For 2017’s A to Z challenge, I’ll write about herbs and plants in literature. I hope to include information about their uses and our ancestors’ beliefs regarding them.
C is for Chamomile
Written by Kerry E.B. Black
“This herbe is called camomyl…if it be doike with wine it will beke the stone and distroyeth the yellow evel. It helpeth with akying and the diseas of lyver…” said Anthony Askham in “A Little Herball” from 1550. Elizabethan herbalist Gerard called it “a remedy against all wearisomenesse.” Big expectations for a little perennial in the Aster family.
Chamomile is one of the “Nine Sacred Herbs” mentioned in the ancient Anglo-Saxon “Lacnunga.” In Elizabethan England, the aromatic plant featured in gardens. It was a “strewing” herb. When trodden on, its fragrance filled a space with its prized apple-sweet scent. William Shakespeare referenced the plant in Henry IV, Part I, saying “…though the chamomile, the more it is trodden on the faster it grows, yet youth, the more it is wasted, the sooner it wears.”
The momma in Beatrix Potter’s “Tales of Peter Rabbit” serves chamomile tea to her bunnies. Tea is made from dried flower heads and petals and is said to calm nerves, sooth sore throats, and relieve flatulence. However, no more than four cups a day should be taken, and those with ragweed allergies may experience bad reactions.
The name for the plant derives from Greek and means “ground apple”. In Spain, it flavors a light sherry called manzanilla. Monks brewed it into beer before hops were used.
Medieval Norse people made a shampoo of chamomile, a practice continued by many cultures to this day. Likewise, modern cosmetics companies sometimes add chamomile to their products, like the ancient Egyptians. Hieroglyphics show the plant used as a cosmetic.
Juliana H. Ewing has her character Jack mention Chamomile’s benefits in her “Six to Sixteen.” In his 1911 “Herb Garden,” Frances A. Bardswell calls it the “plant’s physician” and claims chamomile keeps other plants in a garden healthy.