Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Chamomile and Peppermint: Two For the Toolkit

It seems that every time I search the herbal shelves lately I find myself reaching for chamomile and peppermint.  I have used the two as simples (alone) for years, but they are really quite a dynamic duo.  Either way, if you have a young family at home these herbs are safe and their uses infinite.

Chamomile and peppermint make excellent remedies for our earliest ailments, teething and digestive upsets.  For teething chamomile eases pain, gum inflammation, and soothes frazzled and irritated babies (and moms), as well as providing protection against infection.  It can also ease the upper respiratory symptoms and digestive disturbance that often accompany teething.  I like to add in peppermint for its cooling effect, antimicrobial action and flavor.  There are a few convenient ways to prepare these for treatment...

A simple infusion can be made, steeped for two hours and dosed directly to baby and through mom as well.  With gentle herbs, truly I prefer to give them directly to the child and not just through breast milk, especially when intended to ease teething pain.  With teas one half to one teaspoon as needed.  Frequency of dosage is essential when using herbs, be mindful.  When blending the herbs be sparing with peppermint.  It is in a supporting role here, not the "star".  Besides, peppermint has a strong flavor and a baby's palate is very sensitive.  For every tablespoon of chamomile I think one leaf of peppermint will do.

Another application is to soak a cloth or cloth chew toy (you know the ones with knots in the ends?) in the infusion and offer to baby.  We took it a step further and filled a reusable cotton teabag with herbs, dampened it slightly and refrigerated or froze it.  This was offered for chewing and sucking on.  The saliva "infuses" the herbs.

Unfortunately, these days colic is used as a catch all term for digestive disturbance in infants.  The causes are many and should be discovered.  Though common, it is not normal or healthy.  Here chamomile and peppermint are not really "cures", but essentials for comfort and symptom management.  (I must interject that with any digestive problem in a child or adult I first and foremost recommend probiotics in supplement or food form.)  Dosed as above, the herbal duo can assist in relaxing a fussy baby, enhancing digestion, and soothing acidity. 

Enhancing digestion is definitely something we are into around here.  All three of my kids have food allergies, manifesting themselves in various ways and to varying degrees in each child.  Chamomile and peppermint cover them all!  Especially dried, chamomile is a gentle, yet powerful, digestive bitter.  Bitters are just that, bitter.  Just the taste of bitter on the tongue stimulates digestive secretions from the liver and pancreas.  Just the taste!  You could spit it out and still get the effects...one strong argument for tasting your herbs (in my opinion, capsules are an inferior delivery of herbal medicine, bypassing two of our most precious digestive functions, taste and salivation).  Surprisingly, chamomile is very mild tasting in this regard so of all available bitters it is least likely to be shunned by the littles.  A few sips of tea or drops of tincture before a meal make digestion in the stomach stronger, something much needed by those with impaired capabilities.  And here enters our friend peppermint, tasty and soothing, it helps ease an unsettled stomach, acidity, and intestinal discomfort.  Our all star team is effective in treating stomach "bugs" of the diarrhea and vomiting persuasion as well as any other viral invader.

Chamomile has pronounced antiviral and anti-inflammatory actions so it is one of the main herbs I go to for colds and flu.  Effective as tea or tincture, always serve warm.  I really like to sweeten it with a bit of local raw honey and keep a pot on the stove all day, drinking a cup every hour or just as much as a little one will accept.  As for peppermint, it is a great prophylactic antimicrobial herb, and has its place in upper respiratory protocol, but its use during illness needs a bit more discretion.

Peppermint is a strongly cooling herb and in most cases, one would want to use warming herbs, served warm as well.  Warmth keeps everything flowing and moving outward.  One indication might be a steady high fever you would like to lower*, or after the initial infection, if there is lingering, stagnant mucous in the head or lungs, I do like to employ peppermint.  A tea, tincture, or a little essential oil inhaled as steam or in a chest rub is useful in helping clear that congestion as well as being an excellent antimicrobial for preventing secondary infection. 

Did I mention that chamomile and peppermint are also known, collectively, as Bedtime Magic?  MAGIC.  For some reason chamomile alone does not compare.  Though Matthew Wood states that chamomile's relaxant properties are mostly in fresh preparations like tinctures, not the dried herb, I find that an infusion of the combo is amazing!  Sophie and Emma, my 4 year old daughters, are very high energy children that can not unwind.  Bedtime, no matter the routine or its length has always been difficult to say the least.  On the nights that I remember to prepare tea ahead of time (steep at least an hour) slipping into sleep is much easier for them.  There are days that we sip it all day.  I am not sedating my kids all day, do not worry it does not work that way.

Chamomile is nourishing to the body, especially the nerves, because of its high mineral content.  For these same reasons it is excellent nourishment for any body.  Pregnant women can benefit from its calming effect, digestive aid, and mineral content.  Again, combine with peppermint (oh heartburn!) and maybe some other nourishing tonic herbs like nettle.  Those menstruating can combine our favorite team with skullcap for relief from cramping.  Serve warm when needing to calm and soothe, but they are cooling by nature, so in summer go ahead and ice 'em up for a refreshing and replenishing beverage. 

I have really just touched on all the wonderful ways of using these herbs.  Once you become familiar with how they affect you and your family use your intuition to guide you into other uses.  These are exceptionally safe herbs, so feel free to experiment.  That is the best way to learn about plants.  Books are great, and there are some incredible herbals out there, but nothing stands in for experience.  Never fear, plants are our friends and guides. 

The dark month of flu season is yet to come, so brew up some chamomile and peppermint (maybe a little elder flower in there too) and drink daily as a great antiviral.  Get out in the fresh air and sun while this mild weather lasts, it will work wonders for your mood and immunity!

With love,

*A word of caution, rarely lower a fever.  Fever has a place in healing, it is a function of the immune response and we must allow for that.  Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing at all.  Here is a great site for monitoring fevers.  Print it out and put it on the fridge to refer to in those middle of the night panics ;)


  1. Thanks for this blog, Rachel... I'm reading and learning!

    I've linked you from SVI and Sequatchie Cove websites.

    - Chris G

  2. I am learning so much! I love Chamomile! I also really like your fever link, I rarely treat them and always feel like I am having to defend my choices!

  3. The fever link is awesome. I bookmarked it for showing to Matt when he is freaking out about fever and his mom is feeding it.