Matricaria recutita – Sunflower family
by Greg Tilford c.2010
Appearance: German chamomile is characterized by its 1/2 to 1 inch yellow disk flowers, each surrounded by ten to twenty white rays, and its finely divided, linear, “feather-like” leaves. The common name “chamomile” is used in reference to dozens of related species, but most medicinal uses are isolated to two genera, Matricaria recutita (German chamomile) and Chamaemelum nobile (Roman chamomile), and their respective subspecies. The differences between these two groups of chamomile rest in their life cycles, the number of flowers they produce, and overall size. German chamomile is an annual plant that can grow to two feet tall, producing numerous terminate flowers on each of its many stems. Roman chamomile on the other hand, is a creeping perennial that seldom exceeds one foot in height, and which produces fewer but larger (1″ wide) flowers. Both German and Roman chamomiles share a nearly identical range of therapeutic usefulness, but German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is by far the more popular medicine. This is because German chamomile has received much more research attention and has long been regarded (by herbalists) as a more potent medicine than Roman chamomile. For the purposes of this book, our primary focus is on German chamomile, however, there is a generally over-looked, wild relative to cultivated varieties chamomile that also deserves a place in the animal herbalist’s repertory— Pineapple weed (Matricaria matricarioides). Pineapple weed looks, smells, and even tastes very much like its cultivated cousins, but its discoid flowers are completely without rays. This small, wayside weed is often found growing in inconspicuous, ground-hugging mats in vacant lots, on road margins, and sometimes right in the middle of a driveway!
Habitat & Range: Natives of Europe and Western Asia, chamomile is cultivated world wide.
Cycle & Bloom Season: Chamomile is notorious for its continuous bloom. In areas where the occurance of frost is rare, chamomile will often produce flowers throughout the year.
Parts Used: The flowers.
Actions: Anti-spasmodic, carminative, anti-inflammatory, sedative, nervine,
anti-microbial, bitter, vulnerary, tonic, anthelmintic (vermifuge).
Affinities: Skin, digestive tract, liver, nervous system, mucous membranes, smooth muscle tissues.
Preparation: Water or oil infusion, tincture, salve, ointment, fomentation.
Specific Uses: Chamomile is a mild sedative, anti-spasmodic, and digestive tonic that is safe, gentle, and effective in a broad spectrum of applications. The herb tea or tincture is helpful for indigestion, gas, and vomiting. Chamomile is perhaps the first herb to reach for in cases of digestive upset that arises from nervousness and hyper-excitability. The chemistry of chamomile is very complex and the whole of medicinal activities are not attributable to any single class of constituents, but rather to a synergistic sum of all parts. However, dozens of scientific studies (using both animals and humans) have given us solid information about how many of chamomile’s chemical compounds contribute to its effectiveness as a holistic healing device. For example, apigenenin, chamazulene (and its precursor, matricin ) and other volatile oil constituents of the flowers have been shown to be strong antispasmodic agents both in and on the body, as have several of chamomile’s flavonoid constituents1, 2. In the digestive tract, chamomile serves to ease nervous spasm, helps to expel gas, aids in the production of bile to improve digestion3, and reduces inflammation throughout. All of these activities amount to an excellent remedy for chronic or acute gastric disorders, including various forms of inflammatory bowel disease.
For inflammations of the skin, including flea bites, contact allergies, and various bacterial or fungal infections, a cooled water infusion of the flowers can be used as soothing, healing, antimicrobial rinse. For conjunctivitis, whether it be from bacterial infection or the result of airborne irritants or allergies, the cooled infusion can be carefully strained through a paper coffee filter and diluted with saline solution (the end product should be transparent and light yellow) for use as an anti- inflammatory/antimicrobial eye wash that can be liberally applied several times per day until inflammation subsides.
Chamomile has also been shown to have a tonic (constricting and strengthening) effect on smooth muscle tissues throughout the body, including the heart, bladder, and especially the uterus4. While uterine tonics may be of benefit before pregnancy, and during late term pregnancy, herbs that constrict uterine tissues are generally contraindicated during early pregnancy (see “cautions & comments”).
In the authors’ experiences, chamomile serves as a general purpose “calming herb” that can be fed to animals as a “first try” remedy for any variety of spasmodic or anxiety-related problems. Because it a good tasting herb, soluble in water, and very safe in most animals, its use should be considered before stronger, less palatable antispasmodics or sedatives are employed.
Chamomile’s usefulness in expelling worms is often overlooked in favor of “faster-acting” herbs (such as wormwood, black walnut hulls, or garlic), but it really should not be. Chamomile is relatively non-toxic when compared to most other “herbal wormers”. While it does not work as quickly as the other anthelmintics, it does work— especially for round worms and whip worms— and it offers anti-inflammatory activities that help counteract the effect parasites often have on the intestinal mucosa. Even more pronounced in its vermifuge activities is Pineapple weed (Matricaria matricarioides) ; a “common weed” relative of chamomile that grows virtually everywhere.
For internal uses, we prefer a glycerin tincture of the herb, because it can be administered in small, easy-to-feed doses— 0.25 to 0.50 ml per 20 lbs. of the animal’s body weight, twice daily, as needed to suppress symptoms. The sweet-tasting glycerin tincture can be orally administered, directly into the animal’s mouth, or it can be added to the animal’s drinking water. The” glycerite” is also useful in treating gingivitis, especially when small proportions of stronger antimicrobial herb extracts (such as thyme, rosemary, bee balm, oregon grape, or echinacea) are added. To use chamomile in this capacity, the tincture can be applied directly to the gums of the animal with a cotton swab.
Chamomile extract can also be used in a vaporizer, or steamed from boiling water, for inhalation treatment of asthma, allergies, bronchitis and the like. In homeopathic form chamomile is used for teething puppies to keep them from chewing everything in sight.
Availability: Chamomile can be purchased from any health food retailer, and is available at most supermarkets. The plants are available through most nurseries, as are the seeds.
Propagation & Harvest: Chamomile is easy to grow in all climates, and once established, its promiscuous, free-seeding character yields abundant growth year after year. In fact, if left to its unruly ways, it will likely find its way out of the flower beds and into the pathways and beyond. Chamomile blooms continuously throughout the growing season. The flowers can be plucked off at anytime and dried indoors, on a piece of clean paper or a non-metallic screen. Fresh flowers are useful too, and in fact are a stronger option for use in skin rinses and against intestinal parasites. However, the dried flowers have a much more pleasant flavor.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For stronger activities in cases of nervous stomach problems and gas, look to catnip, fennel, and bee balm. Combines well with calendula, juniper leaves, or uva-ursi in anti-inflammatory skin rinses. For irritable bowel, diarrhea, and other gastric disorders, study about plantain, slippery elm, and marshmallow. For inflammatory urinary tract problems, chamomile combines with cornsilk, plantain, uva-ursi, white oak bark, couchgrass, and marshmallow. For use against worms, chamomile can be combined at a 4:1 ratio (4 parts chamomile to 1 part other herb) with garlic, Oregon grape, organically-raised goldenseal, wormwood, or black walnut hulls.
Cautions & Comments: While the uterotonic activity of chamomile is very subtle, its use in pregnant animals should be limited. Like all herbs that constrict uterine tissues, chamomile may act as an abortifacient if used in excessive amounts during early pregnancy. Furthermore, studies suggest that excessive use of chamomile during pregnancy may increase fetus reabsorption and inhibit fetus growth in some animals5.
Chamomile is without doubt, one of the safest herbs in existence. However, some animals (and humans too) are extremely allergic to this plant and its relatives. Always check for sensitivity before feeding this herb, by applying a small amount of the preparation to the animal’s skin. Then, if no reactions are observed, feed just a drop or two and watch for anything out of the ordinary.
1. Schoen, Allen M., Wynn, Susan G. From multiple research citations in Complimentary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine, p. 356. St. Louis: Mosby, Inc., 1998.
2. Mann, C., Staba, E.J. “The chemistry, pharmacology, and commercial formulations of chamomile.” Herbs, Spices, and Medicinal Plants: Recent Advances in Botany, Horticulture, and Pharmacology ; vol 1. Craker, L.E., Simon, J.E., editors. Arizona: Oryx Press, 1986:235-80.
3. Ikram, M. “Medicinal plants as hypocholesterolemic agents.” JPMA 1980; 39: 38-50.
4. Shipochliev, T. “Extracts from a group of medicinal plants enhancing the uterine tonus.” Vet Med Nauki 1981; 18: 94-98.
5. Habersang, S. et al. “Pharmacological studies with compounds of chamomile IV. Studies on bisabolol.” Planta Medica 1979; 37:115-23.