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Archive for the ‘Chamomile’ Category

For many people anxiety and stress go hand in hand with a tense stomach and disturbed digestion. Whilst stress affects digestion in everyone, some people are particularly prone to experiencing problems.  All digestive issues, from gas to inflammatory bowel conditions are affected by stress, even if there are many other contributing factors.

Our digestion is controlled by the enteric nervous system which is linked to the central nervous system by millions of nerves. When we are stressed we enter the ‘fight or flight’ response which priorities blood flow to the brain and muscles in case we have to run from or outwit a possible danger. This is, of course, useful in situations where there is a real threat but for many of us, our constant deadlines, hectic schedules and million and one expectations lead to a chronic state of stress in which the blood flow to the digestive organs is seriously impaired.  Stress causes everything to contract and constrict and can therefore affect the production of  digestive juices, cause the stomach and or intestines to spasm, create inflammation and encourage infection. When stress becomes chronic, so do digestive problems.

Chamomile

Goethe believed that the gut was the centre of all human emotions. When I used to practice as a massage therapist I would always ask people first if they wanted me to massage their stomach as many people dislike being touched in this area. I can notice this in myself too, if I am feeling anxious at all then my stomach feels far to sensitive to touch. This is because the nerves are all activated, leaving us with sensations such as ‘butterflies in our stomach’ or that awful knot of fear in our solar plexus.

There are many herbs that work on the interface between the nerves and the digestion- Chamomile, Cardamom, Rosemary, Lavender, Lemon Balm and other Mints to name just a few. All these are aromatic, therefore diffuse stuck energy and tension at the same time as stimulating digestion. A calming cup of chamomile tea, taken 2 or 3 times a day, is a great way to gently soothe your nerves and digestion. Specific conditions will need individualised treatment but for those who suffer more general digestive disturbances related to stress these herbs can be very useful.

Catmint

At the moment, everyone I am seeing has some level of stress related digestive disturbance, even if that is not the primary reason they are seeking treatment. Recently I saw someone who was so tense that their appetite had disappeared almost completely, a sure sign that the digestive organs are very constricted. I came up with this tummy rub as a way of not only relaxing the digestive system but also encouraging people to take a few moments in their hectic schedule to be fully present with themselves, take some deep breaths and become mindful of their state of being. It’s easy to gulp down a tincture or tea on your way to work but you have to take a bit of time to massage your stomach and even if you feel like it’s an extra thing to do in the morning, once you have begun you cannot help but calm down a little.

When massaging the stomach, always move in deep rhythmic movements in a clockwise direction (as if the clock were on your abdomen rather than facing you!) as this is the way the intestines move waste along. Take a moment to breathe deeply and become a little more mindful of yourself and the present moment. This need only take a few minutes but that can be enough to relax the digestion, the nervous system and the mind.

Soothing Tummy Rub:

50ml base oil (almond, sunflower, apricot etc)
10 drops Neroli essential oil
5 drops Roman Chamomile essential oil
5 drops Cardamom essential oil

This makes a blend of approximately 2%, perfect for adults and children over 12. For children between 4 and 12, halve the amount of essential oils and for babies to 4 year olds use 5 drops chamomile only to make a 0.5% blend or stick to chamomile infused oil instead. You could also make it into a salve or balm (see my previous post) if that is your preference.

Chamomile is a fabulous essential oil for calming the nerves and soothing digestion, helping to expel bloating, flatulence and gas. Cardamom is warming, carminative and antispasmodic and also has a relaxing and uplifting effect on the nerves. Neroli is one of the best essential oils for the nervous system being deeply relaxing and uplifting. It’s also good for promoting flow of digestive juices.  All three are considered children’s oils as they are safe, supportive, caring and calming.

I’ve had very positive feedback from those trialling the oil so far and I encourage those of you who also suffer from a tense stomach to give it a go too. The perfect way to soothe, nurture and let go.

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Calendula and Chamomile were born to be friends. As cheerful and vibrant as each other, they are two of the kindest herbs I know, always on hand to heal, soothe and balance myriad ailments.

Calendula

Alongside their individual personalities they have much in common, as good friends often do. They both have a deservedly high reputation as skin herbs and are particularly beneficial for soothing sore, dry and irritated skins due to their calming, anti-inflammatory properties. They have both also been used for soothing the nervous system and relaxing spasms in the digestive system. Despite being powerful healers they are gentle enough for young children. They are both anti-septic and can be helpful for a range of external and internal infections.

One of my favourite ways to combine them is in this deliciously rich and soothing cream that I use on areas of dry or irritated skin, sunburn, insect bites, allergies, scars or just as a lovely moisturiser that is great for sensitive skins. It also makes a perfect cream for mother and baby and can be used to help a range of problems such as nappy rash, cradle cap and sore nipples to name but a few. I call it my ‘little pot of kindness’ as that just what these herbs are.

Little Pots of Kindness

Chamomile and Calendula Calming Cream- A Little Pot of Kindness:

These quantities make enough cream for two 60ml and one 30ml pot. It’s good to make it in small batches as the only preservatives it contains are the vitamins A and E, so it only has a shelf life of about 3 months out of the fridge or 6 month in. Essential oils can also act as preservatives but are not really present in high enough quantities in this recipe.

50ml calendula and chamomile infusion (steep a tablespoon of each herb in a cup of freshly boiled water, strain and measure out required amount).
25ml aloe vera gel (also calming and healing)
1/2 teaspoon vegetable glycerine
10g beeswax
20g coconut oil (considered cooling and calming in ayurvedic medicine)
25ml calendula infused oil (see here for how to infuse your own oils).
25ml chamomile infused oil
2ml Vitamin E
5 drops Vitamin A
10 drops Lavender essential oil
4 drops Roman Chamomile essential oil

Melt the wax and coconut oil in a bain marie or double boiler on a low heat, adding the calendula and chamomile infused oils when liquid and stirring a little if the waxes start to solidify. In a separate container mix the herbal infusion with the aloe vera and glycerine. Take the oils off the heat and allow to cool slightly before adding the vitamins A and E. For more detailed instructions on cream making along with photos of when the oils are ready to blend, see this post here. I use a small hand blender to mix them as I’m not making a large enough quantity to use my big blender. You could also use an electric or hand whisk. Begin to blend/ whisk the water mixture and slowly add in the oils, a drizzle at a time. Continue to blend until you have a nice smooth, even, creamy consistency. Spoon into a jar or jars and stir in the essential oils. Pop in the fridge for a short while to cool.

This is the same method I used to make my infused elderflower moisturiser. I find it works well for me but creams are notoriously difficult when you make them without using an emulsifier. If your cream seems to be separating don’t despair, just keep scraping the mixture down the sides, mixing it up with a spoon and blending or whisking again. It’s fine to use an emulsifier if you prefer, I just like to make things as simply and naturally as possible when I can.

Oh and don’t forget to thank the chamomile and calendula for all their goodness and care. :)

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The Elysian fields, final resting place in Classical mythology for the virtuous and heroic, must surely be filled with chamomile. The hypnotic smell, the bright, joyful faces of the flowers, the gentle breeze and humming of insects, all combine to convince you that you have reached paradise.

Many meetings with plants have the ability to transport you to a place of wonder but, for me, sitting in a field of german chamomile (Matricaria recutita) stretching as far as the eye can see, is one of the most enchanting of all.

Chamomile Field

A short while harvesting or relaxing in fields of chamomile is enough to wash away all the drudgery, all the dreariness, all the uncomfortable intensity of city life. I believe (at least during my more optimistic moments!)  that one day people will become attuned enough to the subtleties of their senses that healing and medicine will consist of just sitting amongst the plants, without having to ingest or apply them to get all the benefits they need. I feel this strongly when sitting with the chamomile, which is a favourite plant ally of mine, with its joy and unparalleled generosity beaming all around me.

Chamomile

Chamomile Celebration

I spent a lovely afternoon harvesting with my friend and brilliant herbalist Therri who was collecting enough chamomile to supply herself and various other herbalists she makes tinctures for. After gathering enough for litres and litres, we had hardly made a dent.

It wasn’t long before the bliss was too much to contain!

Hooray for Chamomile!

Yay!

After no time at all I had collected plenty for making up some goodies- enough tincture for my needs, a good quantity of infused oil, a little treat of infused honey and lots of flowers for drying.

Chamomile honey and tincture in vodka.

The tincture only needs about a week to infuse and, after straining it a couple of days ago, I can confirm it’s one of the best chamomile tinctures I’ve tasted. Flowers often need less time to infuse than thicker leaves, stems, woody parts or roots and even less when they are tinctured fresh.

Brigitte suggested a chamomile honey in her comment on my post on uses for dried chamomile a while ago. I’ve been hanging on for the fresh to make this as, though they can make the honey a bit runnier because of the moisture content, I often prefer the flavour of honeys infused with fresh herbs, at least where their use is appropriate.

For the oil I used an organic apricot kernel as it is particularly suited to sensitive skins. After a week’s sun infusion it has turned out beautifully, the smell is unbelievably strong and the colour has turned a deep green due to the anti-inflammatory component, azulene, which occurs in the volatile oil of the chamomile. I’ll be using this oil to make a soothing skin cream with calendula infused oil and a healing massage oil for nervous tension with linden and St. Johns wort infused oils.

Chamomile in Apricot Kernel oil, sun infusion.

I’ve dried enough to keep me going for the year and make up my favourite chamomile tea blends.

Drying Chamomile in the Dehydrator

Chamomile is useful for so many ailments and so many people can benefit from spending time with it. I’ll post a full monograph soon to outline some more of it’s traditional and modern uses.

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All this talk of chamomile has left me thinking about how, and for whom, I use this versatile herb, which is first and foremost a herb of childhood. Brigitte wrote of her experiences with chamomile as a child in this post and has just written about some scrummy looking chamomile and lemon balm ice lollies here.

Chamomile has a long tradition of use as a relaxing herb which soothes the nervous system, digestion and smooth muscle throughout the body. It is cooling, calming and helpful in dispelling fevers as well as heat and irritation in the skin. The flowers of both Roman and German Chamomile contain azulene, though German contains much higher quantities resulting in a deep blue coloured essential oil when distilled. This constituent is part of chamomile’s soothing magic, think of the cooling properties of blue against anything that is red, inflamed or hot.

Emotionally and mentally it is also cooling, calming and soothing and it’s particularly associated with irritable, changeable, demanding and whinging behaviour. Matthew Wood, one of my favourite writers on the personality profiles of herbs, describes it as suitable for “babies of any age” and writes, “Whatever the age the behaviour is unmistakable, petulant, self-centred, intolerant of pain or not having their way, inclined to pick quarrels, or adverse to being touched, soothed or spoken to.”

Elizabeth Brooke concurs writing, ” It is very good for either children or adults who have temper tantrums, who express anger which is related to fear and also express the need to protect themselves. It is for people who are prickly, over sensitive and volatile.”

This tendency to reactivity is a key indication for the use of chamomile, although the person will not be like this all the time. Dr Bach, creator of the first flower remedies, used to advise observing the behaviour of a person in illness to determine which remedy was appropriate. So the Chamomile type is likely to be irritable, moody and demanding in sickness, though in health they are often as sunny, generous and radiant as the bright yellow and white flowers themselves.

I have also observed another indication for chamomile, in treating adults who have unresolved issues from childhood. There is much talk in therapeutic circles of ‘healing the inner child’ and chamomile helps us do just that, letting us return to a more innocent and open hearted view of childhood and releasing any issues we may still be carrying. It works particularly well in small doses or as a flower remedy for this purpose.

A pregnant friend of mine who had a very difficult childhood found herself only able to eat food she hadn’t eaten since a very young age, such as sugar-coated cornflakes, and felt drawn to chamomile tea, which she didn’t normally like. It seemed as though she had to go back to an, as yet, unhealed time in her past to be able to move on with her own children in a healthy and balanced way.

A herbalist friend of mine also told me of her teacher who used small doses of chamomile to heal difficult emotions which stemmed from childhood and had proved difficult to shift.

I find that so many of us, living in these challenging times, need to regain some of the joy and mystery we felt as children, and perhaps chamomile could be just the plant to help us do that. When speaking of the personality profile of the essential oil Valerie Ann Worwood says that Chamomiles are always in touch with their spiritual side. As children we are effortlessly aware of the spiritual side of our beings as we freely express ourselves without fear of misunderstanding or ridicule and having not yet been conditioned into any rigid ways of thinking.

To me, chamomile is a powerful healer for the child in us all, whether she secretly wants to stamp her feet and pout whilst proclaiming, ‘but its not faaaaiiir’, or just needs to connect to a purer and less tarnished view of this funny old world.
I’d love to hear anyone else’s experiences or thoughts on the mental and emotional uses of chamomile so do please share them in the comments.
With love to all on this bright spring day.

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This post is in response to a query from Holly about some of the uses of dried Chamomile. I hope it’s helpful and gives you some new ideas to play with.

Dried Chamomile and Sleep Pillow

What a joy is Chamomile. A powerful healer, yet gentle enough for children, it has been used throughout history for its numerous beneficial properties. One of the nine sacred herbs of the Anglo- Saxons, its primary uses in modern herbalism are for indigestion, anxiety, headaches and soothing irritated skin but it’s also been used for coughs, colds, pain relief, asthma, teething and gallstones to name but a few. As a carminative and aromatic it helps dispel bloating and gas which is why it is traditionally drunk after a meal.

I get through lots of dried chamomile and there’s a variety of different things you can do with it.

Teas – Chamomile is probably the most famous herbal tea around, used primarily for easing the digestion and nervous system, it even sorted out Peter Rabbit after he ate too many lettuces! You could harness its relaxing properties by making a blend with equal parts chamomile, rose and oatstraw with a half part lavender for a calming bedtime brew. My absolute favourite tea of all time is chamomile, peppermint and cardamom which makes a great after dinner blend for soothing the digestion and tastes just wonderful.
The plain chamomile tea can also be used as a gargle for mild toothache or as a wash for sore eyes and itchy skin. A strong, hot tea is also useful as a steam inhalation for colds and irritated coughs.

Infused oil – A chamomile infused oil can be helpful in soothing irritated, dry or flaky skin as well as easing tired limbs and rheumatic pains. It can also be made into a beautiful soothing cream with some chamomile infusion and essential oil. To make the infused oil from dried plant material you will need to warm the flowers, with enough oil to cover, in a bain marie or double boiler with the lid on and leave on the lowest heat for several hours making sure the water underneath does not boil away. Alternatively you can add the flowers and oil to a jar and leave in the oven on the lowest heat for 3-4 hours before straining and rebottling. I also like to add a couple of tablespoons of the oil to a bath or use it as a hair conditioner.

Strong infusions – Overnight or long infusions of Chamomile can be a bit strong for drinking, unless there’s a specific medical issue you are hoping to address, but they are great in baths and will help sooth the skin and nervous system when used in this way. They are said to be particularly helpful in exhaustion and convalescence. To make a strong infusion for a bath, add a double handful of flowers to a litre of boiling water and allow to infuse for 4-8 hours. Strain and add the liquid to the bath water. You can use the same preparation as a hair rinse, especially if you have light brown or blond hair. I tried this a few times a while ago and it really brightened my hair and made it look so shiny and healthy, unfortunately I started to dye our pillows yellow so I was banned from using it. Perhaps it’s best for those with dark pillowcases!

Sleep pillow – Making a sleep pillow is a lovely activity and good for doing with children who have difficulty drifting off. If, like me, your sewing is an embarrassment, you can buy little organza bags which you can stuff with herbs and then just tie tightly so no bits escape. Hops are traditional in a sleep pillow but they can give some people bad dreams so my favourite combination is equal parts Lavender, Rose, Chamomile and Linden flowers.

Compresses – Antiseptic and anti-inflammatory, a compress made by soaking a cloth in Chamomile infusion is useful for slow healing wounds and irritated skin. It can also be laid on the stomach to ease period pains.

If anyone else has any favourite chamomile recipes please share them in the comments below.

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The world would certainly be a better place if people were more like chamomile.

It is white and yellow face smiles brightly up, cheering all those who pass by, though it is in no way garish, having a softness and subtlety that could allow it to be overlooked. It has long been associated with humility due to the fact that, when planted in lawns, it grows better the more it is trodden on. In this way it teaches us strength and endurance and the ability to turn difficult circumstances to our advantage. In the Victorian language of flowers it represented patience in adversity.

We all know the calming effects of chamomile, much needed in these busy times, as well as its ability to ease the digestion. On an emotional, as well as physical level it can help us to better ‘digest’ and assimilate difficult events or situations.

Mrs Grieves writes about chamomile’s wonderful ability to heal plants as well as people:

The Chamomile used in olden days to be looked upon as the ‘Plant’s Physician,’ and it has been stated that nothing contributes so much to the health of a garden as a number of Chamomile herbs dispersed about it, and that if another plant is drooping and sickly, in nine cases out of ten, it will recover if you place a herb of Chamomile near it.

The Chamomile is a true example of what it means to be medicine, completely and fully, so that everything around can benefit from our presence. This surely should be the aim of all healers and herbalists and indeed all people seeking a better world for themselves and other beings.

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