Chamomile: A tea of choice for gods and newborn babies

Chamomile: A tea of choice for gods and newborn babies

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Having grown up in Roswell, New Mexico before “new age” teas of every herb became common, I knew only the standard black tea that my elderly disabled neighbor across the street made me in her fancy pink and gold cup after I vacuumed her house. I was twelve years old. Mrs. Bickford served it to me with a little pitcher of milk and some sugar cubes on the side and told me how to hold my pinkie finger when I lifted the cup. I thought she and the tea in such a fancy cup were the height of sophistication. But I grew up and found other teas.

The best tea came from a Greek god. A couple of months after meeting this god, I came down with an intestinal flu. I was a freshman in college a thousand miles from home and sick on my own for the first time. My roommate called my god, and told him I was sick. He told her to stand by the side door of our all-female dormitory, and he would meet her in ten minutes. She soon came to my side with a thermos of hot chamomile tea and a bag of yellow lemons. Chamomile to soothe my tummy, and a lemon to suck on after my nausea attacks. The lesson to my daughters will remain: don’t marry him until he brings you lemons and chamomile. Then you’ll know he’s the right one.

After our move to Greece to live happily ever after, I discovered more about chamomile tea. This small plant with tiny daisy-like flowers grows in a dry sandy soil. On our walks in the countryside with my mother-in-law, we often picked chamomile to take home. She placed the flowers between her cupped fingers and pulled off only the flower heads. She spread them out on a white sheet and placed them on a sunny tin roof to dry. After drying, we put them in a white cloth bag with a draw string. Before zipper-lock plastic bags, women made cloth bags from worn sheets or pillow cases to store herbs. To make the tea, she placed two large tablespoons of the dried chamomile flower heads in a little wire strainer and poured boiling water over the flowers, letting the strainer sit in the water a bit. A fragrant dark yellow brew emerged.

I soon became a true-believer in chamomile as a universal healer, soother of tummies, wounds, and bruised souls. When our second daughter, Antigone, was born in Athens, Greece at Elenas Hospital, the midwives-in-training gave her sugared chamomile tea between breast feedings. Chamomile is given to newborn and colicky babies as a calming addition to mother’s milk. Shortly after she and I returned home, Antigone developed thrush. My pediatrician told me to make a strong chamomile tea and, with a clean gauze pad, wipe out her mouth after each breast feeding. The thrush soon disappeared.

A Greek friend of mine used chamomile as a feminine douche. Another friend rinsed her natural blonde hair in chamomile after every shampoo to enhance the blonde highlights. When my son Niko was a toddler, he fell on the corner of our coffee table cutting a slash clear through his ear lobe. Fearing a permanent scar, I took him immediately to our pediatrician. Instead of a stitch, he told me to make a strong chamomile tea and bathe his ear lobe with the dark yellow liquid 3-4 times a day. Healing occurred with no scar. Chamomile doesn’t sting like alcohol, iodine, mercurochrome, or hydrogen peroxide when touching sensitive cuts and scrapes. Alexia fell on her bike scraping the underside of her arm–quick, make some chamomile tea. Vera fell on the gravel and punctured her knee–out came the chamomile tea. When we feel a cold or flu approaching, we brew a cup of chamomile. The amber elixir soothes nerves at the end of a hectic day and serves as a natural sedative, much like warm milk before bed time.

I cannot find chamomile growing in East Tennessee, and the white cloth bags my mother-in-law gave me are lying empty and folded in my kitchen drawer. But in our kitchen we always keep boxes of store-bought chamomile tea bags– and fresh lemons.

(published in Migrants & Stowaways: An Anthology of Journeys by the Knoxville Writers’ Guild, 2004)
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