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Roman Chamomile

As part of the Neal’s Yard Diploma Course in Aromatherapy I compiled a plant study on Roman Chamomile (latin name Anthemis Nobilis).  I could have chosen any oil from the 72 we studied  however I decided on this one for reasons I go on to explain below.  I am publishing here just a few sections of this study, as it was a fascinating exploration into the qualities and uses of just a single oil from one variety of plant.

If anyone is interested I can give full bibliographical references, however where these were taken from the internet please be aware of the transient nature of such information, links do become outdated.

My rapport with Roman Chamomile

Photo printed with permission of fotosearch stock photography, www.fotosearch.com

When I was a child my friends and I used to make a den in a nearby field and while away the summer days making daisy chains and chatting and giggling as young girls together often do.  This led me to associate the daisy flowers of chamomile with happy childhood memories.

The daisy to me is a contented flower, unpretentious and having the most impact grown uncultivated in a natural setting.  Its not a showy single bloom, its beauty is in its simplicity and in its place in a crowd of other daisies. This resonates with me as a person, as I am happier when not the centre of attention and when I am with other like minded people where I can just quietly ‘be’.

Until October there is an exhibition titled ‘Mind the Map’ being displayed at the London Transport Museum within which there is an artwork exhibited called the ‘Land of Hopeful Commuters’, by artist Agnes Poitevin-Navarre, where contributors residing the length and breadth of the London transport system gave their own unique response to the question ‘Where do you hope to be?’

My contribution, ‘lying in the sunshine on a Chamomile lawn ..making a daisy chain’ is shown below including a photo of my answer on the exhibit in situ in the museum.  Beneath that is a photo showing contributions on another section of the exhibit. My contribution echoes how I feel about the ‘daisy’ type flower, which invokes images of lazy sunny days relaxing with friends enjoying their company and the feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin.


My submission to the project


Another factor which in particular influenced my choice of  Anthemis nobilis over Matricaria recutita was that the former is a plant which has been found uncultivated in the UK.  Historically it grew across much of England however it is now more commonly found in the far south, particularly the South West, Hampshire and the Sussex Wealds.   It is now flourishing on cricket pitches and village greens although its natural habitat is the commons and greens in Dartmoor and areas of the New Forest, Richard Mabey (1996, P371-373).

On very much a lighthearted note, a favourite film of mine is ‘An American in Paris’ in which the star Gene Kelly sings a version of the song ‘I got rhythm’.  I have made a recording of me singing this, included here on memory stick, in which I have adapted the words to make  a ‘tongue in cheek’ version .  A line of the song goes ‘I’ve got daisies in green pastures’ which linked beautifully to my choice of plant to study.  I have to add that this is recorded with the microphone on my iphone so the quality is not good but as a bit of fun it is listenable.

An introduction to Chamomile,  main chemical constituents and therapeutic qualities.

The two best known types of Chamomile essential oil, German Chamomile botanical Matricaria recutita and Roman Chamomile botanical Anthemis nobilis or Chamaemelun nobile.  I have used the terms Roman Chamomile and Anthemis nobilis interchangeably throughout this document. There is a third, less widely used in Aromatherapy, but used in the perfume industry, Moroccean Chamomile botanical Ormenis mixta, Jane Buckle (1997, P40)  These oils are all members of the Asteraceae formerly Compositae families have different therapeutic uses reflecting their different chemical make-up.  The chief constituent of  Matricaria recutica is a-bisabolol oxides which have the quality of being anti-inflammatory while the chief constituent of of Anthemis nobilis is an Ester – Angelates . Being Ester rich, at a concentration of around 80% of the oil, (Jane Buckle, 1997, P41), gives it the qualities of being anti-spasmodic and cicatrisant.

A history of Chamomile

The first recorded use of Chamomile was by the ancient Egyptians.

Different books I referred to cite different opinions on which chamomile they used.  One source claims it was German Chamomile that was used (Kate Ferry-Swainson,1999, P18) while another claims it was Roman Chamomile, (Gabriel Mojay, 1997, P60) .

The first records mentioning the use of Chamomile is a papyrus document from around 2800 BC that cited its use for skin disorders.  The tomb of Ramses II revealed evidence that Chamomile was used in preserving the pharaoh’s body, when archaeologists found Chamomile pollen not only in the stomach but also found a thick coating of Chamomile covered the remains.

The name Chamomile comes from ancient Greek, the Greeks calling it ‘kamai melon’ which translates to mean ‘apple on the ground’ (Kate Ferry-Swainson, 1999,P21/22 ).  In the 4th century BC Hippocrates used it to reduce fevers, Gabriel Mojay (1997, P60).  Its medicinal reputation has been known throughout Europe especially in the Mediterranean areas for over 2000 years (Julia Lawless,1995,P109).

The report ‘Assessment report on Chamaemelum nobile’   (European Medicines Agency, no author credited, 2011) cited ‘Abramson et al’ as claiming Anthemis nobilis was named Roman Chamomile by Joachim Camerarius in 1598 after he observed it growing abundantly near Rome . It also cites ‘Hiller and Melzig’ as giving the 16th century as the period when European cultivation of Anthemis nobilis began, and stating that this cultivation occurred in England. It further cites ‘Hiller and Melzig’  as reporting that the plant became known as ‘nobile’ (Latin, noble) because of its therapeutic properties which are here claimed to be better than Matricaria recutica.

In addition Anthemis nobilis was appreciated as a fumigant and as an ornamental flower.  The Romans used it to fragrance both fabrics, particularly bedding and clothes, and themselves as a body and hair perfume (Kate Ferry-Swainson, 1999,P21/22 ).   In Saxon England it was one of the nine sacred herbs known as ‘maythen’and was also known as the plants physician because of its beneficial effect on the health of surrounding plants (Julia Lawless, 1995,P109). According to the mythology people accepted its healing power without understanding it.  They put their faith in a warrior God called Woden to look after their wellbeing and as such the myth claims that ‘Maythen’ was one of the herbs given to them by Woden to ‘enhance their lives and bring them order out of chaos’ (Kate Ferry-Swainson, 1999, P36/37).   In Tudor England Chamomile was used to scent homes when it was laid on the floor, as matting that was aromatic when walked on, (Gabriel Mojay, 1997, P60).  It is also claimed that it had its role in historical notoriety as,  during the reign of Tudor monarch Elizabeth I,  Sir Frances Drake was playing bowls on a Chamomile lawn when he spied the Spanish Armada (Richard Mabey, 1996, P371-373).

During the Stuart period Nicolas Culpeper published, in 1653,  his famous work “The English Physitian : enlarged with 369 medicines made of English Herbs known as Herbal in which he had a section on Chamomile which described the uses to which it could be put and the ailments it would benefit.  It is quoted below


It is so well known every where, that it is but lost time and labour to describe it.  The virtues therof are as followeth :-

Government and virtues.  A decoction made of camomile, and drank, taketh away all pains and stitches in the side.  The flowers of Camomile beaten, and made up into balls with oil drive away all sorts of agues, if the part grieved be anointed with that oil, taken from the flowers, from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot, and afterwards laid to sweat in his bed, and that he sweats well.  This is Nechessor, an Egyptian’s medicine.  It is profitable for all sorts of agues that come either from phlegm or melancholy, or from an inflammation of the bowels, being applied when the humours causing them shall be concocted; and there is nothing more profitable to the sides and region of the liver and spleen than it.  The bathing with a decoction of camomile taketh away weariness, easeth pains to what part of the body soever they be applied.  It comforteth the sinews that are over-strained, mollifieth all swellings.  It moderately comforteth all parts that have need of warmth, digesteth and dissolveth whatsoever hath need thereof, by a wonderful speedy property.  It easeth all pains of the colic and stone, and all pains and torments of the belly and gently provoketh urine.  The flowers boiled in posset-drink provoke sweat and help to expel all colds, aches and pains whatsoever, and is excellent help to bring down women’s courses.  Syrup made of the juice of camomile, with the flowers in white wine, is a remedy against jaundice and dropsy.  The flowers boiled in lee, are good to wash the head, and comfort both it and the brain.  The oil made of the flowers of camomile, is much used against all hard swellings, pain or aches, shrinking of the sinews, or cramps, or pains in the joints, or any other part of the body.  Being used in clysters, it helps to dissolve the wind and pains in the belly, anointed also, it helpeth stitches and pains in the side.

Nechessor saith, the Egyptians dedicated it to the Sun, because it cured agues; and they were like enough to do it, for they were the arrantest apes in their religion I ever read of .  Bachinus, Bena, and Lobel, commend the syrup made of the juice of it and sugar, taken inwardly, to be excellent for the spleen.  Also this is certain, that it most wonderfully breaks the stone : some take it in syrup or decoction, others inject the juice of it into the bladder with a syringe.  My opinion is, that the salt of it taken in half a drachm in the morning in a little white or rhenish wine, is better than either; that it is excellent for the stone, appears in this which I have seen tried, viz.  that a stone that hath been taken out of the body of a man being wrapped in camomile will in time dissolve, and in a little time too.”  (Kate Ferry-Swainson, 1999 p29-32).

It continues to be used in Modern times, both the flower and the essential oil, for instance as a relaxing tea, in ointments and in steam inhalations (Kate Ferry-Swainson, 1999, P40). In addition, in more recent times, Roman Chamomile has been used domestically as a slow growing aromatic lawn; the most famous example of which can be found within the gardens of Buckingham Palace.

Therapeutic Uses for Roman Chamomile

During our Neal’s Yard group’s visit to the organic oil farm in St Helens, several uses of Roman Chamomile were mentioned, most of which had been backed up by studies, many of which I have found reference to online, however further studies would need to be conducted for firm conclusions to be made.   Initial findings from the evidence that was gathered were reported.  These studies are described below together with the website, where appropriate,  from which the information was  sourced.

As a sedative to aid sleep
It is interesting to note Anthemis nobilis flowers contains the flavanoid Apigenin – please refer to Appendix One which describes the  chemical consituents the oil and plant are comprised of.   The following describes the impact this can have on sleep.
Sedative effects may be due to the presence of a flavonoid apigenin that bind to the benzodiazepine receptors in the brain.   This is supported on the website Wikipedia in an article titled ‘Apigenin’ which states and I quote “Apigenin is a ligand for central benzodiazepine receptors that competitively inhibited the binding of flunitrazepam with a Ki of 4μM, exerting anxiolytic and slight sedative effects.”  (Apigenin, Wickipedia, undated).
This may be relevant as to why the dried flowers are commonly used as a herbal tea which is often described as having a calming and sleep enhancing effect.

With regard to the essential oil Jane Buckle cites a study by King in 2001 in which Roman Chamomile and Sweet Marjoram, in a ration of 1:2,  where used on subjects suffering insomnia (Jane Buckle, 1997, P204).  Ten women between the ages of 36 and 50 took part in the study over a four week period.  The first week was a baseline week, the third a washout week meaning no aromatherapy blend was used but during weeks two and four (the aromatherapy weeks) 2 drops of the blend was placed on a cottonwool ball inside the pillow case on which each subject slept.  Over the four weeks sleep patterns were recorded, including time taken to fall asleep, number and length of interruptions to sleep, overall time of nightly sleep and whether the subject felt rested in the morning.  Two subjects subsequently withdrew from the study due to suffering adverse effects .  The results for the remaining subjects showed a small improvement in almost every category.  Five subjects fell asleep more quickly, six experienced fewer sleep interruptions while three fell back to sleep more quickly following an interruption and five subjects felt more rested after sleeping during the ‘aromatherapy weeks’.

In the treatment of Cancer
Again looking at the Anthemis nobilis  as a plant recent studies have shown evidence that while Roman Camomile extracts have minimal affect on the inhibiting the growth of normal cells they do appear to have a significant impact in reducing the viability of various human cancer cells.

According to the website Herbcyclopedia, and an article titled “Apigenin, a natural falvonoid from Chamomile and cancer” (Herbcyclopia, author unknown, accessed on 7th September 2012)., citing the research of Xuan Liu and Xin Cai of the National Academy of Sciences who undertook a NIH sponsored study, the flavonoid Apigenin, referred to above for its sedative actions, may also suppress cancer cells.  It locates a  protein p53  a known tumour suppressor, that acts as an anti-cancerous agent by stopping cancer cells growing and by killing them.  Once this protein is located it is able to bring it to the cell nucleus where it stops cell growth in cases where the cell DNA has been damaged by cancer.

With regard to research using the essential oil the following is taken from the Cancer Research UK website , under a section titled “Research into Aromatherapy and Cancer” is the following report on Roman Chamomile in the treatment of cancer

“In 1999 a study assess the effects of aromatherapy massage and massage therapy on 103 people with cancer in a palliative care setting.  Some people had massage using only a carrier oil, and some had an aromatherapy massage with the essential oil Roman Chamomile.  People in both groups had lower levels of anxiety.  But those who had Roman Chamomile oil massage seemed to have more improvement in physical and psychological symptoms and in overall quality of life.”

On the website National Institute of Health within article “Chamomile : A herbal medicine of the past with bright future” (National Institute of Health, accessed 3rd September 2012) section 5.19 titled Quality of Life in Cancer Patients, states there is further evidence of the Effectiveness of Roman Chamomile in helping relieve the psychological effects of suffering from cancer.
“Essential oils obtained from Roman chamomile are the basic ingredients of aromatherapy. Clinical trials of aromatherapy in cancer patients have shown no statistically significant differences between treated and untreated patients.  Another pilot study investigated the effects of aromatherapy massage on the anxiety and self-esteem experience in Korean elderly women. A quasi-experimental, control group, pre-test-post-test design used 36 elderly females: 16 in the experimental group and 20 in the control group. Aromatherapy massage using lavender, chamomile, rosemary, and lemon was given to the experimental group only. Each massage session lasted 20 min, and was performed 3 times per week for two 3-week periods with an intervening 1-week break. The intervention produced significant differences in the anxiety and self-esteem. These results suggest that aromatherapy massage exerts positive effects on anxiety and self-esteem.  However, more objective, clinical measures should be applied in a future study with a randomized placebo-controlled design.”

Common Cold
Research has indicated that a Steam inhalation infused with Roman Chamomile appears helpful in diminishing common cold symptoms.  This is documented  within “Chamomile : A herbal medicine of the past with bright future” (National Institute of Health, accessed 3rd September 2012) section 5.3 titled Common Cold as read on September 3rd 2012. The extract is shown below

“Common Cold acute viral nasopharyngitis) is the most common human disease.  It is a mild viral infectious disease of the upper respiratory system.  Typically common cold is not life-threatening, although its complications (such as pneumonia) can lead to death, if not properly treated.  Studies indicate that inhaling steam with Camomile extract has been helpful in common cold symptoms; however, further research is needed to confirm these findings.”


The same article “Chamomile : A herbal medicine of the past with a bright future”  (National Institute of Health, as accessed September 3rd 2012) section 5.6, has the following passage on eczema

“Topical applications of chamomile have been shown to be moderately effective in the treatment of atopic eczema.  It was found to be about 60% as effective as 0.25% hydrocortisone cream. Roman chamomile of the Manzana type (Kamillosan (R)) may ease discomfort associated with eczema when applied as a cream containing chamomile extract. The Manzana type of chamomile is rich in active ingredients and does not exhibit chamomile-related allergenic potential. In a partially double-blind, randomized study carried out as a half-side comparison, Kamillosan(R) cream was compared with 0.5% hydrocortisone cream and a placebo consisting only of vehicle cream in patients suffering from medium-degree atopic eczema . After 2 weeks of treatment, Kamillosan(R) cream showed a slight superiority over 0.5% hydrocortisone and a marginal difference as compared to placebo. Further research is needed to evaluate the usefulness of topical chamomile in managing eczema”.

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