Herbal teas were possibly the first medicines ever invented and are still popular to this day because they are effective and easy to use.
Hot water poured onto dried tea leaves releases plant chemicals called polyphenols and proanthocyanidins. These potent antioxidants are thought to offer us protection from aging and disease, and this has recently been backed up by a study by the University of Texas on the benefits of drinking chamomile tea.
The researchers found that drinking chamomile tea was associated with a decreased risk of death from all causes in Mexican-American women over 65 – even after adjustments were made for demographics, health conditions and health behaviours.[i]
This won’t come as much of a surprise to Beatrix Potter fans, because even Peter Rabbit’s mother was familiar with the virtues of chamomile! She packed Peter Rabbit into bed and dosed him up with chamomile tea when he felt unwell after a romp in Mr McGregor’s garden. Chamomile must be one of the most popular remedies Mother Nature ever devised for ailments ranging from the common cold to digestive discomfort, menstrual problems, inflammatory skin conditions, anxiety and insomnia.
It is a pretty flower with white petals and a yellow centre and a strong, sweet fragrance. In days gone by it was also known as the ‘Plant’s Physician’ – if you plant it in your garden, other flowers and herbs nearby are guaranteed to thrive.
Nobody is quite sure when chamomile’s medical properties were first discovered. The ancient Egyptians used the apple-flavoured brew to cure fever and called it ‘Herb of the Sun’. The Anglo-Saxons worshipped it as one of 9 sacred herbs meant to heal the world. When Culpeper’s famous “Complete Herbal” was published in 1651, he stated that “A decoction made of camomile taketh away all pains and stiches in the side…the bathing with a decoction of camomile taketh away weariness…”. The plant was also used as an air-freshener in medieval times and, due to a chronic lack of fridges, people stored their meat in chamomile tea to disguise its rancid odours.
Chamomile tea relieves cramps and indigestion and can be used to stimulate the appetite when taken before mealtimes, especially in the aged. Diluted, it can ease wind and colic in babies.
When consumed frequently and combined with a stressful lifestyle, caffeinated beverages (coffee, black and green tea, cola and cocoa) whip our tired adrenal glands into a state of exhaustion. Chamomile tea, on the other hand, acts as a gentle sedative to soothe frazzled nerves. Taken at bedtime, it helps those suffering with insomnia and is also believed to prevent nightmares.
If brewed strongly, chamomile tea can be used as a compress for treating skin conditions and relieve itching. Two cups of chamomile tea in a bath miraculously calms restless infants.
Chamomile is a common ingredient in beauty treatments, too. Rinse your hair in an infusion of chamomile if you are blonde, it’ll bring out the highlights. Relieve under-eye puffiness by soaking two camomile tea bags in cool water and placing them over each eye. The compounds in the herb are anti-inflammatory and help fight bacterial and fungal infections. It’s no wonder that extracts of the herb are popular in facial washes, cosmetics and creams and its essential oil is used in aromatherapy.
Individuals who are sensitive to plants in the daisy family or ragweed should be cautious with chamomile. Others can enjoy the many applications of this mildly scented herb, especially when, like Peter, they’ve had a troublesome day with Mr McGregor!
[i] Bret T. Howrey, M. Kristen Peek, Juliet M. McKee, Mukaila A. Raji, Kenneth J. Ottenbacher, and Kyriakos S. Markides. Chamomile Consumption and Mortality: A Prospective Study of Mexican Origin Older Adults. The Gerontologist. April 29, 2015 doi:10.1093/geront/gnv051