I’ve been spending a lot of time with Chamomile lately. This year I decided to seed our front bed with Chamomile and more Calendula to fill in the spaces between some established Yarrow and a gorgeous Passionflower vine. Well, it definitely filled the spaces and, while at first I was daintily picking each little bloom, I’ve resorted to cutting it back by the stem so try to give the Yarrow some room to breathe.
Chamomile, above all other plants, has taught me so much about embodying gentle strength - a lesson which I can never stop learning as I cycle ever-deeper with the plants and my own body. This humble, bright, joyful, sweet bloom has been such a gift for my heart, body, and spirit over the last couple of months in particular.
It’s also a plant I frequently suggest for my 1:1 clients because it’s essentially a formula unto itself.
Why? Let’s check out its Taste, Actions, Affinities, and Energetics…
Taste - Bitter, Pungent, and to me, it also has an element of Sweet (I’ll talk more about that in a bit).
Actions - Bitter tonic, Nervine, Carminative, Sedative/Nervine Relaxant, Diaphoretic, Vulnerary
I always ask myself: what’s the pattern behind actions and affinities? Chamomile is a bitter tonic AND carminative (which means it contains warming volatile oils) so it embodies the polar spectrum of digestion. But it’s also calming and sedative, relaxing the nervous system in order to allow the body to return to center and re-member its innate wisdom.
Nervines support digestion because they activate your parasympathetic nervous system and relax the sphincter muscles in the GI tract. These actions make Chamomile great for someone who feels stressed/anxious which leads to gassy, bloated, and other signs of indigestion including both constipation and diarrhea. Remember, we look for patterns rather than treating symptoms and if the underlying pattern is tension that’s causing digestive distress, Chamomile is brilliant for addressing both the nervous system and regulating digestion.
These actions also make Chamomile incredibly cooling, calming, and reparative for the digestion system that’s inflamed, hot, irritated, and overactive. So much so that It’s even a part of my favorite formula for addressing leaky gut and the resulting bloating, aches, and fatigue associated with lymphatic issues resulting from leaky gut.
As a Diaphoretic, Chamomile releases heat from the interior by relaxing and opening the exterior. Diaphoretics are traditionally known to help reduce fevers, but they are also helpful for another interesting pattern:
Do you tend to have cold hands and feet but a warm belly or symptoms of heat in your digestive tract? I discovered this was a pattern while studying Chinese Medicine. It described me to a T! There are various reasons behind this pattern which I won't get into here. Some are physical, but most are emotional/energetic and point to tension held in the center (the Solar Plexus and Sacral Chakra). This Diaphoretic action of Chamomile, along with its other actions, make this a brilliant plant ally to release that tension gently and move it out through your extremities.
Affinities - Digestive System, Skin, Nervous System, Liver
It's interesting to me that 3 out of the 4 organs/organ systems listed are organ systems of elimination. With the nervous system at the heart, woven throughout all of our systems, it shows me how vital it is to tend to our nervous systems throughout our healing processes.
Energetics - drying (because of bitter tonic action), relatively neutral in temperature but tends toward cooling, relaxing
An interesting thing about Chamomile is that depending on how you prepare it, different tastes are enhanced and thus different energetics come to the forefront. A tincture doesn’t capture as much of the bitter flavor as it does of the warming aromatics while a tea, because of how the water extracts bitter compounds, can be quite bitter!
Ok, allow me to step on my soapbox for just a minute. I know everyone loves to recommend bitters for digestive complaints, and they have their place, but not for everyone and maybe not long term. Bitters are cool and systemically drying because they encourage drainage of excess fluids while also stimulating digestive excretions. Those excretions increase fluids locally, but systemically can dry you out. If your constitution tends toward cold and dry, or what some think of as Vata, you'll want a more well-rounded formula OR a plant like Chamomile that also contains warming constituents.
Special Potency - One of my mentors in the herbalism realm teaches about a plant’s Special Potency, its uniqueness, its initiatic value (or how it initiates us), what it teaches us, its spiritual/esoteric characteristics, and how the plant transcends all of the categorization we’ve just talked about just like a person's essence can't be fully captured by looking at symptoms, patterns, and constitutions.
For me, Chamomile is a great example of a plant with profound Special Potency. While its flavors tend to be bitter and pungent, as I noted above it also has a particular sweetness to it. That sweetness points to its nourishing, grounding, softening qualities. It tells us it can nurture our inner Earth element, and indicates its ability to tend to the inner child and soften sharp emotions.
Matthew Wood talks about Chamomile being a favored remedy for tantruming toddlers as well as adults who also have a propensity toward tantrums or feel like they hold that kind of energy inside.
To me, Chamomile initiates us into the realm of the Inner Child and into the work of re-parenting ourselves, becoming the parent we needed growing up and guiding us through healing childhood trauma so that we no longer need to blame our caregivers. We can instead be resourced and resilient enough to be emotionally present and available, set boundaries, ask for what we want/need, and manage our (big) emotions. Chamomile is a potent ally for healing intergenerational trauma and setting the stage for our children and future generations to live without much of the sickness from previous generations.
Skin - This isn’t one you often see in herb books or write-ups, but chamomile is one of my favorite plants to use topically, whether that’s as the whole plant, the essential oil, or the hydrosol. Like other plants with similar compounds like Yarrow or Tansy, it’s incredibly cooling, soothing to inflamed tissues, and restorative. Thanks to its vulnerary action, it actually works to mend damaged tissue and calm redness. But unlike those other plants, and specifically the essential oils of those plants, Chamomile is incredibly gentle while being wildly effective.
The Hydrosol has quickly become a favorite in our line-up of copper-distilled, fresh plant hydrosols. It quickly clears heat physically but emotionally as well in those times when you may feel heat/anger rising up in your body and unable to escape. The sweetness of the hydrosol helps to harmonize qi, calm the spirit, and nourish Yin (i.e. the cool, sweet, damp, receptive energetics within).
But even Chamomile's special potency goes so much deeper.
A plant teaches us so much beyond how it effects our tissues when we consume it. That’s truly just the tip of the iceberg. The true healing comes when we slow down and listen, spend time remembering that our bodies and souls speak the language of nature, the same language in which plants communicate, the same language every single one of our ancestors knew deep within their bones. Plants remind us of who we really are.
My favorite way to prepare and work with Chamomile is to make a strong infusion. Fill a quart jar ½ full of flowers, pour boiling water over it and put on a lid. Let it steep for 30 minutes. I love doing this as a plant meditation, inviting the energetics and wisdom of the plant to speak and to experience the plant somatically.
Which products do we weave Chamomile magic into?