Matricaria recutita belonging to the Family Compositae (Asteraceae), is a fragrant, annual herb. It grows up to around 0.6 meter in height and is native to Europe and northern and western Asia. It has been naturalized in North America and is extensively cultivated particularly in Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, Greece, Argentina and Egypt. Chamomile blooms from the end of April to the end of May, about eight weeks after the seed is sown. A crop may be raised from seed sown early in the spring or from seed planted later. The harvested flowers are sifted in a suspended sieve with a mesh diameter of 7 – 22mm to separate the flower heads from the flowers with attached stems, and from clinging bits of weed or grass. The sifted flowers are then spread out in thin layers on the floor or on sheets to dry. Five kilograms of fresh flowers gives approximately 1 kilogram of dried flowers. Because the essential oil of chamomile consists chiefly of high boiling constituents steam of a relatively high pressure (7 atmospheres per square centimeter, in the steam generator) is applied. Distillation of one charge requires from 7 – 13 hours. The essential oil yield is approximately 0.24 –1.9% and is a deep blue colour with a strong and characteristic odour and a bitter aromatic flavour. Depending on the temperature it is more or less viscous. Under the influence of light and air the deep blue colour of the oil gradually changes to green and finally to brown. The essential oil contains chamazulene, which gives it its rich blue colour as well as farnesene, a-bisabolol oxide, matricin and en-yn-dicycloether as its major constituents.
German chamomile has been described in medical writings since ancient times and it was an important plant used in ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman medicine. The name is derived from the Greek chamos meaning ground and melos meaning apple which refers to the fact that it grows low to the ground and its fresh blooms have an apple scent. Hippocrates, Dioscordies and Galen all describe the plant in their writings. Today it is officially recorded in many national pharmacopeias.
Chamazulene, a major component of German Chamomile, has pain-relieving, wound-healing, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. German chamomile is frequently used in antiseptic ointments, creams and gels to treat cracked nipples, sore gums, inflammations, irritations of the skin and mucosa, respiratory tract inflammation and for wound healing. The essential oil is also used a flavour component in most major food categories, including alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages, frozen dairy desserts, candy, baked goods and gelatins and puddings. Average maximum use levels reported are usually less than 0.002% for the essential oil.
Psychologically, German Chamomile has calming and analgesic properties. It is useful for headaches, insomnia, nervous tension and stressful situations. It can help to promote feelings of peace.
On the physiological level German Chamomile has anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antispasmodic properties and is a great choice for any skin inflammations or problems including acne, boils, cuts, burns, wounds and sunburn. It is very useful too for any digestive complaints. Personally I reach for German Chamomile for skin conditions and Roman Chamomile for digestive problems.
Contraindications:. Generally considered non-toxic, non-irritating and non-sensitizing. It is very strong smelling so it is best to use in small amounts.
Albert Y. Leung & Steven Foster , Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics, John Wiley & Sons, 1996
Blumenthal, Goldberg, Brinckmann, Herbal Medicine, Expanded Commission E. Monographs, American Botanical Council, 2000
Ernest Guenther, The Essential Oils, Krieger Publishing Company, 1952, reprint 1976
Beverley Hawkins, Aromatherapy 201 Course 1999 revised 2000, 2001