For over 2,000 years, the small, cheerful, daisy-like flowers of the Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile, syn. Anthemis nobilis) herb have enjoyed a medicinal reputation in Europe and especially the Mediterranean region, and they are still in widespread use today, primarily as a digestive aid due to their rather innate bitterness. The plant is native to southern and western Europe and has naturalized in North America.
Photo by Mars Vilaubi
A familial relative of German chamomile (Matricaria recutita, syn. M. chamomilla), these two chamomiles share a similar appearance, apple-like fragrance when fresh, and many of the same properties and applications, even though the two herbs have a different chemistry. German chamomile essential oil is a deep inky blue (due to a higher chamazulene content providing more potent anti-inflammatory effects than Roman) with a pungent tobacco-like, herbaceous, sweet, warm aroma. Pale yellow-to-gold in color, Roman chamomile essential oil has an intensely sweet, fruity-floral, warm, apple-like herbaceous scent. Both essential oils are produced by steam distillation of the small, daisy-like flower heads and the fragrance of each can easily dominate a formula, so keep that in mind when experimenting with recipes.
Owing to its gentleness, Roman chamomile essential oil, when used as directed, is a soothing and safe oil even for infants and young children. I often use it alone or in combination with cardamom, lavender, or frankincense essential oil in formulas designed for bathing and massage to calm irritability and induce sound sleep, as well as in topical blends designed to ease painful symptoms of earache, colic, and teething.
Because of its cooling, deeply relaxing nature, Roman chamomile is a good choice for addressing hot flashes, stress-induced, inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema or hives, and tension/migraine headaches. Bouts of sciatica, neuralgia, lower back pain, menstrual cramps, and spasmodic muscle cramps respond favorably, as well.
Photo by Stephanie Tourles
Essential Properties In A Nutshell
Though German chamomile essential oil offers calming and soothing properties, in cases of anxiety, insomnia, mental strain, anger, fear, nervous tension, and other stress-related conditions such as the emotional swings of PMS and menopause, I prefer to use Roman chamomile essential oil for psychological or emotional concerns due to its even gentler nature, softer, more pleasing scent, and potent relaxing, nervine, and anti-anxiety properties. It is also a comforting, cooling pain reliever; exceptional topical digestive agent; remarkable antispasmodic, with relaxant and sedative properties; specific for infants, the elderly, and those with sensitive skin in need of healing with a soft touch.
Safety Data & Usage Information: Roman chamomile essential oil is considered nontoxic and generally nonirritating, but it may cause dermatitis in some individuals. Always dilute essential oils properly — according to age, health, medication intake, and skin condition — prior to application. My book, Stephanie Tourles’s Essential Oils: A Beginner’s Guide, is a good reference, complete with safety guidelines and dilution charts.
The following recipe highlights the therapeutic nature of Roman chamomile essential oil with regard to nurturing the skin. It’s not only beneficial for babies’ delicate skin, but also for those of you with ultra-sensitive skin, no matter what your age. This gentle oil will be your skin’s best friend. It can also serve as a healing aid for new bruises, insect bites and stings, and environmental assaults such as sunburn, windburn, or dry, cracked, chapped skin.
Pure and Gentle Herbal Baby Oil
With skin-soothing, calming herbal extracts and a subtle apple-floral aroma, this blend provides a conditioning, protective barrier that seals in valuable moisture while serving as an effective healing aid for minor irritations of a baby’s delicate skin. Use as a full-body massage oil, bath oil, foot rub, or diaper rash preventive oil.
• 2 drops lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) essential oil
• 2 drops Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile, syn. Anthemis nobilis) essential oil
• 1/4 cup calendula-infused oil or jojoba oil
• 2-ounce plastic squeeze bottle or dark glass bottle with a pump or dropper top
To Make The Blend: Combine the lavender and Roman chamomile essential oils in the bottle, then add either the calendula or jojoba oil. Screw the top on the bottle and shake vigorously for 2 minutes to blend. Label the bottle and set it in a cool, dark location for 24 hours so that the oils can synergize.
Store at room temperature, way from heat and light; use within 1 year (or 2 years if you used jojoba oil).
To Use: Shake well before each use. Massage a small amount into baby’s skin as desired. For use as a bath oil, add 1/2to 1 teaspoon to a small tub full of warm water and swish to blend with your hands before placing your child in the tub. After bathing, pat baby’s skin dry, and follow with an application of this same oil or your favorite natural baby lotion.
Yield: 2 ounces (60 ml)