Every year around the holidays, I try to write one article about working with herbs for stress. Herbs can calm our nervous systems and help us to feel more grounded and centered. Something many of us need during the holiday season.
Being the infamous year of 2020, I almost skipped the Herbs for Stress holiday newsletter, because who really needs it? This year has been a breeze and I’m sure we’ll float through the holidays as well…
Kidding. Tragically kidding.
This year’s article is an encouragement to turn towards trusted herbs in many deeply nourishing ways so that we can benefit from their gifts. I know from experience that it’s the herbs I have the closest relationships with that often help me the most. And one way to build that relationship is by working with the plant in many different ways.
For this article, I’ve chosen one of my favorite herbs, chamomile, to show the many ways you can invite this humble yet powerful herb into your life and use chamomile for stress.
Before we get to recipes, let’s spend some time getting to know chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla).
I often admit to my students that I wrongly dismissed chamomile. For many years I thought it was a “cute” herb, perfect for Peter Rabbit and perhaps children, but not a serious herb that could really impact an adult. Still makes me blush a bit to admit my ignorance.
Perhaps the thing that made me dismiss chamomile is a virtue that makes chamomile so wonderful. It’s a gentle enough herb for children and it’s a powerful herbal for adults. Or, as my friend and fellow herbalist jim mcdonald says, “Chamomile shows us that gentle does not mean weak.”
It’s been years since I’ve been appreciating chamomile and I still have so much learn from this delicate flower!
Chamomile for Stress Relief
Chamomile has long been associated with mothers, love and comfort. Because I’ve spent so much time adoring chamomile through taste, smell, teas, tinctures, syrups and baths, when I spend time with it, I feel a deep sense of comfort. Like I’m cuddling up with a dear friend.
Now it feels like my nervous system has a conditioned response to chamomile. It doesn’t take much contact with chamomile for my shoulders to release their tension, my jaw to unwind and my heart to settle. I love that this simple flower can provide welcome relief during times of stress.
Researchers have taken an interest in chamomile and have conducted several human clinical trials to evaluate its ability to address both depression and anxiety. In an exploratory study, researchers found that chamomile, even at a relatively small dose (220 mg), was more effective than placebo in relieving both depression and anxiety.1 Another clinical study found that chamomile relieved mild to moderate anxiety in people diagnosed with general anxiety disorder.2 A study in 2018 showed that people with moderate to severe generalized anxiety order who took chamomile had beneficial responses in their cortisol levels.3
When using chamomile for stress, I prefer it for anxiety and pent-up nervous system energy (rather than low or depressive energy). It’s a relaxing nervine, meaning it decreases nervous system tension and helps the body switch to a more parasympathetic nervous system function.
Chamomile Modulates Inflammation
Stress and inflammation tend to go hand and hand. Chamomile is a powerful remedy for modulating many different kinds of inflammation.
There have been several interesting studies showing how potentially powerful chamomile can be for addressing inflammation.
One study compared the topical use of chamomile compresses with hydrocortisone cream for relieving itching and discomfort associated with skin lesions in people who have stomas (a surgically created opening in the abdomen that allows stool or urine to exit the body). Participants were either given a one percent hydrocortisone cream or chamomile compresses twice a day. Those using the compresses had a significantly faster healing time as well as a considerable decrease in pain and itching compared with those using the steroid cream. The researchers also pointed out that using chamomile instead of the steroid cream prevents serious side effects associated with topical steroid use, such as thinning of the skin.6
A chamomile gel has been shown to prevent acute radiation dermatitis in head and neck cancer patients.7
Chamomile has also been demonstrated to relieve inflammation systemically in patients aged 30-64 with type 2 diabetes. In this study, 32 men and women who had type 2 diabetes drank 3 grams of chamomile tea 3 times per day immediately after meals (for a total of 9 grams). Concurrently, 32 other men and women with type 2 diabetes drank the equivalent amount of water. After eight weeks, those drinking chamomile had better glycemic control and increased antioxidant capacity.8
Is Chamomile a Good Match For You?
I obviously adore chamomile for stress, but admittedly it’s not for everyone. Some people who are sensitive to the aster family will also be sensitive to chamomile.
If you know chamomile isn’t a good choice for you, another herb you could explore is lemon balm (Melissa officinalis). Lemon balm isn’t the same as chamomile, but it has similar stress-relieving properties and can be substituted in all of the recipes below.
Perhaps the reason I was quick to dismiss chamomile when I was younger is because I was only familiar with it as a tea bag tea. I don’t want to discourage chamomile in a tea bag entirely; it’s admittedly convenient, and if there are high-quality herbs in the tea bag, it can make a decent cup of tea. I often turn to these when travelling.
But if you only know chamomile as a tea bag tea, then you are missing out!
Below is a simple recipe for making your own chamomile tea. It uses slightly more chamomile than you’ll find in your average bag and I recommend steeping for slightly longer than is commonly done.
Think of this recipe as a starting place. You can use more (or less) chamomile and steep it for more (or less) time to suit your tastes and desires. Using more chamomile and steeping it longer will have more of a pronounced calming, even sedative effect. It will also taste a lot more bitter. You’ll find your perfect cup of chamomile tea with a few tries.
What you’ll need…
- 1 tablespoon dried chamomile flowers
- 12 ounces water
- Steep the chamomile in just boiled hot water for 7-10 minutes, covered.
- Add honey if desired.
Yield: 1 serving
This sweet chamomile treat can be used in so many delicious ways! I’ve drizzled it over fruit salads and on pancakes and waffles. You can also add it to beverages like hot tea or sparkling water. Yum!
The honey in this recipe is not only for added sweetness but also works as a preservative. The more honey you add, the longer this syrup will last. It’s common to add an equal amount of honey to water. If you have a 1/2 cup of water, you add a 1/2 cup of honey. For this, I use slightly less honey than water to not overpower the flavor of the chamomile. As a result, it’s best to use it quickly. Discard any syrup that is cloudy or has mold growing on it.
Note that this preparation is more thin or watery than a thick syrup.
What you’ll need…
- 1/4 cup dried chamomile flowers
- 12 ounces water
- Approximately 1/2 cup honey
- Steep the chamomile in just-boiled hot water for 10 minutes, covered.
- Add the honey, stir well to combine.
- Keep in the fridge and use within 2 weeks.
Yield: 2 cups
I most often reach for chamomile as a comforting tea, but I wouldn’t want to be without the tincture or alcohol extract. Chamomile tincture is convenient to take when you’re not at home. It’s also a good preparation if it’s close to bedtime and you don’t want to be drinking a lot of liquid.
The following preparation is the folk method of tincture making. To be sure it’s a potent blend, finely crumble your chamomile before using. I like to pulse it in the blender several times, not to powder it completely, but to break it down significantly.
What you’ll need…
- 1 cup finely crumbled dried chamomile flowers
- 16 ounces vodka (80-100 proof)
- Place the chamomile in a glass pint jar. Add the vodka. You will most likely not use the entire 16 ounces.
- Stir well.
- Cover with a tight fitting lid and let it macerate for 4 weeks. I keep mine in a dark place on the counter and shake it daily for the first couple of weeks.
- This stores indefinitely.
- The recommended dosage is 3-6 ml, 3 times a day, or small doses more frequently.
Yield: 14 ounces
Chamomile isn’t only for internal use; it is a lovely herb to infuse into oil, which can then be used to nourish the skin. This is a favorite for breast and belly massage. If you use a lighter oil, then it can also be a face oil.
Carrier oil choice: You can use olive oil for this recipe, which is very shelf stable but a bit heavy. Olive oil is good for body massage oils and for dry skin. Lighter oils like almond oil, apricot kernel oil, grapeseed oil, avocado oil and jojoba oil are all great choices.
What you’ll need…
- 1/2 cup finely crumbled dried chamomile flowers
- 16 ounces carrier oil of your choice
- Place the chamomile in a glass pint jar. Fill the jar with the oil. You will most likely not use the entire 16 ounces.
- Stir well.
- Cover with a tight-fitting lid and let it macerate for 4 weeks. I keep mine in a dark place on the counter and shake it daily for the first couple of weeks.
- When the oil smells like lovely chamomile, you can strain it, and then use as desired.
- Use within a year.
Yield: 14 ounces
Herbal baths are underrated! I lived for nine years without running water and to this day, baths are still a luxurious treat. I like to make herbal baths by first making a strong herbal tea, then straining that tea and adding the water to the bath.
I often see pretty herbal baths on Instagram with lots of herbs in the water. While it is a gorgeous scene, I tend to be more practical. In other words, I don’t relish having to clean the bathtub of lots of herbal bits after I’ve just taken a relaxing bath.
I’ve had many chamomile baths and I especially turn to them when I am feeling stressed and I have aches and pains. It’s a lovely way to unwind and release muscle tension.
If you aren’t up for an entire bath, this can also be used as a hand or foot soak.
What you’ll need…
- 2 quarts water
- 2 cups chamomile flowers
- In a large soup pot, bring the water to a boil. Turn off the heat. Add the chamomile flowers and stir well so that they are all submerged in the water. Cover with a tight-fitting lid. Let steep for 20 minutes.
- In the meantime, prepare your bath.
- Strain the chamomile, reserving the liquid for your bath. Before getting into the bath, test the water carefully. The addition of the hot chamomile water will heat things up.
- Soak as desired. I recommend taking this bath at the end of the day, or when you are able to further relax afterwards.
Yield: 1 bath
Now I’d love to hear from you!
Do you often turn to chamomile for stress or other uses?
Or is there another herb that is a commonly ally for times of stress?
Are you interested in going beyond tea to try chamomile in a new way?
Please share in the comments below.
- Amsterdam, Jay D, Justine Shults, Irene Soeller, Jun James Mao, Kenneth Rockwell, and Andrew B Newberg. “Chamomile (Matricaria Recutita) May Provide Antidepressant Activity in Anxious, Depressed Humans: An Exploratory Study.” Alternative therapies in health and medicine 18, no. 5 (2012): 44-9. ↩
- Amsterdam, Jay D, Yimei Li, Irene Soeller, Kenneth Rockwell, Jun James Mao, and Justine Shults. “A Randomized, Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Trial of Oral Matricaria Recutita (chamomile) Extract Therapy for Generalized Anxiety Disorder.” Journal of clinical psychopharmacology 29, no. 4 (2009): doi:10.1097/JCP.0b013e3181ac935c. ↩
- Keefe, John R., et al. “An Exploratory Study of Salivary Cortisol Changes during Chamomile Extract Therapy of Moderate to Severe Generalized Anxiety Disorder.” Journal of Psychiatric Research, vol. 96, 2018, pp. 189–95. PubMed, doi:10.1016/j.jpsychires.2017.10.011. ↩
- Batista, Ana Luzia Araújo, Ruthineia Diógenes Alves Uchôa Lins, Renata de Souza Coelho, Danielle do Nascimento Barbosa, Nayara Moura Belém, and Frayni Josley Alves Celestino. “Clinical Efficacy Analysis of the Mouth Rinsing with Pomegranate and Chamomile Plant Extracts in the Gingival Bleeding Reduction.” Complementary therapies in clinical practice 20, no. 1 (2014): doi:10.1016/j.ctcp.2013.08.002. ↩
- Braga, Fernanda T M M, Ana C F Santos, Paula C P Bueno, Renata C C P Silveira, Claudia B Santos, Jairo K Bastos, and Emilia C Carvalho. “Use of Chamomilla Recutita in the Prevention and Treatment of Oral Mucositis in Patients Undergoing Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation: A Randomized, Controlled, Phase II Clinical Trial.” Cancer nursing 38, no. 4 (2015): doi:10.1097/NCC.0000000000000194. ↩
- Charousaei, Firuzeh, Azam Dabirian, and Faraz Mojab. “Using Chamomile Solution or a 1% Topical Hydrocortisone Ointment in the Management of Peristomal Skin Lesions in Colostomy Patients: Results of a Controlled Clinical Study.” Ostomy/wound management 57, no. 5 (2011): 28-36. ↩
- Ferreira, Elaine B., et al. “Chamomile Gel versus Urea Cream to Prevent Acute Radiation Dermatitis in Head and Neck Cancer Patients: Results from a Preliminary Clinical Trial.” Integrative Cancer Therapies, vol. 19, Dec. 2020, p. 1534735420962174. PubMed, doi:10.1177/1534735420962174. ↩
- Zemestani, Maryam, Maryam Rafraf, and Mohammad Asghari-Jafarabadi. “Chamomile Tea Improves Glycemic Indices and Antioxidants Status in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.” Nutrition (Burbank, Los Angeles County, Calif.) 32, no. 1 (2016): doi:10.1016/j.nut.2015.07.011. ↩