Ok, so we aren’t exactly on a daily cycle – hubby hasn’t even started writing his blog yet. We’ll get there eventually. As for this post, its emphasis is primarily on traditional medicine in Mexico, with a specific focus on the permeation of chamomile as a panacea. You’ll see what I mean…

In 2006 I was living and studying in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was winter, and my body was unused to the -25C average daily temperature. Rather unsurprisingly, I developed a rather ridiculously strong infection that made my lungs scream with every breath I took. A quick visit to the doctor led to a prescription for an inhaler filled with a concoction of herbs I’d never heard of, and while skeptical at first, I was quickly convinced of the potion’s value. Within three days of using the inhaler, I was a living, BREATHING, human being again.

Like most countries in the world, traditional herbs and plants are an integral part of Russian medicine, along with various techniques and tools that come from indigenous practices. The United States has walked away from the image of natural medicine to a large extent; most medications carry names that obscure the natural origins of their derived components. For example, morphine is an opiate, derived from the same poppies that allowed Sumarian soldiers to fight without concentrating on pain by cutting poppy pods and licking the sap from their blades before battle. Traditional medicine is – to a large extent – modern medicine. A Bangladeshi friend of mine takes that idea one step further. As a landscape architect, he has learned to admire the resources and plants of every space he enters, watching for the inherent value of that which is readily available to the population.

In Mexico, traditional medicine is alive and well. The general population is fully aware of the medicinal uses for many plants, including bougainvillea, gordolobo, yerba santa, epazote, aloe and chamomile. Chamomile is, perhaps, the most interesting of the above, however. In any supermarket in Mexico, you would be hard-pressed to locate toilet paper that didn’t include chamomile scent or extract. Chamomile is also widespread in women’s products, including pads and pantyliners. Chamomile tea is considered the only safe tea for pregnant women here, despite the obvious known benefits of red raspberry leaf – also interesting considering the known uterine stimulant effects observed from the essential oil of chamomile (and hence the recommended avoidance of chamomile during pregnancy in the US).

Vicks BabyRub replaces their lavender extract with chamomile for the Mexican market – even though lavender has been proven to reduce stress. The same goes for most ‘relaxing’ baby products…lavender is not in fashion. It’s chamomile or nothing. The wonder drug for anti-inflammatory uses, digestive troubles, anxiety, menstrual cramps, labor pains, diarrhea, conjunctivitis, hair dye, blood thinner; it’s the panacea of Tenochtitlan (Ethnomed.org, 2012, Segal and Pilote, 2006). Out of curiosity, I decided to research Mexico’s love affair with chamomile, known here as manzanilla.

Two types of chamomile are frequently used for medicinal purposes – Roman chamomile and German chamomile, both are in the astracae family (Matricaria and Chamomila recutita are names for German chamomile, Anthemis nobilis is Roman chamomile). The medicinal history of these plants stretches back thousands of years, and it is considered safe for both children and adults. Although originally from Europe and the Middle East, chamomile can now be found worldwide (NIH Fact Sheet on Chamomile, 2010; Colonial Dames of America, 1995). It is believed that chamomile was brought to the Americas by conquistadors and pioneers as a weed during the early years of colonization in the Americas (Crosby, 1994).

Chamomile is easy to find, fresh and dried, here in Mexico City. In the tianguis by the house, its a guaranteed to be in stock every Monday and Wednesday. Mercado el 100 carries organic chamomile in Col. Roma every weekend. Despite the prevalence of the plant, there is relatively little research available regarding its popularity and its history in the Americas, let alone in Mexico. Perhaps, as my husband pointed out to me tonight, its not so unexpected that Mexicans love chamomile – the plant has a lot of medicinal uses, and it is cheap and easy to cultivate. In a country where medical care is often determined by one’s ability to pay, chamomile may indeed be a panacea.

I know I’m under my thousand words by far, but its bed time. Good night world.

Colonial Dames of America (1995). Herbs and Herb Lore of Colonial America. Dover Press.

Crosby (1994). Germs, Seeds & Animals: Studies in ecological history.

Segal and Pilote (2012) “Warfarin interaction with matricaria chamomilla.” Canadian Medical Association Journal. doi:  10.1503/cmaj.051191

http://www.ethnomed.org (2012) retrieved 5/29/2012.

NIH Fact Sheet on Chamomile (2010) Chamomile: Science and Safety. NCCAM at NIH. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/chamomile/ataglance.htm. retrieved 5/29/2012.