pierre laszlo

Chamaemelum nobile (Asteraceae), aka chamomile.

Plant of the month (©Pierre Laszlo, all rights reserved)
Chamaemelum nobile (Asteraceae), aka chamomile.

This low-growth perennial, endemic to Europe, forms a spreading mat, no taller than 10 cm or so. As Shakespeare aphoristically wrote (King Henry IV, Part 1, Act II, Scene 4):
"Though the chamomile, the more it is trodden on, the faster it grows, yet youth the more it is waster, the sooner it wears." 
The ear notices the assonances, waster/wears. While the mind weighs the comparisons trodden on / waster and grows/wears. These are the stylistic felicities that turn it into a memorable saying.
This was in Elizabethan England. Later on, in 17th century England chamomile lawns were still popular. John Evelyn, in his Kalendarium Hortense (1664) devoted to October tasks, specifies there is no need to beat, roll, or mow "carpet walks" and chamomile at that time, "for now the ground is supple and it will even [out] all inequalities" (from walks that people took in the garden).
The chamomile flowers bloom during the summer and look like miniature daisies. Finely-dissected, fern-like foliage emits a fruity scent when bruised.
This plant has enjoyed a fine reputation for millennia. Chamomile tea, prepared from dried flower-heads, is a soothing folk medicine. It continues to be popular — more than a million cups a day are consumed, according to an expert — all the more so that, in our current urban culture, we have lingering nostalgia for our collective roots in the countryside. 
What is it good for and what is the scientific evidence? This differs on both sides of the Atlantic. Europeans are chamomile tea enthusiasts, Americans are a bit more wary. 
The Navarra province of Spain is representative of Europe as a whole. The people there drink chamomile tea for treatment of digestive complaints, stomach acidity, constipation and diarrhoea, and even for bad moods. They also use it as a tranquillizer. 
Other ailments for which Europeans brew a cup of chamomile tea include hay fever, muscular spasms, menstrual disorders, ulcers, wounds, and hemorrhoids. Chamomile tea is routinely used as a home remedy in Germany, to prevent insomnias in particular. Chamomile tea in France is a home remedy, to such an extent that it can be ordered in a café, in like manner to verbena, linden or mint teas. American restaurants routinely carry it among other teas. 
I am fond of it myself. One of my childhood recollections is of awakening with ‟glued eyelids,‟ the result of small infections of the tear glands. My parents would gently touch cottonwool dipped in lukewarm chamile tea, and thus dissolve the offending secretion. It is a cherished memory.
Chamomile is effective also as an anti-inflammatory. The mechanism of action is inhibition of COX-2 enzyme activity, as with other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.  According to a report, chamomile tea is also a kidney protector, against in particular the cis-platin antitumoral.  
I believe the benefits far outweigh the few undesirable side-effects, of allergy type, in a miniscule portion of the population. Overall, chamomile is people-friendly, as Shakespeare and Evelyn noted.