By: Jill Ettinger

Getting your Tarot cards read may offer you a momentary glimpse of the mystical, but if you really want your fortune read (and improved upon!), you need look no further than your local tea aisle, or even your own backyard. The benefits of chamomile tea—a cupboard classic—may improve your life well beyond the comforts of warm sips and reflective moments. It’s a cupful of the mystical and medicinal all in one.

A member of the daisy family, chamomile is a traditional folk remedy known for its soft and sweet taste. It is delightfully floral, and some say it resembles apples and vanilla. But its flavor, once you’ve had it, is unmistakable. To make tea, chamomile flower petals are dried and steeped in hot water. The flowers contain potent terpenoids and flavonoids that may help to reduce inflammation and bring relief to a number of common ailments. The flowers are also revered for their sweet fragrance. The chamomile essential oil and petals are used extensively in personal care, cosmetics, and aromatherapy.

The Benefits of Chamomile – Dating Back to Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egyptians loved chamomile. They revered it for its use in mummification and associated it with the gods of the sun (likely due to its sunlike colors). The Romans used chamomile, too, as did the Vikings and Greeks. Throughout history, its properties have been linked to purification and protection. Some believe that if you plant chamomile around your home, it can protect you and keep evil spirits from entering (mothers-in-law are highly immune to it, though). Wear chamomile garlands in your hair to attract a mate (and possibly a bee), or carry a flower in your pocket for good luck.

Chamomile’s uses aren’t just for humans (or spirits), either. Some experts suggest planting chamomile near struggling plants could help to revive them and save them from death.

But whether or not you believe in folklore, believe in chamomile’s sound science. Here’s everything you need to know about chamomile’s benefits for your health, your mood, and your sleep.

Photo by Alice Pasqual

1. Chamomile balances blood sugar in diabetics

A growing body of research points to the benefits of chamomile for people suffering from type-2 diabetes and pre-diabetes. While not a substitute for any diabetes medication (never stop any medication without first consulting with your doctor), there is data suggesting that adding chamomile tea to your diet could help to keep blood sugar from spiking. Not only does chamomile show an ability to balance blood sugar, but it has also been linked to the suppression of certain enzymes linked to an increased risk of vision, kidney, and nerve damage associated with diabetes.

2. Chamomile reduces inflammation

Inflammation of the skin from infections such as poison ivy to digestive inflammation and gastrointestinal disorders all showed signs of improvement with exposure to chamomile, according to the National Institute of Health. While long-term inflammatory conditions can be a marker of more complicated issues (and, again, always take conditions to your doctor first), a cup of chamomile may help bring relief to acute cases of indigestion or overworked muscles after that rough Pilates class. A warm chamomile tea bag can work as a compress on skin conditions. But note that some people can have negative reactions to chamomile, especially people with pollen allergies. It can aggravate symptoms associated with seasonal allergies including itchy eyes, runny nose, and irritated skin. 

3. Chamomile relieves menstrual cramps

A cup of tea is often the go-to during menstruation—the warm liquid is soothing and calming. And for sufferers of menstrual cramps, making sure that tea is chamomile may be a smart move. Studies have linked chamomile consumption to reduced menstrual cramp pain in women who consumed it for a month or more. Chamomile can also reduce anxiety and improve mood. 

4. Chamomile improves sleep

Millions of Americans suffer from poor sleep hygiene. But rather than turn to drugs that can leave you feeling groggy the next day and actually interrupt healthy sleep cycles, could a simple cup of chamomile do the trick? Centuries of observed use suggests that may be the case. Chamomile has been highly regarded as a sleep and relaxation aid for millennia. And modern medicine is validating that. One study found that chamomile improved sleep, working like benzodiazepine (Valium and Xanax) to relax the user and aid in faster and more sound sleep. In fact, there’s research suggesting that chamomile binds to benzodiazepine receptors in the brain. This could be why it’s relied on for relaxation and improved mood as well.

5. Chamomile might prevent certain types of cancer

Like a number of other teas (namely proper black, green, oolong, or white tea—Camellia Sinensis), chamomile is showing promise for cancer preventation. Studies have linked it to targeting cancer cells and preventing their development. One study found it worked to target cancer tumors. But scientists say there is much more work to be done as most of the studies have been on animals, not humans.

Jill Ettinger is an LA-based writer and editor focused on vegan and cruelty-free living.

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