Essential oils can pack extraordinary benefits into a tiny amount of liquid. One powerful essential oil is derived from the chamomile flower, one of nature’s most healing plants. Chamomile, part of the Asteraceae family related to asters and daisies, exhibits numerous medicinal benefits when distilled into oil, most notably as an aid against inflammation and cancer.
The herb, whose name comes from a Greek term meaning “earth apple,” has been used for 5,000 years as a medicine. Now modern research is helping us understand how chamomile works. One of its best properties is its ability to combat inflammation, which is the source of most pain in the human body. Rather than simply treat the symptom by interfering with the body’s pain messages like pharmaceutical pills do, chamomile essential oils address the inflammation at the root cause of the suffering.
“They’re effective at reducing facial swelling, skin irritations, toothaches, pain from infections and underlying issues of inflammation,” writes naturopathic doctor Josh Axe. “This is the reason chamomile extract is commonly added to beauty products like facial or body lotions, toothpastes, and bath soaps.” It’s also useful for arthritis, injuries, back pain, fevers, pregnancy and post-partum pain, Dr. Axe notes.
The key to chamomile’s effectiveness lies in the volatile oils found in its flowers, including alpha-bisabolol, alpha-bisabolol oxides A & B, and matrici.
“A study in human volunteers demonstrated that chamomile flavonoids and essential oils penetrate below the skin surface into the deeper skin layers,” according to “Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future,” a review of the herb published in Molecular Medicine Reports in 2010. “This is important for their use as topical antiphlogistic (anti-inflammatory) agents.”
Chamomile’s work doesn’t stop at pain reduction, however. It also shows promise as a useful remedy in the fight against cancer. “Inhibition of cancerous cells is believed to be due to chamomile’s antioxidants called apigenin, which are bioactive constituents that appear to help fight skin, prostate, breast and ovarian cancers,” writes Dr. Axe.
A study out of Ohio State University found that apigenin can stop breast cancer cells from reproducing and spreading. “In its relationship with a set of specific proteins, apigenin re-establishes the normal profile in cancer cells,” study co-leader Andrea Doseff said in a press release. “We think this can have great value clinically as a potential cancer-prevention strategy.”
The apigenin works by blocking a certain type of cell-splicing that cancer uses to reproduce itself. “By applying this nutrient, we can activate that killing machinery. The nutrient eliminated the splicing form that inhibited cell death,” Doseff said. “Thus, this suggests that when we eat healthfully, we are actually promoting more normal splice forms inside the cells in our bodies.”
Another study, published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, found that chamomile extracts can cause apoptosis, or self-destruction, in various types of cancer cells. “Exposure of chamomile extracts caused minimal growth inhibitory responses in normal cells, whereas a significant decrease in cell viability was observed in various human cancer cell lines,” the study states. “Chamomile exposure resulted in differential apoptosis in cancer cells but not in normal cells at similar doses.” More research is sure to broaden our understanding of this plant and its amazing healing properties.
Chamomile essential oil can be applied topically to the skin after being diluted in a carrier oil, or you can put it in a bath or bowl of steaming water to inhale its precious vapors. In addition to cancer and inflammation, the oil can be used for a host of other ailments, including anxiety, depression, allergies, muscle spasms, menstrual disorders, insomnia, skin problems, ulcers, wounds, gastrointestinal problems, arthritis and hemorrhoids. The herb can also be taken as a powder, a tincture or in a soothing cup of chamomile tea in the evening.