Even Peter Rabbit's mother was familiar with the virtues of chamomile.

She packed Peter Rabbit into bed and dosed him up with chamomile tea when he felt unwell after a romp in Mr McGregor's garden.

Chamomile must be one of the most popular remedies Mother Nature ever devised for ailments ranging from the common cold to digestive discomfort, menstrual problems, inflammatory skin conditions, anxiety and insomnia.

It is a pretty flower with white petals and a yellow centre and a strong, sweet fragrance.

In days gone by, it was also known as the "plant's physician" - if you plant it in your garden, other flowers and herbs nearby are guaranteed to thrive.

Nobody is quite sure when chamomile's medical properties were first discovered.

The ancient Egyptians used the apple-flavoured brew to cure fever and called it "herb of the sun".

The Anglo-Saxons worshipped it as one of nine sacred herbs meant to heal the world.

When Culpeper's famous Complete Herbal was published in 1651, he stated that: "A decoction made of camomile taketh away all pains and stiches in the side, the bathing with a decoction of camomile taketh away weariness."

The plant was also used as an air-freshener in medieval times and, due to the absence of fridges, people stored their meat in camomile tea to disguise its rancid odours.

Herbal teas were possibly the first medicines ever invented and are still popular because they are effective and easy to use.

Hot water poured on to dried tea leaves releases plant chemicals called polyphenols and proanthocyanidins.

These potent antioxidants are known to offer us protection from ageing and disease.

Chamomile tea relieves cramps and indigestion and can be used to stimulate the appetite when taken before mealtimes, especially in the aged.

Diluted, it can ease wind and colic in babies. When consumed frequently and combined with a stressful lifestyle, caffeinated beverages such as coffee, black and green tea, cola and cocoa whip our tired adrenal glands into a state of exhaustion.

Chamomile tea, on the other hand, acts as a gentle sedative to soothe frazzled nerves.

Taken at bedtime, it helps those suffering with insomnia and is also believed to prevent nightmares.

If brewed strongly, chamomile tea can be used as a compress for treating skin conditions and to relieve itching.

Two cups of chamomile tea in a bath miraculously calms restless infants. Chamomile is a common ingredient in beauty treatments, too.

Rinse your hair in an infusion of chamomile if you are blonde, it will bring out the highlights. Relieve under-eye puffiness by soaking two camomile tea bags in cool water and placing them over each eye.

The compounds in the herb are anti-inflammatory and help fight bacterial and fungal infections.

It is no wonder extracts of the herb are popular in facial washes, cosmetics and creams and its essential oil is used in aromatherapy.

Individuals who are sensitive to plants in the daisy family or ragweed should be cautious with chamomile.

Others can enjoy the many applications of this mild, scented herb, especially when, like Peter, they've had a troublesome day with Mr McGregor.

Martina is a qualified nutritionist at the Crescent Clinic of Complementary Medicine, 37 Vernon Terrace, Brighton. Tel: 01273 202221 or email: martina@thehealthbank.co.uk