Family: Asteraceae (Compositae)

ROMAN CHAMOMILE (Chamaemelum nobile [L ] All.)

GERMAN CHAMOMILE (Matricaria recutita L.)

Source: Simon, J.E., A.F. Chadwick and L.E. Craker. 1984. Herbs: An Indexed Bibliography. 1971-1980. The Scientific Literature on Selected Herbs, and Aromatic and Medicinal Plants of the Temperate Zone. Archon Books, 770 pp., Hamden, CT.

Roman chamomile, Chamaemelum nobile (L.) All., and German chamomile, Matricaria recutita, are two different species of plant commonly known as the same herb.

Formerly classified as Anthemis nobilis L. and called English or Russian chamomile, Roman chamomile is a creeping, herbaceous perennial native to western Europe and North Africa. Reaching a height of about 0.3 meters, the aromatic plant is characterized by downy stems and yellow-disc, white-ray flowers that appear in late spring or early July. Roman chamomile is cultivated in Europe, especially in Belgium, France, and England.

German chamomile, Matricaria recutita L., is also known as matricaria, wild chamomile, Hungarian chamomile, and sweet false chamomile. This many-branched, erect-growing annual, formerly classified as Matricaria chamomilla L., reaches a height of about 0.3 meter and has yellow disc white ray flowers. Cultivated in Germany, Hungary, Russia, and several other European countries, German chamomile is native to Europe and western Asia and naturalized in North America.

The reported life zone for the chamomiles is 7 to 26 degrees centigrade with an annual precipitation of 0.4 to 1.4 meters and a soil pH of 6.5 to 8.0 (Roman) or 4.8 to 8.3 (German) (4.1-31). Seeded or transplanted into the field for cultivation, Roman chamomile requires full sun but will grow in most soils having good drainage. Cultivated from seed, German chamomile grows in poor, clay soils. With Roman chamomile, the flower heads are hand picked and dried at the height of bloom about five times each growing season. The short, two-month growing season of German chamonile allows it to be interplanted with other biennial herbs or planted as an early or late crop.

The essential oil of Roman chamomile consists chiefly of chamazulene, angelic acid, tiglic acid, and several sesquiterpene lactones (1.4-34, 14.1-10). Other constituents of Roman chamomile include anthemic acid, athesterol, anthemene, resin and tannin (14.1-35). The essential oil of German chamomile contains chamazulene, -bisabolol, -bisabololaxides A and B, spathulenol cis-En-yn-dicycloether and farnesene (1.7-121, 2.3-74). Other constituents of German chamomile include a volatile oil, anthemic acid, antheminidine, tannin, matricarin, and apigenin (11.1-136, 14.1-35).

Dried flowers from Roman and German chamomile are employed in herbal teas. Flower heads of Roman chamomile have been used in the manufacture of herb beers (11.1-49). The essential oils are used as agents in alcoholic beverages, confections, desserts, perfumes, and cosmetics. Roman chamomile is often grown as a ground cover or as an ornamental in flower gardens.

As medicinal plants, the chamomiles have been traditionally considered to be antispasmodics, carminatives, diaphoretics, emmenagogues, sedatives, and stomachics. The plants have been used as bitters, tonics, insect repellents, and as a folk remedies against asthma, colic, fevers, inflammations, and cancer (14.1-13). German chamomile has been used to induce sleep and as an anthelmintic. Roman chamomile is a pharmaceutical aromatic bitter, and chamazulene, obtained from German chamomile, is a pharmaceutical anti-inflammatory and antipyretic agent (14.1-35). Extracts of Roman chamomile have shown antitumor activity and extracts of German chamomile are reported to have antiseptic, antibacterial, and antifungal properties (1.4-34, 1.8-13, 7.2-19). Chamomile in tea may cause toxic reactions in individuals sensitive to ragweed or allergens (11.1-96). The chamomiles can also cause contact dermititis (11.1-96).

Roman and German chamomile are generally recognized as safe for human consumption as natural seasonings/flavorings and as plant extracts/essential oils from the flowers (21 CFR sections 182.10, 182.20 [1982]).

For further information, see:

Mann, C. and E.J. Staba. 1986. The Chemistry, Pharmacology, and Commercial Formulations of Chamomile. In: L.E. Craker and J.E. Simon (eds). Herbs, Spices, and Medicinal Plants. Recent Advances in Botany, Horticulture, and Pharmacology. Food Products Press Vol. 1: 235-280.

[Note: References listed above in parentheses can be found in full in the original reference].

Aromatic and Medicinal Plants Index

Last modified 6-Dec-1997