A daisy-like plant with dozens of medicinal uses, chamomile is a member of the Asteraceae family of flowering plants. There are many species of chamomile, but the two most common are the Roman (aka English or garden) and the German varieties. Used medicinally in ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt, chamomile was also once thought to possess the power to attract love, luck and prosperity.
Now grown in many countries, chamomile is native to both Western and Eastern Europe, and also Western Asia. Roman chamomile is a perennial, it grows low to the ground with small flowers and has a bitter flavor. The German variety is sweeter and, with larger blossoms, can grow to three feet tall. Because of its wide ranging uses, German chamomile is sometimes referred to as the European equivalent of Chinese ginseng.
Chamomile’s naturally occurring terpenoids and flavonoids lend it antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, astringent and healing properties. Chamomile is typically used to alleviate stomach ailments, fevers, cold and flu, but it has also been employed as a uterine tonic for menstrual disorders, to relieve the symptoms of colic, to speed healing infections of the mouth and gums, and even to reduce allergic reactions. Truly, this humble plant’s versatility seems endless.
Certainly, chamomile’s most popular application is as an infusion in tea, and it’s consumed in this way throughout the world as a sleep aid and relaxant. However, when applied topically, it can treat wounds, eczema and acne, and brighten and beautify the skin, which is why it’s found in a wide range of products, frequently combined with other ingredients into compound formulations.
TO CALM AND TO PROTECT
Modern skincare formulators draw on chamomile’s history as a healing agent to create some of today’s potent-yet-natural products. “The ancient Greeks knew to use it to prevent acne and scarring,” shares Natalie Aston, national trainer and esthetician for FarmHouse Fresh. “It has historically been added to baths to combat itchy skin and psoriasis, to treat scalp maladies and, of course, for skin beautification.”
As employed in today’s skincare products, chamomile provides skin conditioning as well as a natural, pleasing fragrance. It also contains anti-inflammatory agents that are effective in calming skin, notes Sara LaBree, education manager for Jurlique.
“Chamomile not only reduces skin sensitivity and redness, it helps restore its radiance and freshness,” LaBree says. “We incorporate its potent extracts into nearly all of our product formulations.” The ingredient is a star in one of the company’s moisturizing creams, in which it’s used to deeply hydrate while protecting the skin barrier.
Although the leaf of the chamomile plant is usable, it’s the extracts, aromatic hydrosols and essential oils from the flower that are put to work in skin care, explains Kim Borio, creator of Glycelene Aromas and Skincare. “German chamomile is dark blue in color, and the flowers with high levels of bisabolol are preferred. It has a herbaceous aroma,” she explains. “It’s healing and soothing, and it stimulates white-cell production.”
According to LaBree, chamomile has the power to deliver instant relief. “It’s a popular ingredient in many lotions or creams to soothe and calm irritation and inflammation after waxing procedures,” she says, “and it’s also used for itchiness often associated with severe dryness, irritation or rashes.”
“Roman chamomile has the more powerful calming action,” Borio notes. “It has high levels of esters of angelate and butyrate, which give it a distinctive grassy aroma with fruit hints. And both types are analgesic to relieve pain.”
Aston explains how the plant’s antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and anti-irritant properties are put to use in her company’s antioxidant serum, in which it appears with other nutrients in an aloe base. “The extract of the flower can penetrate skin quickly and be absorbed,” says Aston. “It’s able to protect cells from damage and death.”
Chamomile also makes its way into massage products, steams, ointments, hair care, oral care and aromatherapy. Borio includes the German variety in her company’s facial serum and facial mist for its healing properties, but also for that soothing aroma that has a therapeutic effect on the senses.
–by Andrea Renskoff