Roman chamomile comes under the spotlight

Chamomile is a well-known plant which many consume daily as an herbal tea to help them relax after a stressful day. What very few people are aware of is the diversity of chamomile plant types, each of them providing a plethora of different active ingredients and therapeutic effects. One is Roman chamomile, and the more well-known German chamomile, two exceptional plants with some similar uses, but many different active ingredients. At Sibelius we recognise the difference in the therapeutic effects of these two plants and have explored the uniqueness of Roman chamomile, to create Sibelius®: Chamomile.

What is Roman chamomile?

Roman chamomile, more formally known as Chamaemelum nobile (L.) All., is one of the oldest known medicinal herbs and has historically been a widely grown species of the daisy family [1]. It is indigenous to Western Europe but can be found growing wild or cultivated all over European, North African and Southwest Asian countries [2, 3]. Over the past few years, its occurance has declined, due to adverse weather and growing conditions, to the extent it is now considered an endangered species [2]. Its flowers are found in two different botanical varieties, the single and the double, however the commercially grown herbal substance comes from the sterile doubled-headed flowers [1, 3, 4]. They usually flower from June to September, giving off a very pleasant, apple-like scent [3]. This unique fragrance is also the reason why this plant was named as “chamomile”, coming from the Greek words “chamos” meaning ground and “melos” meaning apple.

Although Roman chamomile is mainly used as a lawn, it has many therapeutic, cosmetic and food applications, due to its splendid safety profile [3]. It has been shown to possess a wide range of pharmacological effects, including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-emetic, antispasmodic and relaxing activity [5, 6, 7, 8]. Roman chamomile has been
used for over two thousand years, both internally to treat gastrointestinal and digestive ailments and externally to heal skin, mouth and respiratory inflammation, as well as eye irritation [6, 9, 10]. It has also been applied anecdotally to relieve mild premenstrual symptoms, allergies, hay fever and asthma [4, 11]. In the food industry, Roman chamomile is often consumed as herbal tea, as well as employed as a flavouring agent to various food and drink preparations, being rich in carbohydrates and proteins and low in fats [6].

What’s the difference from German Chamomile?

Roman chamomile is very often confused with the now more well-known German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla L.) [1]. However, Roman chamomile is considered to have superior therapeutic effects than those of German chamomile, and therefore it was named as “nobile”, meaning noble [3]. Apart from some common applications, the differences between the two species outweigh the similarities.

Regarding morphology, commercially grown Roman chamomile is a small, non-seed producing, perennial plant with a hairy stem and double-headed, white owers, which are larger than those of the German chamomile. Its propagation is vegetative through plant division. German chamomile, on the other hand, is a seed-producing, annual herb that typically reaches a height of 60 cm and has a hairless stem [4].

Although many common compounds have been identified in both plant types, there are several differences in their chemical composition. Roman chamomile is primarily composed of terpenoids, flavonoids – mainly luteolin, quercetin, apigenin and its derivative chamaemeloside, and catechins -, coumarins, phenolic acids and esters [9, 12]. Its volatile oil, is yellow in colour and presents the highest concentration of esters compared to all known essential oils, with angelic and triglic acid esters constituting 85% of the oil [13]. Although there is a significant focus on its volatile oil, studies on chamomile extracts have reported that both lipophilic (lipid soluble) and hydrophilic (water-soluble) compounds are responsible for its therapeutic properties [12]. The main active constituents of German chamomile are terpenoids, such as α-bisabolol and chamazulene, coumarins, flavonoids and their glycosides, tannins, polysaccharides and phytoestrogens. Its essential oil is deep blue in colour, due to the high concentration of chamazulene, and its smell is rather unpleasant compared to the one of Roman chamomile oil [14].

To sum up, Roman and German chamomile should not be considered as two different names for the same plant.

Figure 1 – Anti- ageing effects of Sibelius™:Chamomile Representative plot showing population viability over time in C. elegans treated with Sibelius™:Chamomile (green) versus a vehicle control (red), with the increase in median survival time highlighted.

As shown above, there is a noteworthy morphological and chemical variation between these two types of chamomile, which subsequently provides different pharmacological effects and applications to each plant. German chamomile is the most commonly used herb in all chamomile preparations, but what if Roman chamomile provides enhanced effects? With recent studies reporting new potential medicinal properties of Roman chamomile, the value of this plant is constantly growing [1].

Sibelius®: Chamomile

Considering the above, Sibelius has explored in depth the beneficial effects of Roman chamomile and is now ready to introduce its second botanical extract Sibelius®: Chamomile. This follows Sibelius®: Sage, which has already achieved great success worldwide [15]. Sibelius®: Chamomile is a unique ingredient, derived from a non-pollen producing, specific cultivar of Roman chamomile grown in the UK.

By taking advantage of our proprietary Chronoscreen™ technology, described in our previous article in Nutraceuticals Now [16], Sibelius screened diverse chamomile extracts
to identify their possible beneficial effects on the regulation of cellular ageing. Sibelius®: Chamomile shows significant increases in lifespan of the model organism, C. elegans by over 10% (Figure 1). To further understand the activity of Sibelius®: Chamomile, we have tested the gene expression responses of young adult C. elegans worms treated with the herbal extract.

Amongst the genes that were up-regulated in response to Sibelius®: Chamomile, was a set of C-type lectins, which have activities including the activation of immune responses [17]. Also, up-regulated was a set of genes involved in sphingolipid metabolism, which also has implications for innate immune and inflammatory responses – amongst other things – through both physical and signalling mechanisms. Sphingolipids are important constituents of lipid rafts, which are highly organised assemblies of lipids and proteins that are present in cellular membranes and play important roles in processes such as signalling and trafficking. Of potential interest in the case of Sibelius®: Chamomile is that lipid rafts have been implicated in inflammatory responses, such as allergic rhinitis, through the modulation of mast cell degranulation and histamine release [18, 19]. Interestingly Sibelius®: Chamomile treatment down-regulated the expression of a number innate immune response genes that are normally located in these lipid rafts, suggesting that the herbal extract may play a role in the modulation of inflammatory and immune responses via modulating the number and/or composition of these lipid rafts. Together, the expression data provides insights into the activity of Sibelius®: Chamomile that is consistent with the anti-inflammatory and immune support activities traditionally associated with medicinal applications of the herb.

Sibelius research has revealed new and interesting data about the effect of Sibelius®: Chamomile on the immune system. However, the underlying mechanism of this activity, and how this might contribute to benefits to allergic diseases are subject to further investigation. Exploring the molecular functions of herbal extracts using the above-mentioned approach does not provide all the answers, but it undoubtedly helps to know the right questions to ask at Sibelius, so as to direct our research and development efforts in the future.


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Loukiani Chatzinasiou,
Product Manager at Sibelius Ltd

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