The Spartan Guide to Chamomile
The Claim People have been using this gentle herb for centuries. In the United States, we know it best as a tea that brings on sleep and eases an upset stomach. But the rest of the world knows it has far-reaching applications that include treating skin problems and curing infection.
The Evidence Compared to many herbs, chamomile has been fairly well studied. A German governmental organization approved it as a tea or dietary supplement for stomach cramps and for topical use to fight bacteria and bring down swelling, and many people use the herb to heal slow-healing wounds and such skin conditions as eczema, chickenpox, diaper rash, and psoriasis. (Adding it to bathwater is an easy way to coat your skin.)
On the chilling-out front, preliminary studies suggest that chamomile supplements might aid generalized anxiety disorder, and anecdotally, millions love it as a gentle sleep aid.
And here's one more, under-the-radar use for chamomile: In women, it may help clear up a urinary tract infection (UTI). “If it’s an early UTI and you’re waiting for the urinalysis to come back from the lab, before you go on an antibiotic, I tell people to try this natural remedy,” says Svetlana Kogan, M.D., a family physician in New York City and author of Diet Slave No More.
How to Use It The simplest way to get chamomile into your system is by buying organic tea and making a concentrated cup. “For better sleep, I combine it with valerian root,” Dr. Kogan says. The plant also takes the form of dried flower heads, liquid extracts, tinctures, and ointments.
If you're using it to treat a UTI, prepare to feel awkward. Then do this: In a pot, combine one handful of dried herb for every cup of water. Boil the mixture on the stove for five minutes, then place it on the floor, wrap a long towel around your unclothed lower half, and carefully squat over the pot for 15 minutes or so, so the steam is trapped around the affected area. (Use common sense to keep from burning yourself). "I know how it sounds," says Dr. Kogan. "But the chamomile steam can absolutely cure the infection, and it has an immediate effect.”