Plant of the month:

My fascination with herbs started when I was a little girl and watched my grandmother use herbs to cook and to make beauty treatments.

Although herbs grow all around us, only few people still know how to use them as nature attended to – as our food, medicine and aid for beauty/healthcare recipes. Here is the series – plant of the month – which will give you a valuable insight into healing herbs and their benefit.

Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla L.)

How it looks & smells: The chamomile is an attractive plant with white blossoms and a yellow centerpiece. It has also a very pleasant aromatic smell.

Considering the good looks and healing properties you may suspect that it is a difficult plant to grow, but far from it. The chamomile does not need special soil or light conditions and is often seen growing in ditches, hedgerows and lawns.

It is truly God’s medicine cupboard, effective, very available and cheap.

Only a few years ago chamomiles were found everywhere, especially at edges of vegetable fields. But with the rise of modern mono-agriculture (only one species per field) now almost the norm, chamomiles are now seen as a pest that spoil the crop rather than a valuable plant with many benefits and killed off.

This is a rather surprising development as the use for this plant in the cosmetic, medical and holistic industry is growing year on year.

How and when to gather:  There are different types of chamomiles. The German chamomile is predominately used for teas and healing remedies. The Roman chamomile ( nobilis) is primarily used in cosmetics, bath oils and shampoos.

The benefits described here belong to the German chamomile (synomious  chamomilla) which is often also called ‘apple herb’ as the scent is vaguely apple-like.

The best time to collect the blossoms is in the summer months of July, August and beginning of September, the time when the chamomile is in full bloom.

For healing purposes it is important to collect chamomiles that have not been in contact with pesticides, so in doubt don’t pick them near a commercially farmed field.

If you buy the dried plant or tea bags, please look out for an organic version from a reputable source. In this case the organic seal really matters.

If you grow them yourself (which is easy to do) beware that chamomiles can be rather difficult when it comes to drying and storing. These delicate plants must only be dried in a shady but breezy place, otherwise they lose much of their potency and rot.

Benefits:

The most expensive and important ingredient is Azulen. It is ‘chamomile oil’ and surprisingly dark blue. But this plant contains also another series of complex chemicals which make it so efficient when it comes to healing.

Scientists have long tried to isolate some of these healing components. But it is now believed that it is in fact the combination of these that  makes this plant such an effective healer, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial.

For hundreds of years the chamomile was referred to as ‘the mother of the gut’, because its best-known use is in cases of acute stomach upsets. These include food poisoning, indigestion or digestive flu. Fasting and cups of chamomile tea always do the trick.
More recently it is recommended for sufferers from irritable bowel syndrome.

Chamomile tea: 1 tea bag or 1 heaped teaspoon of dried chamomiles (around 5 dried blossoms) per cup.

This classic tea has not only a pleasant taste, but also cure many conditions,  almost too many to mention. The most popular use is to counteract stomach cramps, heartburn and other digestive disorders. People often refer to having a ‘nervous stomach’. As the gut is lined with many nerve endings, it is true that we sense nervous reaction first in our stomach – this is why we refer to ‘gut feeling’.  Drinking chamomile tea on a regular basis has a general calming effect. People who suffer much stress and anxieties would do well to exchange their obligatory cup of coffee with chamomile tea. But it is also beneficial for the kidney, bladder and any menstrual problems. If you suffer from any kind of chronic disease associated with digestion and nerves, try to drink 3 cups of chamomile tea on a daily basis. But like all natural remedies, this regime has to be kept up for a few moon-cycles. For minor ailments one cup a day may suffice.

Chamomile ‘parasite drink’: If you suspect any worms or other nasty bacteria have entered your gut, here is a natural remedy to get rid of them. Sometimes cramps and pains can also be caused by parasites nestling in your gut. A gruelling thought but here is a drink that will tackle them. The best time to carry out this cure is during the 4th Quarter of the Waning Moon.

Take a handful of dried chamomile (3-4 tea bags) and add one liter of water. Boil for two minutes and then take this infusion off the stove and set aside. After roughly an hour and once it has cooled down, strain the chamomiles or take the tea bags out.  Add one tbsp of lemon juice, one tbsp of olive oil and one tbsp of honey. Mix it together and keep in a dark glass bottle. Take a small cup of this liquid each morning on an empty stomach. If systems have not eased, try one more time otherwise consult your doctor.

Strong chamomile infusion: Is principally a strong chamomile tea, with 2 tea bags or teaspoons per cup of water. Use this tea externally,  best applied when hand-warm. Please always test on your hand before use to avoid burning yourself on more delicate or infected areas.

If you suffer from conjunctivitis or ear infections, wet a cotton ball with this infusion and clean out your eye or ear. Make sure you discard each cotton ball. Finally soak 2 cotton pads in the new tepid chamomile infusion and leave them on your eyes for a few minutes.
The same infusion can also be applied externally to all kind of infections, eczema, infected nails,insect bites and even  haemorrhoids.

Chamomile gargle: If you suffer from acute tooth ache or blisters on your tongue and gums, prepare an infusion as described above, but use it when it is still quite warm. Take a sip and keep it in your mouth as long as you can. Then spit it out. Please don’t swallow it. Repeat many times until you find pain has eased.

Chamomile hot towel: Immerse a muslin cloth or thin towel in a strong chamomile infusion and wrap it around areas such as your back, head, arms or legs. This method is preferably for rheumatism, bed sores, sciatic pain, lumbago, sprains, neurodermatitis, large patches of eczema etc. Hot towels should be applied at least once a day for a minimum of a few weeks.

But you don’t have to be ill to enjoy this rather pleasant procedure. A cup of chamomile tea and a chamomile hot towel as described above put on your forehead, neck and shoulders will calm you down after a stressful, exhausting day – a sort of calming mini spa!

Chamomile bath: Take two cups of dried chamomile and put it into a linen bag. Then add this bag to a hot bath. This is especially effective if you suffer from infection of the bladder, vagina or the womb. Look out for the yellow bathtub sign on the LWTM life-style calendar.

For itchy and sweaty feet and hands, add 2 cups of chamomile infusion to a bucket of warm water and bath your hands and feet in it.

Lighten the hair: Take two small handfuls of dried chamomiles (preferable Roman Chamomile)  for one liter of water. Boil for two minutes and leave to cool. Use it after you have washed your hair  by massaging this rinse into your hair and scalp, don’t rinse out! This is a fantastic recipe to strengthen and lighten blond, fine hair.