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Topic Overview

What is chamomile?

Chamomile is an herb that people have used for centuries. People in the United States 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).

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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 dietary supplement for stomachcramps.

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 U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate dietary supplements in the same way it regulates medicine. A dietary supplement can be sold with limited or no research on how well it works.

Always tell your doctor if you are using a dietary supplement or if you are thinking about combining a dietary supplement with your conventional medical treatment. It may not be safe to forgo your conventional medical treatment and rely only on a dietary supplement. This is especially important for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.

When using dietary supplements, keep in mind the following:

  • Like conventional medicines, dietary supplements may cause side effects, trigger allergic reactions, or interact with prescription and nonprescription medicines or other supplements you might be taking. A side effect or interaction with another medicine or supplement may make other health conditions worse.
  • The way dietary supplements 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 of supplement 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 dietary supplements are not known.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 14, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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