Other common name(s): German chamomile, Hungarian chamomile
Scientific/medical name(s): Matricaria chamomilla, Matricaria recutita, Chamomilla recutita
Chamomile is a daisy-like flower, a member of the family Asteraceae (also called by its older name Compositae.) The active compounds in German and Hungarian chamomile are extracted and used in herbal remedies. Other varieties of the plant such as Roman or English Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile), which contain similar compounds, are not used as often for herbal remedies.
Chamomile has not been found to be useful in reducing the side effects of cancer treatment. Available scientific evidence does not support claims of chamomile's effectiveness for sedation, reducing inflammation, and treating intestinal cramps. These benefits have not been proven in human clinical trials. The use of chamomile has resulted in many allergic reactions and a few deaths.
One recent clinical trial of a chamomile extract called apigenin suggests that it may help with anxiety symptoms, but it is not known whether the whole herb or other chamomile preparations provide a similar benefit. Further studies are needed.
How is it promoted for use?
In traditional folk medicine, chamomile has been promoted as a treatment for a long list of ailments. Today, it is most commonly promoted as a sedative to induce sleep and to soothe gastrointestinal discomfort caused by spasms and inflammation. Some proponents also claim chamomile calms the mind, eases stress, helps menstrual disorders and migraines, reduces pain from swollen joints and rheumatoid arthritis.
Topical chamomile is promoted to reduce inflammation caused by sunburn, rashes, eczema, hemorrhoids, mouth sores, diaper rash, nipple irritation, and eye problems. It is also touted to help speed wound healing.
What does it involve?
Commission E (Germany's regulatory agency for herbs) has approved the use of German chamomile for gastrointestinal spasms and skin and mucous membrane inflammation. Proponents recommend steeping chamomile in hot water for 5 to 10 minutes to make a tea, to be taken 3 or 4 times a day. It is also available in capsules and liquid extracts. Less often, chamomile is taken as capsules, tablets, or as a tincture (an alcohol-based chamomile extract).
For treatment of skin conditions, bandages containing chamomile are sometimes placed over wounds. Ointments, gels, and pastes of chamomile may be applied for skin conditions. A liquid form is also used as an eyewash.
Extracts from herbs are often added to cosmetics, creams, and skin moisturizers. Bisabolol is an extract of chamomile that one such common additive.
What is the history behind it?
Chamomile has been used in herbal remedies for thousands of years. The Anglo-Saxons believed that it was one of 9 sacred herbs given to humans by the god Woden. The herb has also earned a place of high regard in some systems of traditional medicine.
What is the evidence?
Research has failed to show the effectiveness of chamomile in managing the side effects of cancer treatment. In a randomized clinical trial, researchers concluded that chamomile did not decrease stomatitis (mouth sores) caused by the cancer drug 5-fluorouracil.
Another randomized clinical trial found that radiation-induced skin reactions were not improved in areas treated with chamomile. Chamomile spray was no more effective than a placebo spray of salt solution in reducing sore throat after surgical anesthesia.
Animal studies have suggested that chamomile may help induce sleep and reduce inflammation and intestinal cramps, but these effects have not been clearly demonstrated in humans. But according to Commission E, clinical evidence does not support the use of chamomile as a sedative.
A randomized clinical study reported in 2009 looked at an extract called apigenin, which was purified from chamomile. When tested against placebo capsules in people with mild to moderate anxiety, those getting the apigenin extract had fewer anxiety symptoms. It is not known whether products available as dietary supplements provide similar benefits. Extracts and individual components may not have the same effects as the whole herb.
Are there any possible problems or complications?
Some researchers report that allergic reactions to chamomile are fairly common and can result in symptoms such as stomach cramps, itching, skin rashes, and throat swelling that can cause serious problems with breathing, and even death. Using chamomile as an eyewash has resulted in red inflamed eyes and swollen eyelids in those who are sensitive to it. Moisturizers and cosmetics that have chamomile extracts such as bisabolol may cause skin rashes and eczema in people with chamomile allergy.
People who have severe allergies to ragweed, echinacea (purple coneflower), sunflowers, dandelions, marigolds, arnica, sagebrush, yarrow, tansy, mugwort, or other members of the Asteraceae family should use chamomile with caution, if at all. People who are allergic to celery, feverfew, or birch pollen may have a higher risk of reacting to chamomile.
Chamomile may increase the risk of bleeding if taken with blood-thinning medications, such as warfarin (Coumadin). People taking these medications should consult their physicians before using chamomile. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use this herb.
Relying on this type of treatment alone and avoiding or delaying conventional medical care for cancer may have serious health consequences.
To learn more
More information from your American Cancer Society
The following information on complementary and alternative therapies may also be helpful to you. These materials may be found on our Web site (www.cancer.org) or ordered from our toll-free number (1-800-227-2345).
The ACS Operational Statement on Complementary and Alternative Methods of Cancer Management
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Note: This information may not cover all possible claims, uses, actions, precautions, side effects or interactions. It is not intended as medical advice, and should not be relied upon as a substitute for consultation with your doctor, who is familiar with your medical situation.
Last Revised: 08/18/2011