Finding a natural solution
Based in Lake County, Illinois, Heidi Cardenas has been freelancing since 2000. She studied business administration at the College of Lake County and has a background in human resources administration. She has written for "Chicago Parent Magazine" and guest blogs for The Herb Companion, Natural Living and TribLocal. She enjoys writing on a wide range of topics, but especially gardening, natural living, and home and family eco topics.
If you have a green thumb, or even if you don't, you'll want to grow the flowering herb chamomile to have your own homegrown natural first aid treatments and personal care preparations. I planted some chamomile for the first time this spring and even though only three plants sprouted, they have filled a large part of a garden box. Most people are familiar with chamomile as a tea used for a soothing sleep aid and relief from stomach ailments, but German chamomile, Matricaria recutita, has many effective first aid and bath and body care uses. This annual flowering herb related to daisies is native to Europe and Asia and has been used since ancient times for its sweet apple or pineapple scent and nervine, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic and antiseptic properties. It also contains coumarin, a blood-thinner, so those who are taking warfarin (Coumadin), as well as those with bleeding disorders such as ulcers, and those anticipating surgery or post-surgery, should not use chamomile. Those allergic to ragweed and chrysanthemums may not want to use chamomile either, as it is in the same family as those plants.
Chamomile's anti-inflammatory properties make it a gentle natural treatment for arthritis, rheumatism, sprains and swellings, either as a strong tea to drink, or as a poultice made from freshly-cut, crushed and blanched flowers applied to affected body parts. Use wet, cool chamomile tea bags every couple of hours on eyes, or rinse them with cooled chamomile tea to clear and soothe pink eye infection. Chamomile oil, pressed from fresh flowers with an oil press or citrus press, soothes skin irritations, scrapes, scratches and rashes. The oil makes a nice all-purpose salve when blended with melted beeswax and a drop or two of extract of peppermint or spearmint.
Chamomile has many uses in the bath as well. It is an effective hair lightener, creating a lovely shade of hair two to three times lighter than the natural color. Prepare a pot of chamomile tea, add a half cup of lemon juice and use it to rinse your hair after washing daily until hair is light enough. To create highlights, make a strong chamomile tea with lemon juice, partition hair into sections to be highlighted with hair clips and soak hair in the solution for up to half an hour. Run hot bath water over fresh chamomile flowers, chopped and put in a muslin bag, for a relaxing, deliciously scented bath that will also soften and soothe skin.
German chamomile, different from other types of chamomile, is easy to grow in the garden or patio or in large pots and garden boxes. The seeds are tiny and need light to germinate, so sprinkle them on top of soil covered with a thin layer of light seed-starting mix moistened with a spray bottle and keep them in a sunny location. The seedlings that emerge are small feathery plants that grow rapidly if kept moistened and in the sun. The plants grow about a foot and a half high and produce many small flowers with yellow centers framed with white petals. Once flowers open, they are ready for harvest. Cut the flowers off the tops of the stems and either use them fresh, or dry them and store for later use.
Try growing a crop of German chamomile to stock your first aid cabinet with natural remedies and you'll be as pleasantly surprised as I was. Grow a few plants or grow a whole garden plot to have plenty of homegrown chamomile on hand for a variety of common ailments.