23 October 2010

Chamomile - a Magickal Herb

Chamomile is one of the oldest favourites amongst garden herbs and its reputation as a medicinal plant shows little signs of abatement. The Egyptians reverenced it for its virtues, and from their belief in its power to cure ague, dedicated it to their gods. No plant was better known to the country folk of old, it having been grown for centuries in English gardens for its use as a common domestic medicine to such an extent that the old herbals agree that 'it is but lost time and labour to describe it'.

There are a number of different varities of Chamomile available.  True or Common Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis) which is a low-growing plant, creeping or trailing, its tufts of leaves and flowers a foot high. The root is perennial, jointed and fibrous, the stems, hairy and freely branching, are covered with leaves which are divided into thread-like segments, the fineness of which gives the whole plant a feathery appearance. The blooms appear in the later days of Summer, and are borne solitary on long, erect stalks, drooping when in bud. With their outer fringe of white ray-florets and yellow centres, they are remarkably like the daisy.

The other more common varity of Chamomile is German or Wild Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla).  Its flower heads are about 2cm broad, with about fifteen white, strap shaped, reflexed ray florets and numeroustubular yellow, perfect florets.  These flowers, though aromatic, have a very bitter taste. They contain a volatile oil, a bitter extractive and little tannic acid.

The fresh Camomile is strongly and agreeably aromatic, with a distinct scent of apples, a characteristic noted by the Greeks, on account of which they named it "ground-apple" - kamai (on the ground) and melon (an apple) - the origin of the name Chamomile. The Spaniards call it 'Manzanilla,' which signifies "a little apple", and give the same name to one of their lightest sherries, flavoured with this plant.

When walked on, its strong, fragrant scent will often reveal its presence before it is seen. For this reason it was employed as one of the aromatic strewing herbs in the Middle Ages, and used often to be purposely planted in green walks in gardens. Indeed walking over the plant seems specially beneficial to it.

'Like a camomile bed -
The more it is trodden
The more it will spread,'

The flowers are used in medicine and it is considered that the curative properties of German Chamomile flowers are the more powerful, as the chief medical virtue of the plant lies in the central disk of yellow florets.  Some of the medicinal ailments for which chamomile can be used to assist with include sleep, analgesic, antidepressant, antirheumatic, dry skin, kidney and bladder infections, fever, headaches, indigestion, menstruation, vomiting, warts, and even eyestrain.

The taking of Chamomile flowers as a tea is extremely old fashion however it is an extremely efficacious remedy for hysterical and nervous affections in women and is used also as an emmenagogue. It has a wonderfully soothing, sedative and absolutely harmless effect. It is considered a preventive and the sole certain remedy for nightmare. It will cut short an attack of delirium tremens in the early stage. It has sometimes been employed in intermittent fevers.

Culpepper gives a long list of complaints for which Chamomile is 'profitable,' from agues and sprains to jaundice and dropsy, stating that 'the flowers boiled in Iye are good to wash the head,' and tells us that bathing with a decoction of Chamomile removes weariness and eases pain to whatever part of the body it is employed. Parkinson, in his Earthly Paradise (1656), writes:
"Camomil is put to divers and sundry users, both for pleasure and profit, both for the sick and the sound, in bathing to comfort and strengthen the sound and to ease pains in the diseased."

Turner says:
"It hath floures wonderfully shynynge yellow and resemblynge the appell of an eye . . . the herbe may be called in English, golden floure. It will restore a man to hys color shortly yf a man after the longe use of the bathe drynke of it after he is come forthe oute of the bathe. This herbe is scarce in Germany but in England it is so plenteous that it groweth not only in gardynes but also VIII mile above London, it groweth in the wylde felde, in Rychmonde grene, in Brantfurde grene.... Thys herbe was consecrated by the wyse men of Egypt unto the Sonne and was rekened to be the only remedy of all agues."

Associated with the Sun, the element of Water and the metal Gold, chamomile is believed to be connected with a variety of deities including Amun Ra, Apollo, Astarte, Buddha, Hathor, Isis, Ishtar, Jupiter, Pluto Vasudhara, Venus and Woden. The dried flower heads can be burnt as an incense when meditating or even before go to sleep in order to induce sleep and prevent nightmares. It can also be scattered around your property for protection and placing a few flowers or drops on oil on your wallet or purse is believed to attract money.

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