Your elderly aunt might drink it before bed, but what’s the secret to chamomile tea?
Chamomile tea is one of the easier to find herbal infusions. You’ll find it in grocery stores and online. It’s popular, in part, because it’s been used for millennia in herbal medicines. And while it’s frequently pointed to as a sleep aid, the true health benefits of chamomile tea are a little more complex.
Herbal tea is believed to be relaxing — especially if it’s caffeine-free, as chamomile tea typically is. But the hot beverage may provide a few additional perks than just a way to wind down before bed.
Chamomile is a flowering plant with a long history. German chamomile, or Matricaria recutita, is one of a few different types of this plant. It is the most widely studied and the type you’ll generally find in teas and herbal supplements.
The flowers of German chamomile are small and white, resembling little daisies to the untrained eye. You may have seen them before in an herb garden and not even known what you were looking at. It’s these flowering tops that are commonly used in medicinal preparations like powders, capsules, and teas or infusions.
Chamomile has been used since the times of ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt, and continues to be one of the most widely used herbal remedies around the world.
Before we dive into the health effects of chamomile tea, there’s one technicality to clear up. Rarely is chamomile included in a true “tea”. Tea is a plant, itself. There are black, green, and oolong varieties of the plant. When the leaves are dried and used to make a beverage, we refer to it generally as “tea”. However, in the modern age, we refer to a wide range of hot beverages as tea, even when they don’t contain tea leaves.
You’ll rarely (if ever) see chamomile as a true tea. Instead, you’re buying what’s known as a tisane, or infusion. If the product you’re sipping on doesn’t contain tea leaves, but herbs like chamomile, it’s an infusion and is likely caffeine-free.
That said, you’re not alone in referring to your herbal infusions as teas. We all do it. It’s the way of the world. But keep this bit of knowledge in your back pocket should you ever want to impress someone on your knowledge of herbal preparations.
Over the millennia, chamomile has had many uses. Just some of those uses include the treatment of: wounds, infections, hemorrhoids, shingles, stomachaches, pain, diarrhea, nausea, colic, flatulence, hysteria, conjunctivitis, insomnia, diaper rash, fevers, nightmares, hysteria, and more.
While the storied use of chamomile is extensive, the scientific proof of its effectiveness is less so. As time has passed, our ability (or duty) to test herbal remedies for actual effects has improved. As such, science is still catching up.
There isn’t a complete lack of research on chamomile effects, however. And there are some promising findings, especially among human tests.
The actual scientific literature on chamomile as a health remedy ranges from studies that extract chemical constituents of the plant and apply it to cells under the microscope to trials where humans are given chamomile to test its effectiveness for certain ailments. Because human studies are the most directly applicable, we’ll focus on those.
It’s worth noting, however, that chamomile is rich in flavonoids and terpenoids. These substances are credited with the plant’s medicinal properties. They are widely researched and believed to have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antifungal, and antiviral effects.
Sleep. Perhaps the most widely-known potential benefit of chamomile is its ability to aid in sleep, and there is some research that backs this use. One of note gave chamomile extract to a group of elderly participants twice daily for 28 days. When compared with participants who received a placebo, those using chamomile saw “significantly improved” sleep quality.
Anxiety. Research also indicated chamomile may be effective in the treatment of generalized anxiety. Researchers with the University of Pennsylvania found chamomile to have significant effects in people with mild to moderate generalized anxiety disorder. A long-term study on the effects of chamomile in anxiety found the extract to be a safe way to significantly reduce moderate to severe generalized anxiety symptoms, though it didn’t reduce the rate of relapse.
Digestive conditions. There is evidence that chamomile may be helpful in the treatment of colic and diarrhea in children. Likewise, the literature suggests it could aid in relieving gas and general stomach soothing.
Research is ongoing for other conditions such as diabetes and wound healing. However, many of the existing studies have only been completed on rats, so their carry-over to human health is unknown.
Chamomile is considered generally safe, though there’s always a risk of allergic reaction. The National Institutes of Health suggests that people with known allergies to ragweed, marigolds, daisies, and mums are at a greater risk for allergic reaction to chamomile.
The plant may also interfere with blood thinning and organ transplant drugs. So if you take either of these, consult with your doctor before taking chamomile.