By Janelle Eklund
Rain drops hung heavy on yellow chamomile buds and their lacy leaves. Bright and fresh they lured me to their sweet essence. The garden beds were pregnant with the year's supply of nourishment. Chamomile loves the beds and I let it grow here and there to mingle with the planted seeds I sow each spring. Just don't let it grow right next to the radishes - it will shade them too much. It gets along better with other tall plants like potatoes, lettuce, peas, carrots, etc. It doesn't need any encouragement nor transplanting, popping up here and there, and seeming to be happy to grow anywhere around disturbed areas. The nice thing about it is it grows throughout the summer season. With scissors, I clip the tops of yellow buds from a nice patch growing in the compost. The whole plant has value but the best quality is mostly in the yellow-green flower heads. It will dry in a basket, or in the food dryer, and then be stored away for those evenings when I'm ready to relax with a cup of its tea, luring me to sleep.
Some people call the chamomile growing around here Pineapple Weed, as the yellow heads can taste somewhat like pineapple. To me they have a very nice sweet chamomile flavor - and aroma. Matrix part of the latin name means 'mother' and caria means 'dear'. This aromatic plant is not indigenous to the area.
Matricaria has many fine qualities. It is anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, aromatic bitter, carminative (relieves flatulance), diaphoretic (increases sweating), galactagogue (increases the flow of mother's milk), hypnotic, nervine (calms the nerves), mild sedative, stomachic (promotes appetite or assists digestion), and vermifuge (destroys or expels parasitic worms).
In the Janice Schofield class we made a cold infusion tea with chamomile and it was very tasty. For fresh chamomile tea rinse the herb, chop it finely, put a third of a cup in a glass jar, and cover with two cups of cold water. Let it sit over night. Strain and enjoy. This cold infusion can also be made with ginger and other alkalies such as peppermint to help with indigestion, heartburn, gout, loss of appetite. Make a hot tea of it if you have a cold or flu (steam with it to relieve congestion) or drink before bed time for a good sleep (it has also been known as a remedy for nightmares). When infusing the tea with hot water make sure it is covered to keep all the good qualities of the flowers from evaporating, and then let it steep for 10 minutes. The tea is also nourishing for mothers and their infants. Dena'ina Athabascans have been known to drink the tea after giving birth (and giving a few drops to their infant) to get their milk flowing. In homeopathic form it can be calming for teething and earaches. It helps menstrual cramps and uterine disorders. If you have a rash or skin irritation use the tea on it as a wash.
Used as a poultice Matricaria can relieve aches and pains such as tight muscles, inflammations, headaches and sore eyes. Bathing in a decoction of chamomile can remove weariness and ease pain.
Matricaria is a safe and gentle herb. Janice Schofield's book does caution that "...large frequent quantities are said to cause nausea and vomiting. Some sensitive individuals have experienced skin irritation from handling the herbs".
Drink in the aroma of Matricaria and enjoy the properties of this plant growing around the footprint of our habitat.
From my light to yours-
References: The Boreal Herbal by Beverley Gray; A Modern Herbal by Mrs. M. Grieve; Discovering Wild Plants by Janice Schofield.
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.