What is chamomile?
Chamomile is an herb that people have used for centuries. People in Canada probably know it as tea to calm an upset stomach or to help with sleep. Two types of chamomile are used for good health: German chamomile ( Matricaria retutica) and Roman (or English) chamomile ( Chamaemelum nobile).
German chamomile is used and studied the most. A German governmental organization (Commission E) has approved its use on the skin to reduce swelling and fight bacteria and as a tea or natural health product for stomach cramps.
You can buy chamomile as dried flower heads, an infusion (tea), liquid extract, tinctures (concentrated in alcohol), and in creams and ointments.
What is chamomile used for?
People use German chamomile to treat irritation from chest colds, slow-healing wounds, abscesses, gum inflammation, and skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, chickenpox, and diaper rash. For these conditions, you use chamomile in an infusion or bath, or as a tincture, which is a concentrated extract mixed with alcohol. People use Roman chamomile as a tea to treat an upset stomach, sleeping problems, or menstrual pain.
Limited studies have been done on chamomile.
Is chamomile safe?
The pollen found in chamomile preparations may cause allergic reactions. If you are allergic to ragweed pollen, you may not be able to use chamomile. Chamomile may interfere with blood thinners (anticoagulants).
The Natural and Non-Prescription Health Products Directorate (NNHPD), within the Health Products and Food Branch of Health Canada, regulates natural health products in Canada. Natural health products, including chamomile, must be reviewed and approved by the NNHPD before they can be sold in Canada.
Always tell your doctor if you are using a natural health product or if you are thinking about combining a natural health product with your conventional medical treatment. It may not be safe to forgo your conventional medical treatment and rely only on a natural health product. This is especially important for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
When using natural health products, keep in mind the following:
- Like conventional medicines, natural health products may cause side effects, trigger allergic reactions, or interact with prescription and non-prescription medicines or other natural health products you might be taking. A side effect or interaction with another medicine or natural product may make other health conditions worse.
- The way natural health products are manufactured may not be standardized. Because of this, how well they work or any side effects they cause may differ among brands or even within different lots of the same brand. The form that you buy in health food or grocery stores may not be the same as the form used in research.
- Other than for vitamins and minerals, the long-term effects of most natural health products are not known.
Other Works Consulted
- Chamomile (2007). In A DerMarderosian, J Beutler, eds., Review of Natural Products. St. Louis: Wolters Kluwer Health.
Current as of: December 20, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Brian O'Brien, MD, FRCPC - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine