This section is from the book "A Treatise On Therapeutics, And Pharmacology Or Materia Medica Vol1", by George B. Wood. Also available from Amazon: Part 1 and Part 2.
The chamomile of the shops consists of the flowers of Anthe-mis nobilis, a perennial, herbaceous plant, growing wild in Europe, where it is also cultivated for use. Though it has been introduced into our gardens, none of the chamomile of the shops is produced in this country. All parts of the plant have medicinal properties; but it is only the flowers that are officinal. They are imported from Germany and England.
Varieties. The flowers of chamomile are compound, consisting, in their perfect state, of a central yellow disk, with a circle of white ray florets around it. There are two varieties, distinguished as the single and double; the former retaining their yellow central disk florets, the latter having had these converted by cultivation into white ray florets. But the distinction is not precise; for there is a large proportion of the flowers in which this conversion is incomplete; and, as found in the shops, there is generally a mixture of the single and double flowers, and others in the intermediate state. In most parcels, as brought to this country, the double or white flowers greatly predominate. The single or yellow, however, are more odorous, and more stimulant to the stomach, because the volatile oil, upon which these properties depend, is much more abundant in the central or yellow florets.
Active Constituents. With a minute proportion of tannic acid, which is therapeutically of no account, the flowers contain a bitter principle and volatile oil, upon which their medical virtues depend. It is said that they yield also, on distillation, in very small proportion, a substance resembling valerianic acid.
In small doses frequently repeated, chamomile is a mild tonic, operating like the simple bitters, but with a somewhat more excitant influence on the stomach, owing to its volatile oil. In large doses it is apt to prove emetic, more so probably than the simple bitters, which it resembles in its tonic effects.
Chamomile has been employed as a medicine from the earliest times. On the continent of Europe, it is distinguished by the name of Roman chamomile. It is particularly adapted to cases of general debility, in which the stomach participates in a greater degree than other organs. The gentle stimulant influence of its volatile oil on the stomach renders it peculiarly applicable under such circumstances. Hence, it is much used in the convalescence from acute febrile diseases. In mild dyspepsia, with defective appetite, flatulent eructations, or slight colicky pains from wind in the stomach or bowels, it may often be given with advantage. Its general mildness and harmlessness adapt it to those slight cases of debility, frequently occurring, especially in sedentary females, in which stronger medicines are scarcely required, and might prove hurtful.
By the ancients it was used in the treatment of intermittent fever, and continued to be esteemed among the most valuable remedies in that complaint, down to the period of the discovery of Peruvian bark. Even after that period, it long continued to retain some reputation as a febrifuge, being employed in cases which resisted the bark, and especially in the remission of remittent fevers, before the febrile phenomena of the paroxysms had sufficiently subsided to justify the use of the more powerful antiperiodic. But, since the introduction of sulphate of quinia into use, this application of chamomile has been generally abandoned; as it is now understood that, in miasmatic remittents, when there is a sufficient abatement of the fever to justify a resort to the bitter tonics, quinia may almost always be used, with equal safety, and vastly greater effect. In cases, however, of intermittent and remittent fever, distinctly paroxysmal, in which circumstances may prevent the employment of cinchona or its preparations, large draughts of warm chamomile tea, given immediately before the paroxysm, the patient being kept warm in bed, will sometimes prevent the recurrence of the fever, either by operating as an emetic, or by a joint tonic and diaphoretic action.
It has already been stated that, in large doses, chamomile is apt to vomit. To produce this effect) however, it should be given in the form of warm infusion, and in large draughts, bo as to aid the medicine by the nauseating effects of tepid water. It may frequently be employed with advantage, in this way, in cases of gastric spasm arising from undigested food or other irritating matters in the stomach, and attended with sensations of nausea, or ineffectual efforts to vomit. Indeed, in any case of irritable stomach, when that organ seems unable wholly to free itself from its contents, it may very properly be aided by large draughts of warm chamomile tea. In febrile and bilious diseases, there is often a good deal of retching from the presence of acrid bile in the stomach, which may thus be promptly relieved. The tea is often also administered along with other emetics, or shortly afterwards when they are tardy, in order to promote their action, or to render it more easy to the patient, by giving the stomach a greater bulk to act upon.
The flowers were formerly much used externally with hot water, in the way of fomentation, or as a sort of cataplasm inclosed in a flannel bag. They add nothing to the virtues of the hot water; but, in the latter case, may be useful by absorbing the liquid.
Chamomile is given in powder, infusion, or extract; and the volatile oil is sometimes separately administered.
The powder was formerly given occasionally, with the view to the an-tiperiodic effect, in doses of from half a drachm to a drachm, repeated three or four times a day, or oftener if required. As a mere tonic, its dose may be stated at from ten to thirty grains; but it is almost never administered in this way. The flowers themselves are sometimes chewed by dyspeptic persons, and by those who wish to break themselves of the habit of chewing tobacco, by substituting a more innocent substance.
The Infusion (Infusum Anthemidis, U.S.) is made in the proportion of half an ounce to a pint of water. When time is allowed for a sufficient maceration, cold water is preferable to hot as the menstruum, as it yields an infusion more acceptable at once to the palate and the stomach; but in case of haste, boiling water may be used; and, with a view to its emetic operation, the latter is decidedly preferable, and the infusion should be taken warm. The dose as a tonic is a wineglassful, three or four times a day. When given to aid emetics, a small bowlful, containing from six to twelve fluidounces, may be given at once, and repeated if required.
The Extract (Extractum Anthemidis, Br.), directed by the British Pharmacopoeia, is not an ineligible preparation; as the volatile oil, which was driven off in the old Edinburgh process during the evaporation, or rather an equivalent quantity of it, is added at the close of the concentration. As now prepared, the extract represents the virtues of the flowers, and may be given whenever these are indicated. It is occasionally used as an addition to laxatives or metallic tonics, and as a vehicle for other medicines, given in the pilular form. The dose is from five to thirty grains, the strength being about double that of the flowers.
The decoction was formerly used as an external fomentation, as an enema, or as a local application to flabby or indolent ulcers; but has been abandoned, because in no respect preferable to the infusion, and inferior from the circumstance, that a portion of the volatile oil must be driven off in its preparation.
The Volatile Oil (Oleum Anthemidis, Br.) is occasionally prescribed. It is obtained by distillation with water from the flowers. As first procured, it has a sky-blue colour, which is changed by time to yellow or brown. Its odour is that of chamomile, its taste pungent and aromatic. It is stimulant to the stomach, and may be given in gastric pains of a purely functional character, and in flatulence, in the dose of five or six drops. It is sometimes associated with purgatives to prevent griping.
Other species of Anthemis have been used. A. Cotula, mayweed, or wild chamomile, which grows abundantly in this country, and is one of the most common weeds in our public roads, has virtues analogous to those of A. nobilis, but, in consequence of its very unpleasant odour, is little if at all used with us. In Europe it is said to be occasionally employed as an antispasmodic and emmenagogue. Our national Pharmacopoeia recognizes it, in the secondary list, under the name of Cotula.
This medicine is considered here in a subordinate position to Anthemis, because, though closely similar to the common or Roman chamomile, and largely used on the continent of Europe, and especially in Germany, for the same purposes, it is probably inferior in strength, and is little used in this country unless among German practitioners. The plant is an annual syngenesious herb, of which the flowers only are officinal. As found in our shops they are imported from Germany. They are smaller than the common chamomile, and the yellow disk or central florets, which are deep-yellow, are proportionably more numerous than those of the ray. They owe their virtues to a volatile oil and bitter principle, both of which are readily imparted to water and alcohol. Their effects are essentially the same as those of common chamomile, and they are given for the same purposes, and in the same way.