The chamomile sisters

The chamomile sisters are kind and gentle, sensible and reliable. But this is where their similarities end. Blue is the practical sort, she is down-to-earth and takes a no-nonsense approach to life. Like a caring but firm matron, she steps in to sort things out and provides emotional strength. Roman takes a softer, subtler approach. She is the listener and comforter. Wherever a storm is brewing she enters with serenity and sunshine to cast the clouds away.

This week I decided to use two essential oils. So similar are the chamomiles in their therapeutic actions that it hardly seemed worth separating them. There is a third chamomile – Moroccan chamomile (Ormensis mixta) – although blue and roman are more commonly used in aromatherapy.

The only thing that separates these two oils, in my mind, is their fragrance. Roman chamomile has a sweet, floral, almost fruity fragrance, reminiscent of apple blossom. Blue chamomile has a strong, overpowering and herbaceous aroma – it’s an acquired taste, one I’ve not acquired.

Both herbs yield their oils by steam distillation of their small, delicate, white daisy-like flowers. Blue is an annual herb growing to about 60cm, with a hairless stem and feathery leaves, and roman is perennial, growing to about 25cm with a hairy stem and feathery leaves.

Traditionally the chamomiles are known as the ‘children’s remedy’. They are among the gentlest oils you can use for babies, children and for those with sensitive skins. For obvious reasons, I prefer to use roman chamomile for children’s remedies and skin care. Most people find its scent more pleasant than blue, and an aromatherapy blend is as much about the aesthetics as it is about healing.

Chamomile compress

Both chamomiles have a strong anti-inflammatory action. They are helpful for muscular aches and pains, sprains, inflamed joints and torn tendons, or for irritated, inflamed skin, rheumatism and arthritis. I often blend chamomile for backache with other anti-inflammatory oils such as lavender.

However, I’ve found blue to be the more anti-inflammatory of the two, so, with nose peg in place, this is how you make a hot chamomile compress.

You’ll need:

  • shallow bowl filled with near boiling water
  • blue chamomile oil
  • clean flannel
  • clean towels

Add five to six drops blue chamomile to the water and hold your flannel taut over the bowl until it just skims the water surface, absorbing the oil. Carefully raise the cloth (it should not be dripping) and lower slowly onto skin to allow adjustment to the heat. For example, place on an aching shoulder muscle. Then wrap the compress and that area of your body in a towel and leave for five to 10 minutes.

Hot compresses are suitable for relieving chronic pain (for example, people who chronically suffer from a bad back), menstrual cramps, to draw out infection or splinters, and for general aches and pains. Cold compresses are better for first aid use on muscle injuries such as sprains, inflammations or for acute pain or irritated skin. For a cold compress substitute the above method for a bowl of iced water. For severe injuries or persistent pain always contact a medical practitioner.

Soothing and calming

Roman’s turn. Roman chamomile is lovely to use in skin care because of its sweet floral fragrance, calming effects on the mind and soothing action on sensitive or inflamed skins. I gave this blend to a friend for a nightly facial massage oil to prevent skin breakouts during a period of stress. She found it kept her skin clear and also helped her to sleep peacefully.

Blend 30ml jojoba oil with 6 drops roman chamomile, 6 drops lavender and 6 drops geranium. Massage a teaspoonful on face and neck after cleansing your skin.

Blue and orange, roman and vanilla

For blending tips, I’ve found that blue chamomile blends very well with sweet orange or mandarin oils – in a ratio of orange 2:blue chamomile 1. The sweet zesty scent of orange offsets the strong herby aroma of blue chamomile and makes it much more palatable to use. Carry out a patch test before using sweet orange as it may irritate some sensitive skins.

After receiving some enquiries from a friend about using vanilla oil (an oil little-used in aromatherapy) I decided to explore its use with roman chamomile. They complement each other in equal ratios for a charming, warming and comforting room fragrance.

The chamomiles are among those essential oils whose uses for common everyday conditions are so varied that it would take too long to write them all here. The profiles below provide a summary of their actions and methods of use.

This post is dedicated to Sarah Bee, because she is an oasis of calm.

Profile of blue chamomile:

Latin name: Matricaria recutica
Plant family: Asteraceae (Compositae)
Plant type: herb
Perfume note: middle
Botany and origins: originally grown in Germany (it is also called German chamomile) it is native to Europe, north and west Asia and is also grown in North America, Australia and eastern Europe
Extraction: steam distillation is the most common method, although an absolute can be produced
Chemical properties/active components: 35% sesquiterpenes, which are calming, soothing and anti-inflammatory; main active constituent is chamazulene (sesquiterpene)
Blends with: orange oils, chamomiles, patchouli, geranium and lavender
Key actions: analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, bactericidal, calming, soothing, sedative
Common conditions: a children’s remedy to aid sleep; nausea, muscular pains and spasms, rheumatism and arthritis, sprains, inflamed joints and tendons; soothes dry, sensitive and irritated or itching skin, acne, allergies, burns, cuts, dermatitis, eczema, rashes, insect bites and wounds
Contraindications: non-toxic, non-sensitising and non-irritant. It is reportedly an emmenagogue (promotes menstruation); avoid during pregnancy.

Profile of roman chamomile:

Latin name: Anthemis nobilis
Plant family: Asteraceae (Compositae)
Plant type: herb
Perfume note: middle
Botany and origins: native to south and west Europe, it is also grown in England, Belgium, France, Italy, Hungary and North America
Extraction: steam distillation
Chemical properties/active components: 75% esters (particularly active constituents are angelates responsible for its anti-inflammatory actions)
Blends with: orange oils, citrus oils, floral oils, herb oils – and vanilla!
Key actions: analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, bactericidal, calming, soothing, sedative
Common conditions: a children’s remedy to aid sleep and soothe irritated skin; nausea, menstrual pain and PMS; muscular pain, rheumatism, arthritis, sprains, inflamed joints; acne, allergic skin reactions, burns, cuts, dermatitis, eczema, inflamed skin, insect bites, rashes, sensitive skin; headaches, depression, nervous tension, insomnia, migraine, stress, irritability and restlessness
Contraindications: non-toxic and non-irritant, although it may irritate very sensitive skins. It is reportedly an emmenagogue (promotes menstruation); avoid during pregnancy.

Further reading: These profiles are based on my own experience and knowledge of using these essential oils. Other aromatherapy texts will list a wider range of properties and uses. The most comprehensive essential oil profiles that I have read are given by Salvatore Battaglia’s The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy, Second Edition, published by Perfect Potion, 2003, Australia. ISBN:  0-6464-2896-9

Image © 123RF

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