Do you think of chamomile (Matricaria recutita) when you think of Mexican herbs? After all, it is native to Europe where it is also known as German chamomile (to distinguish from Roman chamomile) and has been used there since time immemorial. But it found its way to Mexican and Latin America with early explorers and settlers, and it took root in the culture. Today it is considered one of the key remedios, found in virtually every Mexican household. Manzanilla, as it is known in Spanish, is often the first choice as a calming, soothing tea, especially for children.

The flowers of chamomile have a mild, slight citrusy, flavor. It is a nervine, carminative, diaphoretic, anti-inflammatory, mild emmenogogue, and is mildly gastroprotective. In Latin America it is sometimes considered the herbal aspirin of the medicine cabinet. Traditional uses include for digestive upsets, indigestion, diarrhea, colds and flu, sleeplessness, irritability, asthma, and menstrual cramps. In Mexico it is given to children for these conditions and for empacho (stomachache, digestive sluggishness, abdominal pain, or gastrointestinal infection), cólico (colic), and susto (fright). It is also given to women during the process of birth.

When traveling in Mexico chamomile is a go-to, with fresh flowers commonly available and a box of dried tea bags about $.50 (which is 10 pesos at the moment). I have used it for tummy troubles, eye irritations, blocked nipple ducts, kids rashes, fever, and just about anything else which has happened to us over the years being here.

Chamomile is very easy to grow. The flowers are harvested and dried when they are in full bloom. The best quality chamomile tea contains the full, dried flower head without other parts.

Bevin Clare