As well-known as chamomile is, you may be surprised that there are two different plants both commonly called chamomile. Both types have gentle healing properties and are similar in appearance, flavor and scent. Its fragrance has apple-like qualities, and in fact chamomile's name means "ground apple" in Greek. The annual German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) grows tall (2 to 3 feet) while its perennial sister the Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) only grows up to 9 inches, but boasts a stronger fragrance.
|German chamomile (Matricaria recutita)|
|Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile). Used to be called Anthemis nobilis|
In ancient Egypt, chamomile was used to cure malarial chills and Pliny took chamomile baths to relieve headaches. Chamomile was strewn about medieval English homes to freshen the air since bathing was a rare activity. It can be used as a hair rinse to bring out natural highlights and brighten blond hair and is sometimes used as an insect repellent. The volatile oil found in the flowers have anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and anti-infective qualities. This gives the chamomile plant its "cure all" reputation, and has been used to help relieve skin conditions, indigestion, menstrual cramps, and boost the immune system's ability to fight illnesses and infections. However, the flowers contain pollen, so be aware of potential allergic reactions when using this herb. Roman chamomile is not recommended for use during pregnancy as it can cause uterine contractions and miscarriage.
Ginger is another well-loved and soothing plant that has been used for thousands of years. Like chamomile, it is also reputed to ameliorate indigestion. Though soothing, it is also a stimulant and promotes circulation, which makes it beneficial to the skin as well. The ginger lends this sweet and spicy soap an invigorating and warming quality that balances well with the chamomile.
Note: this recipe uses two pounds of unscented basic soap from my Hand Milled Soap Recipe which must be made in advance.
In addition to the basic soap you will need:
1 cup dried chamomile flowers
1 tablespoon plus one teaspoon ground dried ginger
2 teaspoons sweet orange essential oil
Grate and melt soap according to directions in my Hand Milled Soap Recipe.
While the soap is melting, grind chamomile in a spice grinder until it is very fine.
When the soap is melted, remove from heat and thoroughly stir in chamomile, ginger, and essential oil.
Pour soap into final molds and leave undisturbed in a warm place for a few days, until the soap is firm enough to hold its shape outside the mold. At this point, remove the soap from the final mold, cut into bars if desired and allow to cure indoors for about 3 to 4 weeks. The longer you allow the bars to cure, the harder they will become. Don't expect the soap to be a light yellow; the plant material will darken the final bars as they cure, making them a dark brownish green instead.