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Chamomile (Matricaria recutita [Latin]), also known as German chamomile, has been used medicinally for thousands of years. It is a popular treatment for numerous ailments, including sleep disorders, anxiety, poor digestion, colic, inflammation, and wound healing.

Chamomile is thought to have anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiseptic powers. Some herbalists also recommend it for treatment of water retention, blood clots, muscle tension, and a depressed immune system.

In Europe, chamomile oil is an active ingredient in many over-the-counter anti-inflammatories and antiseptics. In the United States, chamomile is not as widely used, and is best known as an ingredient in herbal teas used to calm the nerves and promote sleep, although many chamomile-containing products are available at health food stores.

Recent studies have focused on the ability of chamomile to help fight infection and inflammation. One study reported that chamomile helps antibiotics work better when it comes to clearing up bladder infections; another test showed that chamomile was superior to hydrocortisone for easing skin inflammation.

Chamomile may help ease symptoms of conditions for which modern medicine currently has no cure—inhaling steam containing chamomile extract has been shown to ease cold symptoms, and research suggests that massaging with chamomile essential oil may improve anxiety and quality of life in patients with cancer.

If you want to take chamomile, you’ll find chamomile-containing products and supplements at some pharmacies and all health-food stores. It is available in many forms, including capsules, liquid extract, and creams. The usual dosage is two to three 350-milligram capsules or ½ to 1 teaspoon of a liquid extract three times a day. You can also buy the dried chamomile flowers—steep 2 to 3 teaspoons of dried chamomile flowers in a cup of hot water for homemade chamomile tea, which can be used as a mouthwash or a poultice for inflamed muscles and joints.

Chamomile has been used extensively in herbal medicine for many, many, years. It has a well-established reputation for healing, and is generally considered to be safe; however, there have been many reports of allergic reactions (some life-threatening) in people after eating, touching, or inhaling chamomile preparations. Chamomile is related to ragweed, and people allergic to ragweed should steer clear of this herb. People taking blood thinners should also avoid chamomile because it contains coumarin, a substance that thins the blood and may enhance the effects of blood thinners. In large doses, chamomile may cause vomiting.

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