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Chamomile

Other common name(s): German chamomile, Hungarian chamomile

Scientific/medical name(s): Matricaria chamomilla, Matricaria recutita, Chamomilla recutita

Description

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.

Overview

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?

This product is sold as a dietary supplement in the United States. Unlike companies that produce drugs (which must be tested before being sold), the companies that make supplements are not required to prove to the Food and Drug Administration that their supplements are safe or effective, as long as they don't claim the supplements can prevent, treat, or cure any specific disease.
Some such products may not contain the amount of the herb or substance that is on the label, and some may include other substances (contaminants). Actual amounts per dose may vary between brands or even between different batches of the same brand. In 2007, the FDA wrote new rules to improve the quality of manufacturing for dietary supplements and the proper listing of supplement ingredients. But these rules do not address the safety of the ingredients or their effects on health.
Most such supplements have not been tested to find out if they interact with medicines, foods, or other herbs and supplements. Even though some reports of interactions and harmful effects may be published, full studies of interactions and effects are not often available. Because of these limitations, any information on ill effects and interactions below should be considered incomplete.

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).

Dietary Supplements: What Is Safe?

The ACS Operational Statement on Complementary and Alternative Methods of Cancer Management

Complementary and Alternative Methods and Cancer

Placebo Effect

Learning About New Ways to Treat Cancer

Learning About New Ways to Prevent Cancer

References

Amsterdam JD, Yimei L, Soeller I, et al. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of oral Matricaria recutita (chamomile) extract therapy for generalized anxiety disorder. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology. 2009 Aug;29(4):378–382.

Blumenthal M, ed. The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; 1998.

Fidler P, Loprinzi CL, O’Fallon JR, Leitch M, Lee JK, Haynes DL, Novotny P, Clemens-Schutjer D, Bartel J, Michalak LC. Prospective evaluation of a chamomile mouthwash for prevention of 5-FU-induced oral mucositis. Cancer. 1996;77:522-525.

Jacob SE, Hsu JW. Reactions to Aquaphor: is bisabolol the culprit? Pediatr Dermatol. 2010 Jan-Feb;27(1):103-4.

Jensen-Jarolim E, Reider N, Fritsch R, Breiteneder H. Fatal outcome of anaphylaxis to camomile-containing enema during labor: a case study. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 1998;102:1041-1042.

Kyokong O, Charuluxananan S, Muangmingsuk V, Rodanant O, Subornsug K, Punyasang W. Efficacy of chamomile-extract spray for prevention of post-operative sore throat. J Med Assoc Thai. 2002;85 Suppl 1:S180-S185.

McKay DL, Blumberg JB. A review of the bioactivity and potential health benefits of chamomile tea (Matricaria recutita L.). Phytother Res. 2006;20:519-530.

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Chamomile (German). Accessed at http://www.mskcc.org/mskcc/html/69174.cfm on April 13, 2011.

Miller LG. Herbal medicinals: selected clinical considerations focusing on known or potential drug-herb interactions. Arch Intern Med. 1998;158:2200-2211.

New Zealand Dermatological Society Web site. Chamomile. Accessed at http://dermnetnz.org/dermatitis/plants/chamomile.html on April 13, 2011.

O’Hara M, Kiefer D, Farrell K, Kemper K. A review of 12 commonly used medicinal herbs. Arch Fam Med. 1998;7:523-536.

Reider N, Sepp N, Fritsch P, Weinlich G, Jensen-Jarolim E. Anaphylaxis to chamomile: clinical features and allergen cross-reactivity. Clin Exp Allergy. 2000;30:1436–1443.

Rycroft RJ. Recurrent facial dermatitis from chamomile tea. Contact Dermatitis. 2004; 48:229.

Subiza J, Subiza JL, Hinojosa M, Garcia R, Jerez M, Valdivieso R, Subiza E. Anaphylactic reaction after the ingestion of chamomile tea: a study of cross-reactivity with other composite pollens. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 1989;84:353-358.

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 Medical Review: 08/18/2011
Last Revised: 08/18/2011