Sunday, 10 May 2009

Liquid Gold

I read a Terry Pratchett book some years ago – I can’t remember which one it was now – in which he described a sunrise as flowing over the land like molten gold. This was followed by a footnote which explained that, given that actual molten gold would be very very hot, very heavy and set things on fire in short order, the sunrise actually wasn’t that much like molten gold, really. This is the kind of thing that simultaneously amuses and irritates me about Terry Pratchett’s writing, but obviously it was a snippet that stuck with me, seeing as how I remember the lines something like 15 years after I read the book.

So, if we are going to be as literal about it as all that, chamomile tea is not actually THAT much like liquid gold either, but taking a metaphor as a metaphor, it could certainly be worth its weight in gold,* for all its usefulness and good qualities.

Chamomile is an excellent calming tonic for the nerves; many herbal books point to its use by Mrs Rabbit when Peter comes back all upset after his escapades in Mr MacGregor’s garden to indicate its soothing qualities and suitability for children (and rabbits, presumably). It can be used for anxiety and sleeplessness (it is not a sedative, just relaxing). It also is excellent for digestive upsets and bloating, particularly those of a nervous or stress-related origin, but also on its own merit because of its volatile oil content and somewhat bitter taste.

(Just to crack out my inner naturopath for a bit, bitter foods tend to be underappreciated in this day and age, despite the many benefits they have. The bitter flavour stimulates the digestion, promoting the production of digestive juices such as stomach acid, and it cleanses and cools the liver; it draws energy into the centre of the body, rather than leaving it out at the periphery, and thus has a calming effect on the fight-or-flight response, in which circulation is diverted out to the muscles. The liver-cleansing properties of many bitter herbs and foods also means that they can have useful secondary effects on other conditions, such as skin and hormonal problems. But ok, that’s probably enough information for now and I’ll leave off my rave. The take-home message is: don’t be afraid of bitter foods and drinks; welcome things like radicchio, dandelion, endive, grapefruit, chamomile, even Angostura bitters into your life!)

Chamomile is also anti-inflammatory, and the tea can be used to soothe skin inflammations and sensitive skin. Chill it and soak some cotton pads in it to make a very refreshing eye mask, or use as a toner after cleansing.

Chamomile blends well with other relaxing herbs such as rose petals, lavender and lemon balm; or for a stronger digestive effect, mix equal parts chamomile, peppermint and lemon balm.

Some people who have an allergy to plants in the daisy (Asteraceae) family may not tolerate chamomile – but for just about everyone else, it’s great!

* although, given how light and fluffy chamomile is, you might get an even better deal if you were able to wrangle it so that you received its volume in gold… now that would be something

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