History of Chamomile
However you pronounce it, the chamomile herb has been a staple of the herbal scene for centuries. From its revered status as a sacred herb in both Ancient Egyptian and Anglo-Saxon cultures, to the millions of cups of chamomile tea that are brewed each year, chamomile is a gentle, sunny herb which is known for its soothing and calming properties.
Roman vs. German Chamomile
First things first. In the discussion about chamomile one thing is sure to pop up, and that is that there are two main types of chamomile flowers. One is Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile L.) and the other is German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita L.). The major differences between these two herbs (at least for those of us who only need a surface understanding) have to do with how the plants grow, where they originated, and the differences in the essential oils they yield (German Chamomile’s essential oil is blue!). Mostly though, these two plants are very similar and are used for similar purposes. They look almost identical and both have a sweet, fruity scent, so although it’s nice to know there is a difference, it doesn’t really affect their magickal uses very much.
Chamomile gets its name from the Greek words “khamai” and “melon”, together khamaimelon or chamaimelon, meaning earth apple. The Greek writer Pliny the Elder described the plant’s sweet scent as smelling like apples, but because they grew near the ground, there were called earth apples. In Latin the name is chamomilla, which was eventually spelled chamomile in English. In Spain, chamomile is given the name “manzanilla”, meaning little apple.
A Sacred Herb
Chamomile held a special place in ancient Egyptian culture. Chamomile was a sacred herb, thought to be given as a gift from Ra, the Sun God. Crushed petals were used on wealthy women’s skin as a cosmetic treatment, and the herb was also used in the embalming oil in the mummification process. According to this source, during the 70 day mummification process, the body cavities of the mummy were lined with several materials including “spices such as cinnamon, chamomile, cassia, anise, marjoram, and cumin”. They also treated many illnesses with chamomile, such as fevers and malaria.
The Anglo-Saxon culture also revered chamomile. In the Lacnunga ( “Remedies”), an 11th century Anglo-Saxon medical text/prayer/herbal remedy book, chamomile is mentioned in the Nine Herbs Prayer.
Remember, Maythen (Chamomile), what you made known,
What you accomplished at Alorford,
That never a man should lose his life from infection
After Maythen was prepared for his foodThe Song of the Nine Sacred Herbs, The Lacnunga
In other cultures, the chamomile, although not worshiped, is treated with the utmost respect. In Slovakia, for example, folklore says it is customary to bow when you come across chamomile to show respect for its healing powers, and in Germany, it is sometimes called alles zutraut, meaning “capable of anything”.
History of Chamomile
The research shows that the cultivation of chamomile began between 9000 and 7000 BCE, in the Neolithic period, but the recorded history begins with the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. German chamomile originated from Europe and Asia, while Roman chamomile came from Western Europe and North Africa. Interestingly, Roman chamomile was named as such not because it was cultivated in Rome, but because an English botanist found it growing wild in the Coliseum. He brought it back to England and it is now one of the most popular types of chamomile.
The herb grew in popularity in the middle ages. Many of the herbalist writers of this time mention chamomile. It is found in the Illustrated Herbal (11th century), and in The Complete Herbal (17th century) by Culpepper. The entry states: “Garden Chamomel, is hot and dry in the first degree, and as gallant a medicine against the stone in the bladder as grows upon the earth, you may take it inwardly, I mean the decoction of it, being boiled in white wine, or inject the juice of it into the bladder with a syringe. It expels wind, helps belchings, and potently provokes the menses: used in baths, it helps pains in the sides, gripings and gnawings in the belly.”
Like the dandelion and marigold, chamomile was brought to North America by English colonists in the 17th century. It is rumored that doctors in the colony would carry chamomile in their bags because it was so often used to treat conditions.
Uses & Folklore of Chamomile
Chamomile has several medicinal uses. As a tea it is used to calm, relax, detoxify the body, and promote sleep. In oil form chamomile has been used to treat fungus infections and aid in muscle relaxation, as well as in cosmetics. As a compress it can help treat burns, diaper rash, eye infections, and cracked nipples. It has also been used to treat “hay fever, inflammation, muscle spasms, menstrual disorders, insomnia, ulcers, wounds, gastrointestinal disorders, rheumatic pain, and hemorrhoids”. German chamomile’s latin name Matricaria, refers to the word for ‘womb’, because chamomile was often used to help women with menstrual and birthing pains. And in fact, chamomile heralds the nickname “plant’s physician” because it is known to keep other plants in the garden healthy.
Chamomile was also used during the Civil War to help soldiers deal with diarrhea and stomach issues, and on the Santa Fe Trail for headaches and flatulence.
Chamomile has been used in wine and other beverages. Manzanilla is the name of a Spanish sherry flavored with chamomile. However chamomile is most often consumed in tea form, with an estimated one million cups being consumed every day. Because of its reputation for being a gentle relaxation agent, it is one herb which is often given to children to help them relax into a peaceful sleep.
The herb is often used in cosmetics and lotions. In the past it was used by Norsemen to lighten and shine braided hair. Chamomile water was used to ritually bath newborns (a type of baptism) and the flower water was used for other types of blessing ceremonies.
In Magickal Workings
In magickal spells and rituals chamomile is most often used for the following:
- Cultivating positivity (transforming negative energy into positive, not simply repelling it)
- Sun magick
- Attracting wealth
- Bringing luck and success
- Cleansing the throat chakra
- Attracting peace, love, pure intentions, and restfulness
- Bringing strength, lightness, and confidence into your life
A few ways to use chamomile in your magickal workings are to simply grow it to attract positivity and/or wealth. Make pouches filled with chamomile and other herbs to attract positivity, love, money, or strength. Lay chamomile petals at your doorstep to invite in positivity, or spray or diffuse chamomile essential oil for any of the above properties. Take a chamomile bath to cleanse and happify yourself. You can also drink straight chamomile tea to relax and comfort your mind, or drink chamomile in a tea mix to attract other properties (Check out my Prosperity Blend, Love Blend, & Happiness Blend which feature chamomile). With its sweet smell and gentle nature, chamomile is a versatile, beautiful, and gentle herb to incorporate into your magickal life!
This week’s recipe is for sweet, delicious Chamomile Honey Pancakes! They capture the gentle sweetness of the herb and its sunny and bright energies. (Bonus recipe for chamomile honey in case you want to double up the chamomileness).