Plants in Profile [1]: CHAMOMILE

It would be fair to say that I’m on a massive chamomile buzz lately. It’s also got a special place in my mind and polytunnel since it’s the first herb I’ve grown and successfully harvested a reasonable amount of.

Chamomile is one of the most ancient medicinal herbs known to mankind. The dried flowers of chamomile contain many terpenoids and flavonoids contributing to its medicinal properties.

Its preparations are commonly used for many human ailments such as hay fever, inflammation, muscle spasms, menstrual disorders, skin disorders, insomnia, ulcers, wounds, gastrointestinal disorders and rheumatic pain.

There are over 50,000 publications on chamomile and numerous books touting its amazing benefits as well as numerous books on the topic. There is still a lot of active research on the chemistry of chamomile where research and industrial groups are trying to optimise the extraction of chamomile molecules for maximum yield and stability, as well as understanding the benefits its extracts have.

History

This is an excerpt from the book Chamomile: Industrial Profiles (2005)

Chamomile is listed in the pharmacopoeia of 26 countries. Pharmacopoeias are books containing approved quantities and dosages of medicines in each country. In 1882, Germany were the first to include chamomile flowers and their extractions in their pharmacopoeia.

To go even further back:

Chamomile has been used in herbal remedies for thousands of years, known in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome.

The Egyptians considered the plant sacred and believed it was a gift from the Sun God Ra.

Anglo-Saxons also attributed a religious stature to chamomile as it earned a place in their cohort of 9 sacred herbs Their 9 holy herbs that made the cut were:

Taxonomy and etymology

German chamomile (left), Roman chamomile (right).
  • Chamomile is a member of the daisy or Asteracea family.
  • There are lots of chamomile species that grow wild but the 2 ones we grow for their benefits are:
    • German chamomile Marticaria recutita also known as “True chamomile”
    • Roman chamomile Chamaemelum nobile

The differences are also important when it comes to taste:

  • Roman chamomile tends to be bitter when used in tea whereas German chamomile is sweeter. 
  • German chamomile is used less frequently since it’s harder to find and doesn’t grow as widely. 

German chamomile is a hardier plant which a larger output. It is also higher in the essential oil active ingredient chamazulene which makes it highly desirable for production of essential oil. Apparently you can expect 300kg of flowers per acre of Bodegold German chamomile.

Chamomile is said to smell like crushed apple. The name Chamomile comes from two Greek words: Khamai meaning “on the ground” and melon meaning “apple.”

WHERE does it grow and where is it native to?

It grows wild all over Europe and is also highly cultivated in eastern Europe.

It is also grown in Germany, Hungary, France, Russia, Yugoslavia, Brazil and India. It was introduced to India around 300 years ago during the Mughal period and is now grown all over the country.

In India, the plant had been cultivated in Lucknow for about 200 years, and the plant was introduced in Punjab about 300 years ago during the Mughal period.

The plants can be found in North Africa, Asia, N and S America, Australia, and New Zealand where they were introduced.

Production

Hungary is the main producer of Chamomile.  

In Hungary, it grows abundantly in poor soils and it is a source of income to poorer inhabitants of these areas.

Flowers are exported to Germany in bulk for distillation of the oil.

GLOBAL consumption

Apparently over 1 million cups of chamomile tea are drank everyday. This was a claim by the Herb Research Foundation.

The annual consumption of chamomile owners in Germany alone in 1992 was reported to be about 5000 t (Franz 1992).

In Australia, the demand is estimated to be above 50 t (Purbrick and Blessing 2007).

In Italy, the demand for chamomile amounts to 1000–1200 t annually, worth €3 million (CBI Ministry of Foreign Affairs 2011).

Modern findings on chamomile

It’s only been about 100 years ago since the first attempts in cultivation and breeding of chamomile were made and these species are the ones we use today.

In 1921, Chemiewerke Homburg received the patent for the first chamomile extract.

In the past 40 years chamomile has developed into a real culture plant that is cultivated on a wide scale

Pharmacopoeias suggest that minimum requirements for German chamomile to be used as a drug:

Blue essential oil: minimum 4 ml/kg (dried drug)
• Total apigenin-7-glucoside (C21H20O10): minimum 0.25% (dried drug).

Antimicrobial effects of german chamomile

  • Matricaria flower essential oil exerted a bactericidal effect against Gram-positive bacteria and a
  • Fungicidal effect against Candida albicans at a concentration of 0.7% V/V.
  • The essential oil was not active against Gram-negative bacteria, even in concentrations as high as 8% V/V.

In a comparative study on 20 healthy volunteers with chemically induced toxic dermatitis, the smoothing effect on the skin of an ointment containing matricara flower extract was significantly superior (p < 0.01) to that of 0.1% hydrocortisone acetate or the ointment base.

Legal Classification of the use of GERMAN chamomile

IN GERMANY AND IN THE EUROPEAN COMMUNITY

Chamomile flowers and chamomile herb with flowers can be distributed both as a foodstuff as well
as a drug with different fields of application.

Chamomile flowers as a drug have to correspond to the different pharmacopoeias and normally they must have a minimum essential oil content.

These days chamomile is used in lots of different industries in many forms:

Pharmacological profile

Some of the most potent and studied active ingredients in chamomile are:

  • Apigenin
  • Α-bisabolol
  • Chamazulene

APIGENIN

Apigenin is a flavonoid. Naturally occurring chemical in plants. They have a broad spectrum biological activity. Apigenin is a much studied nutraceutical. 

Chamomile is one of the richest dietary sources of apigenin (840 mg/100 g of chamomile).

Anxiolytic effects

  • Apigenin exerts anxiety-reducing effects.
  • The mechanism of action for apigenin to have its relaxing effects is through working on our GABAergic neurotransmission pathway. 
  • After absorption in the digestive tract, apigenin reaches the brain through the circulatory system, where it crosses the blood‒brain barrier and then binds to GABA-A receptors in your brain and central nervous system. 
  • Apigenin is a GABA-A ligand. These GABA-A receptors are the same ones that benzodiazepines bind to. 
  • So that makes apigenin or chamomile a natural version of diazepam (Valium) and alprazolam (Xanax) but without the sedative effects. At higher doses, it can be sedative.
  • One study looked at the effect of apigenin on rat neurons and they found that apigenin had an inhibitory effect on monoamine oxidases. 
  • Monoamine oxidases are the enzymes responsible for breaking down serotonin in your synaptic cleft (spaces between your neurons). So if apigenin slows down the activity of this enzyme that means more serotonin is hanging out in your brain. This is the basis or mechanism of some anti-depressants. 

Anti-cancer

  • Apigenin is also a very potent anti-cancer compound. It protects against a wide variety of cancers with high selectivity for cancer cells as opposed to non-cancerous cells. 
  • There were experiments where they added apigenin to cultured breast cancer cells. Apigenin at 20μM inhibited the proliferation of cancer cells.

Apigenin is also anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective and has an anti-diabetic effect.It also has a very high safety threshold, meaning you can take lots of it and it won’t be toxic for your body.

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The therapeutic effects of apigenin: 2019
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Other sources of apigenin are:

  • Parsley, celery, onions 
  • Oranges
  • Thyme, oregano, basil
  • Plant-based beverages (tea, beer, and wine)

(–)-α-bisabolol

In 1951 (–)-α-bisabolol was isolated from chamomile. This is the component of chamomile that makes it very good for skin.  α-bisabolol is heavily used in cosmetics because of its skin healing properties. 

It is known to have anti-irritant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-microbial properties. 

It also enhances the absorption of certain molecules via the skin. 

α-bisabolol and chamazulene has recorded an inhibitory influence on both gsram positive and gram negative bacteria. It is effective against Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus, and Candida albicans.

In addition, this species has antibacterial properties (Salehi et al 2005) and is effective against Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus, and Candida albicans As such it is often included in mouthwashes and toothpastes.

Chamazulene

There is a famous “blue oil” associated with chamomile oil extractions. Chamazulene is the compound that gives this oil its characteristic blue colour. This chamomile blue oil is effective for treating skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. 

Chamazulene is formed at high temperatures during steam-distillation processing of essential oils. 

The French chemist Piesse isolated a blue substance from the essential oil of chamomile in 1863 and people knew that this blue oil had anti-inflammatory properties long before it’s chemical structure was resolved in 1953. 

Chamazulene has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capacity. It is the critical component of the essential oil for antioxidant activity to occur.

Part of the plant used?

The flowers and flower heads are the main organs of the production of essential
oil and contain the highest quantity of beneficial compounds.

Chamomile oil is produced by distillation from fresh and dried flower heads and stems of the
chamomile flowers. The fresher the flowers the higher the yield of oil.

Conclusion

Chamomile grows very easily and is teeming with benefits! Get some chamomile tea and drink it!

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