German chamomile

Chamomile is one of the most popular herbs in the Western world. There are two plants known as chamomile: the more popular German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) and Roman, or English, chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile). Although they belong to different species, they are used to treat the same health problems. Both are used to calm frayed nerves, to treat stomach problems, to relieve muscle spasms, and to treat skin conditions and mild infections.

Chamomile has been used as a medicine for thousands of years, dating back to the ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks. Historically, it has been used to treat many conditions, including:

Although chamomile is popular, there are not many studies that look at whether it works to treat these conditions. Animal studies have shown that German chamomile reduces inflammation, speeds wound healing, reduces muscle spasms, and serves as a mild sedative to help with sleep. Few studies have investigated whether the same is true in people. Test tube studies have shown that chamomile can kill bacteria, fungus, and viruses.

Anxiety, insomnia

Most people in the U.S. who take chamomile use it to relieve anxiety or help them sleep. So far there has been only one controlled, randomized clinical trial using chamomile to treat anxiety in people. It found that chamomile capsules reduced symptoms of anxiety in people with mild to moderate generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Animal studies have found that low doses of chamomile may relieve anxiety, while higher doses help sleep.

Digestive problems

Chamomile has been used traditionally to treat stomach cramps, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), indigestion, diarrhea, gas, and colic. It helps relax muscle contractions, particularly in the smooth muscles that make up the intestines. But there are no good human studies on any of these conditions. One analysis of several studies found that a product with a combination of the herb iberis, peppermint, and chamomile helped relieve symptoms of indigestion.

Gingivitis, mouth sores

Some people use chamomile for these mouth problems, but so far there is no evidence that it works. When used as a mouthwash, there is some evidence that chamomile may help prevent mouth sores from radiation and chemotherapy, but results from studies are mixed.

Skin irritations, eczema

Chamomile is often used in a cream or ointment to soothe irritated skin, especially in Europe. Most evidence comes from animal studies, not studies with people. Two studies in people found that a chamomile cream helped relieve symptoms of eczema.

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Herbal medicine

Review Date: 3/25/2015  

Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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