I have some chamomile tea bags in my pantry. I know it’s good for sleep, but what else, if anything, can I use them for?
Great question! I love chamomile, even though I don’t drink it nearly as much as someone who loves it should, because it’s not only so versatile but safe for just about everyone*. When people tell me about their (acute) ailments, my answer is almost always: chamomile!
It’s safe (and inexpensive) enough to be used every day, so do give this underutilized herb a chance!
Chamomile is the common name of the plant with the scientific name Matricaria recutita. This is what’s usually called chamomile, although it’s also well known as German chamomile. The flower heads are used as the medicinal part of the plant (props to the people who pick and dry all those flowers!). Knowing the scientific name is actually really important because it’s universal and can help distinguish from other plants with the same or similar names. For example, Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) is an entirely different plant and although it’s in the same family (daisy) as Matricaria recutita, and smells lovely, it is not what we use medicinally.
Now that you know a little about the plant, here’s a sample of the MANY WAYS to use chamomile.
1. For tight muscles or muscle spasms: I recommend a very high dose of chamomile. If you have a scale and loose tea at home, measure 10 grams of chamomile flowers (and grind them if possible), and pour about 32 ounces of boiling water over them in a heat resistant container. Cover and steep for about 10-15 min then strain and drink throughout the day. If you don’t have loose leaf tea or a scale, check the label to see how much chamomile each bag contains. Use enough bags to make 9-12 grams and follow the above directions to infuse them. If each bag has 500 mg, for example, you would need 18-24 tea bags to make a day’s dose. That’s a lot! But, it’s only for a day or two or three, and for a specific treatment.
2. For tummy troubles: gas, indigestion, overactive stomach issues (stomach spasms) and even constipation are just a few of the things chamomile can help with. Start with one tea bag steeped for 10-15 min and drink as needed. Sometimes anxiety can give people “butterflies” in their stomach. Chamomile can help with both the “stomach flips” and easing the nerves because it’s a relaxant as well as an antispasmodic. This is why it’s marketed a lot for helping people sleep.
3. For getting over a cold: chamomile can help get rid of mucus while also easing the cough.
4. For colicky or cranky children: The dose should be adjusted based on age, but it would be very hard to overdose on chamomile. For children under 10, try one to two tea bags divided up throughout the day. For kids 11 and older, two to three bags divided up throughout the day is a good start.
5. To help babies while teething: If the baby is old enough to drink something other than breast milk or formula, infuse one tea bag in 8-10 ounces of water and divide that dose throughout the day (2-3 ounces every 6-8 hours). If mom is breastfeeding, she can drink chamomile tea and it will come out in the breast milk to baby. Some moms also freeze chamomile (mixed with breast milk or not) and have the baby suck on it; the coolness helps sooth the teething pain too.
Side notes: Some people say they don’t like the taste of chamomile, because it is slightly bitter (and especially at higher doses). I say, “coffee is bitter”. Not saying that we should start making chamomile lattes (although….), but experiment and see how you can make drinking these pretty flowers a little more palatable to you. We can get our taste buds accustomed to a lot of different tastes.
There’s so much more that chamomile can be used for — these are just a few of the short term, quick remedies that it can help with. It also shines for longer term use in digestive and nervous system health, and is a wonderful anti-inflammatory to use topically. We’ll cover that in a future post! ????
*It is rare to have a reaction, but note that people with allergies to plants in the daisy family, may not want to take chamomile.
Thanks for writing in to AskTheHerbalists
and for trying chamomile in a new way.
Amani Elsawah lives and works in Dallas, TX. She is a pharmacist, PharmD Rutgers, and herbalist, MS Herbal Medicine from the Maryland University of Integrative Health, and most recently has been a student of Arabic and Islamic Studies.