Chamomile: Shelter from the Storm
Rosemary Gladstar, author of Herbs for Reducing Stress & Anxiety (Storey Books; 1999; $8.95) and director of Sage Mountain Herbal Retreat Center and Native Plant Preserve, in East Barre, Vt., cites chamomile as one of her all-time favorite botanicals. "Many Americans believe chamomile to be a fairly weak remedy, because it's safe for animals, infants, and elders, but in actuality chamomile is as powerful as it is gentle on the body," Gladstar notes. She prescribes chamomile for skin irritations and eyewashes, as well as for nervous and digestive complaints. "If a client is under serious stress, I recommend that she soak in chamomile baths once or twice a week. To treat mild stress, I suggest sipping chamomile tea throughout the day," says Gladstar (see "A Relaxing Tea & Bath," below ).
Chamomile owes its anti-inflammatory properties to the compound azulen, a principal component of the herb's beautiful blue essential oil. Add the oil to a warm bath to soften the skin and induce relaxation or apply it topically along with lavender oil at the nape of the neck and on the temples to help relieve headaches. Lukewarm chamomile tea, administered with a sterile eyedropper as an eyewash, can revive tired, bloodshot eyes and treat mild conjunctivitis. To reduce puffy eyes, place a warmed chamomile tea bag directly on closed eyes for several minutes.
Barbara Close, founder of the holistic spa Naturopathica, recommends applying a cold compress of chamomile oil and fresh peppermint leaves to soothe skin following too much sun exposure. Her book, Well Being: Rejuvenating Recipes for Body and Soul (Chronicle; $18.95), offers recipes for this and other seasonal herbal treatments, including an aromatic chamomile herbal bath bouquet and a chamomile face serum for nourishing dry skin.
Look for chamomile the next time you go shopping. The flower's widespread popularity has made it available at most local supermarkets. Keep it on hand, experiment, and add it to your list of favorite herbal remedies.
A Relaxing Tea & Bath
General dosage for chamomile tea is 1 teaspoon per cup of water; steep for five to 10 minutes. The longer chamomile steeps, the more powerful its calming effects. According to Vermont author and herbalist Rosemary Gladstar, after about 10 minutes of steeping, chamomile's bitter properties are released, making it an excellent anti-inflammatory aid and digestive, soothing stomach irritations as well as easing the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.