Putting some order into Matricaria recutita et Chamaemelum nobile

The choice of Chamomile came up for the first edition of our magazine by chance but one of those chances where you feel that you are being gently pushed in a certain direction, A conversation on a herbal forum about the differences between Chamaemelum nobile L and Matricaria recutita triggered me into trying to put some order into this vast subject and pin point some of the differences between Roman and German chamomile.

ImageTo begin with chamomile is one of those plants that everyone has heard of as a herbal tea, it was probably the first herbal tea I made myself as a young student thirty years ago in London when I started to feel the need for plants in my diet. The only snag with this is that in most of these cases, it probably wasn’t chamomile but Matricaria recutita, ok so I am being too pernickety I hear you saying…maybe, but it is important to recognise the difference between what in English speaking countries is known as Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile (L)) and German chamomile (Matricaria recutita). In a herbal tea the difference in taste goes without saying, the former is really bitter and more or less undrinkable (to my palette anyway) and the latter has a much gentler, accessible taste…but they are still more often than not bagged together under the same name. This becomes even more complicated in France as other medicinal plants from the Asteraceae family are also known under the name of chamomile. Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is known colloquially as Grande camomile and it too has tubular yellow flowers in the centre and white disc flowers, Santolina (Santolina chamaecyparissus) is known as Camomille amère or Camomille de Mahon, Chrysanthemum indicum is known as Camomille de Chine and the list goes on. The same thing can be found in English, Dyer’s chamomile (Anthemis tinctoria), stinking chamomile (Anthemis cotula), although these are actually the same genre as Anthemis nobilis…which is no longer the official name as the genre changed to Chamaemelum in 2003 (just to complicate things a bit more!).  On the subject of complications, in different books and internet sites one can find four Latin names given to Chamaemelum nobile as this plant was named by four different botanists these are Anthemis nobilis L, Ormeni nobilis (L) L.Gray, Chamomilla nobilis G.G and Chamaemelum nobile L, which is as already stated the official name.

So what does the word chamomile mean, what is its etymology? It comes from the Greek word khamaimélon, chamia meaning ‘ground’ and melon meaning ‘apple’, so we could say ‘earth apple’ which refers to the apply scent of Chameamelum nobile flowers. Well that is a sigh of relief; at least the root of the name seems to refer to our medicinal plant as feverfew, santolina, chrysanthemum and even Maricaria recutita (German chamomile) don’t smell of apples do they? Well Matricaria recutita a little bit maybe.

So getting to the nitty gritty, the two plants that interest us most as herbalists out of all this are Chameamelum nobile and Matricaria recutita, I am going to start by looking at the botanical differences between the two.

Chameamelum nobile or Roman chamomile originates from Europe and prefers dry, well drained, sandy soils. Here in France I have never seen it in the wild, it grows wild more typically in the west of the country and in the region of Anjou it is cultivated traditionally for herbalists. Due to the Phylloxera outbreak that destroyed most of France’s vineyards at the end of the 19th century, the local wine growers switched to growing chamomile and other medicinal plants in order to assure an income, Anjou thus became the center of France’s chamomile production.

Chamaemelum nobile, member of the Asteraceae family is a perennial and multiplies by means of runners rather than through its seeds. It is covered with velvety hairs and grows close to the ground. The dark green leaves are very finely divided and the terminal flower heads or capitulum have a full receptacle when cut in half (compared to the hollow one of the Matricaria) the disc flowers are white. The flowers are harvested between July and September. The most commonly grown Chamaemelum nobile for herbal use today are those with double inflorescences.  

Matricaria recutita or German chamomile is an annual plant that grows wild all over Europe, the English sometimes refer to it as wild chamomile. It can be found growing in fields, amongst crops, in gardens and along country lanes. The name Matricaria comes from the Latin word matrix, meaning womb, groundwork, parent tree or the Latin word mater meaning mother and obviously referring to its use in helping relieve painful menstruation.

It is a small plant measuring between 15cm and 50cms high and upright unlike the Chamaemelum nobile, with stems divided into different branches, the leaves are thin, alternate, sessile and divided into slender leaflets. The flowers are inserted on a hollow,  cone-shaped receptacle, this is a major identification criteria and maybe another pointer to its name meaning “matrix” as the hollow space within the receptacle could be considered ‘womb-like’. The inner flowers are tubular and yellow and the disc flowers, which have a tendency to droop downwards at the end of flowering, are white. The flowering period runs between May to October, usually found growing in large colonies, seed multiplication is much easier than with Chamaemelum nobile, although plenty of sun is needed. Not too fussy about soil but if given the choice prefers, like the Chamaemelum nobile, a sandy, dry, well drained soil.  

Now after all that, is there really much difference between the uses and constituents of these two plants that have so often been lumped together? The answer to this is a definite ‘yes’, each plant must be looked at as its own entity as their chemical components and essential oils are quite different and more importantly they are not the same plant and their differences must be understood.Image

In England, contrary to the rest of Europe, Chamaemelum nobile seems to be used more predominantly, probably because the first place it was grown in Europe in the 16th century was in England (Hiller and Melzig, 1999). However Matricaria recutita is more commonly used elsewhere and is believed to be the more potent of the two. It is very frustrating to try and find evidence based information on the use of Chamaemelum nobile as very little scientific research has been done, even the research studies that I have delved into start by stating the botanical differences between each plant and then go on to group them together when talking about their uses, continually referring to Chamomile without any differentiating…no wonder there is a lot of confusion. There is however much more scientific evidence for the use of Matricaria recutita, this doesn’t mean that it is necessarily more effective but just that trials have been carried out on it.

ImageI will begin by outlining the different constituents for each plant, then look at the traditional uses of each, followed by some scientific based results.




Essentiel oil Chamuzelene, bisabolol (very small quantities)

Essential oil Chamazulene, bisabolol (much larger quantities)

Esters –angelic acids

Sesquiterpene lactones – matricine

Terpenes – farnesene and pinene

Bisabolol oxides (Essential oil)

Sesquiterpene lactones – nobiline

Farnesene (Essential oil)

Flavanoids – apigenin, luteolin, apiin

Spiro-ether (Essential oil)

Phenolic carboxylic acids, trans-caffeic acid, ferulic acid.

Flavanoids – apigenin, ,luteolin,  quercetin + some alkylated flavanoids



Theophene derivatives

Phenolic carboxylic acids – vanillic, anisic, syringic,  and caffeic acids

Cetones -pinacarvone


Monoterpenols – pinocarveol


Coumarins – ombelliférone, esculétol, scopolétol…




Polysaccharides – fructane

The name Chamaemelum was apparently first used by Dioscorides  (Hiller and Melzig 1999) but according to several other authors including the famous ethno-botanist Richard Evans (1989) it is impossible to be sure about the history of this plant due to the great number of similar looking species in the Asteraceae family. It was apparently Joachim Camerarius, the German, zoologist and botanist that baptised Chamaemelum nobile ‘Roman chamomile’ in 1958 as he found it growing abundantly in the region around Rome. The ‘nobile’ or ‘nobilis’ tag was due to its superior medicinal qualities to that of matricaria recutita, although as already mentioned today a much larger majority tend towards the use of the latter. I personally believe that each has its place and comparing them in terms of effectiveness is inutile.

Helped by the fact that it grows densely and low to the ground, it was used as ground cover for lawns, emitting the wonderful scent when walked upon, it actually doesn’t seem to mind being trodden on and some say it actually enjoys it. It was also believed to be a great help in gardens as those plants that grew next to chamomile never suffered from disease and diseased plants apparently recovered if a chamomile was planted next to it. Again due to its smell it was used strewn on floors in the middle ages.

In terms of its historic and traditional medicinal uses, as stated above it is not easy to be sure in many texts, which plant is actually being talked about, Culpepper talks about Chamomile without any reference to which chamomile. Image

Chamaemelum nobile was according to Lucas (1990) first listed in the Wurtenberg pharmacopoeia in 1741 as a carminative, painkiller, diuretic and digestive aid. It is also suggested that it helped calm and sooth people suffering from hysteria, especially women. In the various old herbals in my possession, effectiveness in combatting fever is often mentioned for this plant when taken as a herbal infusion, in ‘La Médicine Végétale’ written in the late 1930’s by Doctor Narodetzki, he advised to keep the doses low, three of four flower heads per cup as larger doses could cause vomiting.  

Pierre Lieutaghi, a French ethno-botanist, who spent several years in the early 1980’s interviewing elderly people in the rural parts of Provence about their memories of medicinal plant use in the region states that many people interviewed remembered its use as an infused oil. The flowering tops were placed in a jar with almond oil and left in the sun for forty days, applied in the evening it was very beneficial in cases of sunburn. He notes that it was also used in the region for treating gall bladder stones, three Roman chamomile flowers plus a small lemon cut into pieces are to be placed in a bowl of warm water in the evening, leave to infuse during the night and drink first thing in the morning.

Funnily enough in the book that I have by Maurice Messugué, it is Chamaemelum nobile that he writes about and not the more commonly used Matricaria, he refers to it as a perfect example of a grandmother’s remedy, his grandmother used to give it to him when she thought he may have worms.  He used it also in menstrual problems, cramps, colic, and spasms of the intestines, for healing cuts and stopping weeping wounds. Messugué also mentions its use as an eye compress for inflamed eyelids and a hair wash for blonde hair.  

Finding information about the traditional uses of Matricaria recutita or German chamomile is much easier, maybe because it grows widely in the wild and is therefore more accessible to country folk. It is in fact one of the oldest known medicinal plants, held in high esteem by Hippocrates in 500BC and used since antiquity for menstrual problems. The link with women’s conditions is mentioned in another old book I have called “Santé pour Tous” written in 1936 by Doctor Wagner, who states that,  “its primary action is on the uterus muscles, it should be used in uterine colic and cramping. It is antispasmodic before and after childbirth as well as in young children. Chamomile injections are used for infections of the female organs, flatulence of young children and earache”. He also advised gargling German chamomile in cases of painful, throat inflammations.

Maria Treben talks about Matricaria’s action as an anti-inflammatory for all types of inflammation, as Messugué mentions Roman Chamomile for inflamed eyes, Treben speaks about Matricaria for the same use. She also develops the calming aspect of Matricaria and suggests using it in the bath for this effect.  Doctor Leclerc mentions it for headaches, this is however one of the uses that I remember as a child in England.  However to add more confusion to the subject, he talks about German chamomile in his book and mentions its Latin name but there is however an image of Chamaemelum nobile.

This tendency, of continually mixing up and throwing together information on the two plants in hand has recurred throughout my research for this article from older texts to modern studies.

I don’t know if I am going to manage to do any better but now lets look at some modern day research and uses of the plants and their essential oils.   

Both plants have an anti-inflammatory action, however due to the greater quantity of essential oil containing chamazulene and bisabolol in the Matricaria recutita, we can safely confirm that Matricaria has a stronger anti-inflammatory action. Matricaria’s reputation for having an anti-ulcer action has been confirmed by scientific studies such as those centralised by Dr Paula Gardiner in her research for “The Center for Holistic Pediatric Education and Research », which showed in vitro that “bisabolol decreases proteolytic activity of pepsin by 50% and in rats Matricaria flowers and bisabolol inhibited stomach ulcers caused by stressful stimuli and alcohol. Healing times for ulcers induced by chemical stress or heat coagulation were reduced and extracts of the flowers of Matricaria recutita had an inhibitory effect on gastric acid. »

In the same study on human data « Gastric biopsies and cytological studies have demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects of Matricaria recutita on the stomach and duodenum ».

The anti-bacterial and antifungal action of Matricaria has also been researched (see notes for details) Compounds in the essential oil of Matricaria recutita were effective against Staphylococcus and Candida. Of Matricaire’s essential oil components, bisabolol had the strongest activity against Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria. Chamazulene also had strong antimicrobial activity. Chamazulene, bisabolol, flavonoids and umbelliferone displayed antifungal properties.

There have been no randomized, controlled trials on Matricaria recutita’s potential action as a sedative or anti-anxiolytic, this is despite its wide traditional use in this sphere. However Paula Gardiner did find in her research some results from open studies on the subject, here are her finds;

« 12 hospitalized patients with heart disease received two cups of chamomile tea orally during a cardiac catheterization. Ten minutes after ingesting the tea, ten of the 12 patients fell into a deep sleep16. Twenty-two subjects were asked to visualize positive and negative phrases following exposure to either chamomile oil or placebo (green peppers). Chamomile oil significantly increased the latency for all images and shifted mood ratings and the frequency of judgments in a more positive direction. »


The above ‘scientific’ data backs up the principal indications that we use here in the plant info at Lyon’s School of Medicinal plants.

Digestive sphere,

Gastritis, enteritis, colitis, bloating, cramps,

Nervous system, Light sleeping problems, irritability.   

On the indications for the hormonal sphere, menstrual problems and hot flushes, I could find no scientific evidence.


 However, there has been virtually no clinical, scientific research carried out at all on Chamaemelum nobile, does this mean that it has no value…of course not, it was just an exercise to see what I could find to back up traditional knowledge and try and draw up some differences between the two plants. The fact that there is little scientific evidence does not rule out generations of traditional and also modern usage of this plant.


The European medicines agency, taking into consideration the lack of research available have put together an assessment report on Chamaemelum nobile in the form of a community monograph.

« Although the Commission E did not approve Roman chamomile flower (Blumenthal et al., 1998) for an evidence-based phytotherapeutic application, the drug is listed and described in several pharmacopoeias (Barnes et al., 2002) and stated to possess carminative, anti-emetic, antispasmodic, and sedative properties. It has been used for dyspepsia, nausea and vomiting, anorexia, vomiting in pregnancy, dysmenorrhoea, and specifically for flatulent dyspepsia associated with mental stress. »

The monograph contains what little evidence is available regarding this plant on the form of pharmacological data regarding herbal preparations and constituents. The anti-inflammatory action of the polysaccharides contained in the flowers and leaves were tested on rats, compared to an untreated control the polysaccharides reduced the inflammation by 36, 2 and 37%. Further tests showed a certain antimicrobial activity, antioxidant action, insecticidal activity and hypotensive effect. The only possible toxic effect documented for this plant is a possible allergic reaction for people sensitive to the sesquiterpenes in the Asterceae family.

Here in the herbal school in Lyon Chamaemelum nobile is indicated for;

Digestive sphere

Digestive problems: dyspepsia, bloating, spasmodic colitis,

Hormonal sphere

Menstruation problems, digestive or hepatic migraines, nausea.


The essential oil of Chamaemelum nobile is a very useful member of any first aid kit, or practitioner’s stock, it is not blue like the Matricaria but yellow. It contains a large quantity of esters, giving it its great soothing action. This action on the nervous system makes it effective before or after a shock and it is for this reason that it is used in preparation for surgical interventions to help calm the person and the pain. Also beneficial to have on hand in case of stress, anxiety, anxiety triggered asthma etc. Helpful for digestive troubles including worms, either in a massage on the abdominal region or internally. Its action on the skin is not to go unnoticed either, effective for wound healing, skin irritations, eczema, urticarial, psoriasis, acne, nappy rash. The hydrosol is also very interesting as it can be used for a longer period than the essential oil in dermatological and ocular problems. For young children, the hydrosol can be used in cases of intestinal parasites and those of you with a small home still can make the hydrosol at home.


Matricaria is also available as an essential oil and due to its high chamazulene content it is a beautiful indigo blue colour. Its powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-allergenic action is concentrated on this oil, which is used in treatments for gastric ulcers and dyspepsia.


In homeopathy chamomilla vulgaris refers in fact to Matricaria recutita, Matthew Woods refers regularly to the Chamomilla type in his book Herbal Wisdom. Its action on the emotional sphere is what it is best known as in homeopathy, especially for use in children, this Chamomilla type can however be recognised in many different people and  illnesses, ‘generally agitated and impatient and wanting to be continually looked after by others’. This type does not support pain well, every little twinge is perceived as insupportable and accompanied by moaning and groaning. It is a useful remedy in helping to get the person to a mental state that is calm and stable so the next stage of the treatment can be put into place.

Albeit its lack of researched evidence, Anthemis nobilis has been used for centuries and continues to be a popular remedy. Parents have traditionally used this species to assist in calming crying children and relieving the pain of teething. The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia recognizes this herb for the treatment of dyspepsia (indigestion), nausea, anorexia, vomiting in pregnancy and dysmenorrhoea. It is also known to help relieve cramps, spasms, and can assist in mild shock. Topically, Roman chamomile is known to soothe sensitive skin and overall used as a calming agent, specifically to alleviate anxiety and stress.

Research carried out in the last five years found that Matricaria recutita was able to assist with effectiveness of antihistamine drugs in mice. What impressed the researchers was that administration of the antihistamine alone could not resolve pruritus (itchy irritation) but when combined with Matricaria essential oil the antihistamine effectiveness was greatly enhanced. One could thus conclude that Matricaria recutita is a safe and even necessary herbal remedy for those that suffer from allergies and wish to increase the effectiveness of medications specified for their known allergens.

A second area of recent research has been regarding children suffering from ADHD(Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder). A very recent study (Phytomedicine 2009 Apr; 16(4): 284-6) examined the effects of Matricaria recutita on the behaviour of boys aged 14-16 that were clinically diagnosed with ADHD.  It was noted that the subjects exhibited a reduction in hyperactivity and distraction.  They concluded that since Matricaria recutita is regarded as a gentle and safe botanical medicine, it is apparent that it would be a first consideration when treating children with ADHD.


 So to conclude, I have to say honestly that once I had launched myself into this article, I had moments of definite regret, I found myself swimming in a sea called “Chamomile” where very little of the information I had to hand was able to help me get to shore. However with time, patience, of which I am not very good at, and some useful articles I hope that I have been able to make a start at, at least helping us get into the habit of looking at these two plants as two separate beings.   

It is evident that both Matricaria recutita and Chamaemelum nobile have an important place in herbal healing today. Certain qualities in the plants overlap each other but there is definitely evidence both scientific and empiric to suggest that each should be considered in its own right with its own specific actions and uses.









References :


Krishna Murti, Mayank A. Panchal, Vipul Gajera and Jinal Solanki , 2012. Pharmacological

Properties of Matricaria recutita: A Review. Pharmacologia, 3: 348-351


Anti-bacterian and antifungal studies Aggag ME, Yousef RT. Study of antimicrobial activity of chamomile oil. Planta Medica 1972; 22:140-4.  And Mann C, Staba E. The chemistry, pharmacology, and commercial formuations of chamomile. Herbs, spices and medicinal plants 1986; 1:235-280.

Donchin Flore L3-SVB

The European Medicines Agency Assessement Report – Article 1bd (1)

Herbal pharmacy – george Nemeccz Phd

Dr Paula Gardiner, The Longwood Herbal Task Force (http://www.mcp.edu/herbal/default.htm) and The Center for Holistic Pediatric Education and Research


http://www.botanical .com


Maria Treben – la santé à la pharmacie du Bon Dieu.

Maurice Messegué – Mon herbier de santé

Nicholas Culpepper – Complete Herbal

Docteur H.Leclerc – Guérir par les Plantes

Docteur A. Narodetzki – La Médecine végétale

Pierre Lieutaghi – Tradition médicinale et autres usages des plantes en Haut Provence

Matthew Woods – The Earthwise Herbal



  1. Sandy Huysmans said,

    June 28, 2016 at 9:21 pm

    Awesome information, thank you.

  2. Christy Mathews said,

    June 29, 2016 at 8:42 pm

    Very interesting, enjoyed article.

  3. ijpha said,

    July 7, 2016 at 3:01 pm

    Reblogged this on ijpha and commented:
    A wonderful article written by Cathy Skipper comparing and contrasting Roman and German Chamomile!

  4. Tasha Smith said,

    July 14, 2016 at 9:06 pm

    Very interesting article. Really enjoy the depth of research done.

  5. olola said,

    February 28, 2017 at 10:04 am

    thank you very much for your time and for sharing and caring

  6. Olia said,

    January 21, 2018 at 1:12 am

    Thank you for your passion and time devoted to this article. For the first time, after reading your article, I have tried a cup of tea with Matricaria recutita. What a difference!

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