This section is from the book "An Experimental History Of The Materia Medica", by William Lewis.
Camomile: a plant with finely divided leaves; and moderately large flowers, standing solitary on the tops of the stalks, upon long naked pedicles: the flower is composed of a number of white petala, set round a yellow convex disk.
1. Chamaemelum Pharm. Lond. & Edinb. Chamaemelum nobile seu leucanthemum odoratius C. B. Anthemis nobilis Linn. Chamomilla. Trailing perennial camomile, called Roman. It is found wild in moist pasture grounds in several parts of England, but commonly cultivated in gardens, and flowers in June and July.
The leaves and flowers of this plant have a strong, not ungrateful smell; and a very bitter nauseous taste. The flowers are somewhat bitterer, and considerably more aromatic than the leaves; and the yellow disk of the flower is, in both respects, far stronger than the white petala. The smell, as well as the taste, is rather im-proved than weakened by careful drying, and does not soon suffer any considerable diminution in keeping.
This plant, besides its general virtues as a bitter, has been supposed to have some degree of a carminative, anodyne, and antispasmodic power, depending on its odorous matter. It is recommended in colics of different kinds, particularly such as arise from flatulencies or cold; in hysterical and hypochondriacal disorders, and nephritic pains; in the pains of childbed women, and deficiencies of the uterine purgations; and intermitting fevers, where a viscidity of the humours, or obstructions of the viscera, render the Peruvian bark ineffectual or prejudicial. In this last intention, the camomile is generally assisted by fixt alkaline salts, sal ammoniac, or other aperients, and often, also, by corroborating materials: Baglivi's preparation of camomile, which he looks upon as the most certain specific in obstinate intermittents (a), was probably rather a composition of this kind, than any particular preparation of the camomile alone. The dose of the dry flowers, in sub-stance, is from ten or twelve grains to half a dram or more; in decoction or infusion, two drams.
Camomile flowers give out their virtues both to water and rectified spirit; infusions made in the former are of a yellowish brown colour, in the latter of a bright gold yellow: when the flowers have been dried so as to be pulverable, the infusions prove more grateful than when they are fresh or but moderately dried. Distilled with water, they impregnate the aqueous fluid pretty strongly with their flavour: if the quantity of camomile, submitted to the operation, is large, a little essential oil separates and rises to the fur-face of the water, in colour yellow with a cast of greenish or browny of a pungent taste, and a strong smell exactly resembling that of the camomile. Decoctions of the flowers, infpiffated, though with a very gentle heat, to the consistence of honey, lose almost all the peculiar flavour of the plant, retaining its bitterness entire: the extract discovered to the taste a slight saline kind of austerity joined to the bitter; and on keeping for some months, threw off to the surface a number of minute saline crystals.
(a) De fibra motrice & morbosa, cap, xiii. Oper. p. 389.
Rectified spirit, drawn off from the spirituous tincture, brings over likewise a part of the flavour of the camomile, but leaves a considerable part behind in the Extract. The smell is in great measure covered or suppressed by the spirit, in all the spirituous preparations; but the taste, both in the spirituous tincture and extract, is considerably stronger than in the watery.
The leaves and flowers are frequently employed externally, in discutient and antiseptic somentations, and in emollient and carminative gly-fters. They appear, from Dr. Pringle's experiments, to stand very high in the scale of antisep-tics; the soluble part of the flowers resisting the putrefaction of animal flesh, with a power at least one hundred and twenty times greater than sea salt. Some endeavour to impregnate oil olive with the active matter of the camomile, for external uses, by gently boiling the fresh herb and flowers bruised, in thrice their quantity of the oil, till they become crisp: and then straining and pressing out the fluid. A preparation of this kind might be obtained to better purpose, by a process similar to that, whereby expressed oils are perfumed with the fragrance of the more odoriferous flowers (fee Ben); or by infusing the flowers in the oil without heat; for the strong heat, necessary for making the fluid boil, impresses a disagreeable taint, and dissi-pates greatest part of the volatile matter of the camomile.
Extr. cha-maemeli Ph. Lond.
2. Chamaemelum flore Pleno: Chamaeme-lum nobile flore multiplict C. B. Double camomile: a variety of the foregoing, produced by culture; differing in the flowers being double, or having several rows of the white petala, and the disk proportionably smaller.
The single and double flowered camomiles have been often used indiscriminately, and are allowed to be so used by the faculty of Paris. The leaves of the two plants are indeed alike, in quality as well as in their external form: but with regard to the flowers, as their active matter is almost wholly confined to the yellow disk, and as the single have large disks, but the double very small ones, and when very double, scarcely any at all; it is plain that the latter cannot be equivalent to the former unless taken in much greater quantity; and that therefore the single or large-disked flowers alone ought to be employed for medicinal uses.
3. Chamaemelum vulgare, Anthemis. Cha-maemelum vulgare leucanthemum dioscoridis C. B. Matricaria Chamomilla Linn. Common camomile; upright, annual, growing wild in corn fields.
This species also is allowed by the faculty of Paris to be used indifferently with the Roman camomile. Both its leaves and flowers are much weaker than those of the Roman, and their smell of a less agreeable kind: sometimes they have scarce any smell at all. They yield in distillation considerably less oil: from eight pounds of the flowers of the Roman were obtained about five drams, or a very little more; from the same quantity of those of the common, scarcely three drams. The oils of the two plants are in smell and taste; nearly alike, but in colour remarkably different, that of the common being of a beautiful deep blue: if the oil is carefully kept, it retains its line colour for many years; but if the air is admitted to it, the blue degenerates in a short time to a yellow, like that which the oil of the other sort has on its first distillation.
4. Cotula foetida Chamaemelum foetidum C. B. Anthemis Cotula Linn. Mayweed or stinking camomile: annual, more upright than the other camomiles, with finer leaves, the flowers thicker together and their disks more convex and protuberant. It grows in waste grounds, and among corn.
This species differs greatly in quality from the three preceding. Its smell is disagreeable: the flowers have little or no taste; the leaves a strong one, of the acrid bitterish kind. It has never been much in use, nor are its medicinal effects well known. Decoctions of it are said to have been sometimes employed as a bath or somentation, against hysteric suffocations, and haemorrhoidal pains and swellings. Mr. Ray says, that a decoction of the herb has by some been given internally, with success, in scrophulous cases. Brown Langrifh gives an account of a decoction of it throwing a person affected with rheumatism into a profuse sweat, and curing him.