Chamomile tea has a long history of medicinal use dating back to ancient Greece and perhaps before. Chamomile is a general name given to a group of plants belonging to the family Asteraceae. The flowers are used most often to make chamomile tea, and they are typically described as aromatic and slightly bitter. Chamomile displays calming properties, which is why it’s often recommended as a sleep aid by herbalists and practitioners of alternative medicine. However, there are some potential side effects.
Chamomile tea is made from the plant’s flower heads, which are white and look like daisies. German chamomile, known as Matricaria recutita, and Roman chamomile, known as Chamaemelum nobile, are the two major types of chamomile used medicinally by herbalists. For commercially made tea, many other types are used, but they are likely chosen more for flavor and cost, than superior medicinal value. Regardless, all types of chamomile tea have the reputation of being a mild sedative, anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory.
Chamomile tea is probably best known as a sleep aid, especially for insomnia, because it helps to calm the central nervous system and induce relaxation. More specifically, chamomile flowers contain a bioflavonoid called chrysin, which reduces anxiety and muscle tension while promoting sleepiness. Chamomile tea is also used to improve digestion, combat mild gastrointestinal upset, relieve menstrual cramps and reduce the pain from tension headaches. Externally, warm or cold chamomile tea as a compress can be applied to the skin to help relieve mild irritation and deter fungal infections.
Potential Side Effects
Chamomile tea is generally considered very safe and essentially nontoxic, so side effects are minimal and rare, but some of its properties may combine with certain medications and boost their effects. For example, chamomile may enhance the effects of warfarin, which is an anticoagulant drug, or blood thinner, used to prevent thrombus formation in blood vessels. Substantial amounts of the tea may also enhance the effects of anti-epileptic medications and sedatives. Chamomile products may also trigger ragweed allergies. Further, you should avoid drinking chamomile tea if you are driving or operating machinery because it may induce drowsiness.
When selecting chamomile tea from the grocery store or herbalist, choose products that are formulated from whole flower heads in order to get the most medicinal value. It’s best to drink chamomile tea about an hour before bedtime because, in addition to causing sleepiness, it’s also a mild diuretic that will likely stimulate a need to urinate.
- Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine; Simon Mills and Kerry Bone
- Natural Standard Herb & Supplement Reference: Evidence-based Clinical Reviews; Catherine E. Ulbricht and Ethan M. Basch
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.