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 food.
~ Lacnunga, Anglo-Saxon Nine Herb Charm
There’s nothing quite like a warm mug of chamomile tea. Its sweet smell rising with the steam to fill the senses, golden liquid reflecting my face in the circle of my cup, and the sweet and mildly bitter taste. I often put a dollop of honey in mine. My child’s too as this is his favorite of the herbal infusions we’ve made together — he likes his blended with lavender and honey and calls it his “sweet dreams potion.”
Chamomile is a staple herb for me and many other witches. It sits in the cabinet, waiting to be of use when you need comfort, rest, and healing. I’m rarely without it, especially since having a child.
I first met this herbal ally in the wild when I lived in Alaska. It was in a gravel driveway. I stared down at this little green plant with its golden head and thought, “you look familiar.” A quick look at my regional plant book told me it was a local variant of chamomile called pineapple weed. I was surprised by its tenacity. The chamomile I’d known previously had been in garden pots and looked like delicate daisies. This one was as fierce as dandelion. I was impressed and learned a lot about how this gentle herb was more than it seemed.
People who are allergic to chamomile or members of the daisy family should not use chamomile. Apigenin, a phytochemical in chamomile, may interact with anticoagulant agents and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, while other phytochemicals may adversely interact with sleep-enhancing herbal products and vitamins. Chamomile is not recommended to be taken with aspirin or non-salicylate NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), as it may cause herb-drug interaction:
“Chamomile consists of several ingredients including coumarin, glycoside, herniarin, flavonoid, farnesol, nerolidol and germacranolide. Despite the presence of coumarin, as chamomile’s effect on the coagulation system has not yet been studied, it is unknown if a clinically significant drug-herb interaction exists with antiplatelet/anticoagulant drugs. However, until more information is available, it is not recommended to use these substances concurrently.”
~ Abebe, W. (1 December 2002). “Herbal medication: potential for adverse interactions with analgesic drugs”. Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics
While many herbalists consider chamomile a gentle and safe plant, some sites claim it can cause uterine contractions (though they specify Roman Chamomile Chamaemelum nobile). Others claim there is not enough information as to whether or not it is safe for pregnant or nursing women or infants.
As with all herbs, consult your medical professional before taking herbs especially regimentally (rather than just a small amount for food now and then) or when using herbs when your health is delicate (such as when pregnant or for the very young).
Note: All information given in this article is for educational purposes only. Nothing in this document is meant to diagnose or treat any health condition.
The folk names for Matricaria recutita are German Chamomile, Mægðen, Maythen, Mayweed, Ground Apple, Heermanschen, Manzanilla, Chamaimylon, Baldersbrow, Whig Plant. The word “chamomile” derived via French and Latin from Greek χαμαίμηλον (khamaimēlon), “earth apple”, from χαμαί (khamai) “on the ground” and μῆλον (mēlon) “apple”. First used in the 13th century, the spelling “chamomile” corresponds to the Latin chamomilla and Greek chamaimelon. I tend to use Maythen, Baldr’s Brow, or Ground Apple in my grimoire but chamomile when talking to other people to avoid confusion.
My preference, and the herb I am discussing in this article, is Matricaria recutita but it does have a close cousin — Chamaemelum nobile aka Roman Chamomile. The two share folk names and work in healing but do have their differences. Matricaria recutita tends to have more of the essential oil chamazulene and stronger properties. However, both are healing and do not be overly concerned about which one is in your tea. Rather, focus on the spirit of the plant you come in contact with and how to build a relationship with it personally rather than the species as a whole.
Varieties of chamomile are found all over North America, Europe, North Africa, and most of Asia. Its uses are just as varied.
Chamomile’s most common medicinal use is as a digestive aid. The gut was one of the main issues I was concerned with when I fell in love with this plant. I’d just had my baby and he had colic. Chamomile showed not only an affinity for the stomach but also for children in those long nights. I made a weak tea with the flowers and pulled it up into a syringe. Feeding my little one a few drops here and there really helped him not only sleep better but pass gas with greater ease. (If you are dealing with colic, other things I tried included leg exercises, olive oil on the feet, and coriander and lavender essential oil diffused in the room. These all helped but sometimes the baby just needs a parent to love on them and carry them around a room at 3am until it passes.)
Also for the gut — if you frequently travel, I recommend carrying chamomile tea and peppermint tea along with a magnesium supplement to help with stress and gut issues related to travel. We keep chamomile tea bags in their individual wrappers in our first aid kits for healing the gut, soothing the eyes, used as gargle or packed in around teeth for toothache, used for eczema, insect bites — pretty much anywhere there is inflammation that needs a gentle soothing touch.
The gut isn’t the only thing chamomile helps relax. Chamomile is a great stress reliever and usually safe for children who are anxious. This is illustrated in Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit (in 1902) where Peter is given chamomile tea after being chased by Mr. McGregor. It is also a mild relaxant for the smooth muscles of the uterus, bladder and respiratory tract.
As a bitter, warming herb, it also has antiparasitic and antifungal properties. Its a great addition to herbal remedies for these issues, especially when someone cannot handle stronger herbs. As a flower essence or homeopath, chamomile is great for teething, allergies, and fever in young children.
One of my favorite herbalists, Kiva Rose, discusses chamomile in her articles for Plant Healer Magazine and in her book, A Weedwife’s Remedy. She put chamomile’s powers of healing and its aid to healers so succinctly. “There’s a tendency by some of us to be less interested in the classic gentle herbs whose effects seem obvious, mild and less than profound. And yet, Chamomile has retained its popularity and reputation over the years for a very a specific reason. It works. It’s an effective, widely applicable, safe medicine well-loved by countless generations of mothers, herbalists and more recently, even medical doctors. This small but fragrant apple of the earth remains an invaluable medicine for all of us. Through both sweet and the bitter tastes, Chamomile provides us with a simple yet essential remedy.” I think it was beautifully said and I fully agree — chamomile is an essential remedy that works.
In the home, chamomile has a variety of culinary uses beyond healing tea. It is actually a beer herb and also makes a very good herbal mead (my greatest brag in brewing is my chamomile mead that is generally agreed by those who have tried it to be the best. Something about the flowers really brings out the taste of honey in the final product).
Chamomile can also be used as a yellow dye for fabric and in a hair wash to lighten hair. In the garden it is a great companion to lettuces, leafy greens, and cabbages. It is also used by some organic gardeners as a spray for certain tree diseases.
Magically, chamomile is associated with the sun, light, gold, and solar deities. That said, I often associate it specifically with the Norse Gods, Frigga and Her son Baldr and Their associations with parenting, children, home and garden care and protection, and healing from fear and loss. While neither of these deities are solar deities like Sunna, They both shine Their light on mysteries among the Gods and humans alike.
Despite being a gentle herb (and therefore often overlooked by witches hungry for the power and taboo of poisonous herbs) chamomile is actually a very powerful herb. Its English name Maythen was originally spelled Mægðen, as can be seen from the Lacnunga poem, and maeg is cognate to mage and maegen, both words about power.
Golden chamomile is also a good addition to money spells and charms. It’s great for “sweetening” someone to giving you the money you want. Gamblers also use it in hand washes to grant them luck.
Chamomile has a gentling effect on spells so if you are wanting to do, say, a love spell but don’t want things hot and heavy from the start, add this to your herbal blend and avoid sexually stimulating herbs like damiana and patchouli.
It also is used to remove curses and hexes when sprinkled around the property, especially gardens of those that use herbs to heal. It burns away the darkness and the creeping malignancy like a light shone on shadows.
All that said, I usually use chamomile for spells and charms to help children the most. As a relaxing herb, it is a great addition to dream magic especially when you are looking to bless someone with rest and good dreams rather than journey work or lucid dreaming. Add it to teas, pillows, or room sprays for children dealing with fear of going to bed or bad dreams.
I also use chamomile as a cleansing and empowering herb for charms I give to new mothers, especially those who are having a hard time. One of my favorites is combining chamomile with birch by making a poppet of the wood carved with the rune, Berkana, and bathing it in chamomile tea. I give it to the mother as a guardian over her and her child along with other things she can use with her newborn. This charm is one of the first things I did for others when becoming a devotee to Frigga and for that, it will always be a favorite to create and gift.
Gemyne þu, mægðen, hwæt þu ameldodest,
Hwæt ðu geændadest æt Alorforda;
þæt næfre for gefloge feorh ne gesealde
Syþðan him mon mægðan to mete gegyrede.
~ Anglo-Saxon Lacnunga Charm
[December Fields-Bryant (they/them) is a polytheist witch, alchemist, and certified herbalist living in the woods in rural Tennessee with their partner, child, and stubborn dog. You can learn more about them and their work at hornandhearth.wordpress.com or on twitter @scribahearth.]