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The flowers of the herb chamomile, when infused in hot water, make a soothing, herbal tea. While not a member of the "tea" plant family, chamomile tea has a sweet aroma and a mild, pleasant flavor. Made famous among readers of Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit, many people have found that chamomile tea served at bedtime helps them fall asleep. It has been used through the ages, however, for other medicinal qualities, such as anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic properties.
Flavor and Aroma
Chamomile tea smells a bit like apples, in fact the name "chamomile" comes from the Greek for "ground apple." It has a somewhat fruity taste to it and is often accompanied by a little honey for extra sweetness that compliments the flavor of the flowers. Oils and extracts of this flower can have a strong, bitter taste to them, however, so they should not be used to make tea.
Although different methods can be employed to make chamomile tea, loose leaves or teabags are often preferred. The "leaves" are usually petals from the chamomile flower, which can have hot water poured over them or be placed in an infuser and then dipped into a cup. Teabags with chamomile can be purchased from a number of companies and stores, and make preparation quite easy.
Possible Medicinal Uses
Chamomile tea often includes some peppermint to enhance the flavor and aid digestion for the drinker, though lemongrass can be included to help relax the drinker's nerves. One of its most common uses is as a sleep aid, since it lacks caffeine. Ancient Egyptians grew chamomile to treat a variety of ailments. They believed it was a sacred herb associated with the sun god Ra, and would present offerings to appease Him.
Although many people now associate chamomile with drowsiness, the Egyptians used it for gastrointestinal disorders and women's ailments. In fact, the botanical name for German chamomile, Matrocaria chamomilla, includes the Latin term for "womb." Many women still drink chamomile tea to help soothe discomforts associated with menstruation and pregnancy. Some people also treat liver disorders and kidney stones by drinking tea or taking chamomile extract as a medicine. Rolled up, steeped plant material has even been used as a poultice for injuries.
Benefits and Drawbacks
Active ingredients include alphabisabolol, matricin, and bioflavonoids in the flower's light blue oil, though the tea itself has almost no calories and very little nutritional content. Since it has such low toxicity, chamomile tea is often recommended for children with colds, insomnia, or upset stomachs. Some people have experienced allergic reactions to chamomile, however, and more concentrated oils and extracts should not be used by anyone who is pregnant or nursing. Incidents of allergic reactions to chamomile seem most common in those with allergies to ragweed and similar plants. Anyone with existing medical conditions or chronic problems should consult a health care professional for additional information, and to ensure chamomile is safe with other medications.