little Mullein to the blend to dry the excess heaviness or dampness that can accompany depressed tissue states as well as depressed mind states. Chamomile working with Mullein soothes the mucus membranes, draining excessive dampness and mucus and cooling inflamed areas.
This is helpful to the digestive system, of course, but what, you might wonder, will it do to help someone’s who’s depressed? Depression as a mood-state is also often quite damp, feeling as if you’ve gotten stuck in a bog and it’s just too much work to even breathe. Mullein’s affinity is for the lungs and chest area, including the seat of the shen or mind in Traditional Chinese Medicine or the emotions in modern Western thinking. However you language it, Mullein helps dry the emotions, thoughts, and energies that weight on the heart or make one sigh with the heaviness of life and being. Combined with Chamomile, Mullein helps one to pull one’s self up from the depths of depression and find the power to put one foot in front of the other again and keep moving.
Chamomile pairs well with some of the digestive herbs for depression, too. Lemon Balm and Tulsi are two of my favorites for helping Chamomile chase the blues away. Just as they help the body reclaim its power and hold its space for digestion, they help the mind-emotions to expand and hold their space, helping one reclaim one’s power.
When Should You Reach for Chamomile?
While Matthew Wood’s description of the classic Chamomile personality or presentation is accurate, it can feel kind of humiliating to see one’s self in it. Who wants to be described as a “whiny baby,” especially if they’re already feeling kind of sensitive or put-out? And, what about the folks for whom Chamomile works amazingly well and who have uttered nary a complaint but rather kept persevering as best they could?
The truth is Chamomile is good for those of us who whine…inwardly and to ourselves as well as those of us who let the world see our pain. The commonality between the two groups is a feeling of dis-empowerment coupled with a sensitive nervous system.
Chamomile addresses the nervous system by soothing the connections and helping the nervous impulses to flow smoothly. An upset or sensitive nervous system can look like the classic cry-baby who demands attention and then screams when attention is given. In that case, the system is overwhelmed and doesn’t know how to relax. The description of a cry-baby or whiny child is apt in part because children often do not feel empowered to effect the needed changes to ease their pain, be it emotional or physical.
As an adult, the lack of power may result because life is demanding more than they can give, leaving them no space to recover and making them feel they don’t have the power to effect change for themselves. Or, it can result when they’ve tried everything they know how to do and nothing’s worked. That’s more likely to occur in folks who are fiercely independent, who tend to want to control life and handle everything on their own. Folks who are team-players can also run into situations in life where no matter where they turn for help the help that comes doesn’t actually solve the problem. In either case, the result is mild exhaustion coupled with the pressure to deal with a situation they’re just not equipped to deal with, even if they keep it to themselves.
So why does Chamomile work so Brilliantly for folks with chronic digestive complaints, like Crohn’s Disease, Irritable Bowel Disorder (IBD/IBS), Leaky Gut, and related conditions?
These complaints are also often rooted in a disturbance to the nervous system of the digestive tract that drains the system of its power to digest. In some cases, overexposure to allergens or dietary choices that are counter to the body’s needs trigger an over-sensitivity through the digestive tract. In other cases, traumatic experiences the mind or psyche has not or cannot process offer up the seeds of suffering. Chronic stress can trigger an over-sensitivity, too. In any case, the nervous system is the first-responder.
For many chronic digestive conditions, the nerves of the digestive tract become jangled, so to speak, and the immune system steps in to lend a hand, which ultimately confounds the problem by triggering the fight-or-flight response, thus re-routing energy from digestion into fighting off non-existent microbes. This exhausts the immune system, stresses the nervous system, and ultimately weakens the digestive tract further.
The further out of balance the systems get, the harder it is to return to balance. Chamomile works wonders in these kinds of chronic complaints because it’s both gentle and insistent. The mild bitter aspect of chamomile supports healthy digestion. The nervine aspect of Chamomile soothes the gut-brain, or nervous system of the digestive tract. And the quiet and gentle approach Chamomile takes allows the immune system to stand-down and let the body move back into rest-digest or the sympathetic nervous system mode.
In the case of chronic conditions, it may not be the person as a whole who’s whiny at all. Instead, the digestive system and supporting systems are the ones who’ve become whiny, and by the time the whole person recognizes the problem it’s well entrenched. That leaves the digestive system essentially feeling dis-empowered, which may or may not manifest in the person’s emotional response to the situation. Thus, Chamomile offers the right medicine to solve the problem, even when the individual’s outward response has been one of perseverance, acceptance, or a generally positive attitude.
Chamomile Formulas to Try
The formulas in this article are a great place to begin experimenting with Chamomile in combination with other herbs.
- The Herbal Kitchen: Bring Lasting Health to You and Your Family with 50 Easy-To-Find Common Herbs and Over 250 Recipes
- Evolutionary Herbalism: Science, Spirituality, and Medicine from the Heart of Nature
- The Book of Herbal Wisdom: Using Plants as Medicines
- DIY Bitters: Reviving the Forgotten Flavor – A Guide to Making Your Own Bitters for Bartenders, Cocktail Enthusiasts, Herbalists, and More