- How to Grow, Use and Indentify the Chamomile Herb
- How to Grow Chamomile
- Chamomile for Your Health
- What’s In a Name?
- Tips For How To Grow Chamomile
- Identifying Chamomile
- How to Grow Chamomile Herb
- Flowering Groundcover
- Chamomile Care Must-Knows
- Two for Tea
- Harvest Tips
- More Varieties of Chamomile
- German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
- How to Grow and Harvest Chamomile
How to Grow, Use and Indentify the Chamomile Herb
If you have a pile of dried chamomile flowers, you can distinguish the Roman from the German by splitting the flower receptacle open down the middle. If the receptacle is solid, it is Roman; if hollow, it is German. You should test five or ten flowers to be sure, because occasionally a German chamomile flower will be solid in the interior. Roman chamomile has slightly hairy stems, while those of the German are smooth. In the live plant, the flowers of Roman chamomile sit singly atop the stem, while those of the German are on divided stems in a comb-like arrangement (known as a corymb).
How to Grow Chamomile
• German chamomile grows from seeds sown directly in their garden location. The seeds are very tiny—almost dust like—so the seed bed should be well-prepared. They can be scattered on the soil’s surface, then gently tamped down with the flat side of a hoe. Plant early in the spring, about the same time you would plant peas. The young seedlings will withstand a mild frost. The seeds generally germinate in a week to ten days. Germination begins at temperatures of about 45 degrees Fahrenheit. The plants grow slowly at first, and need to be kept well weeded. After four to five weeks, a growth spurt occurs, resulting in a rosette of leaves. Young seedlings, about 1 or 2 inches tall, are easily transplanted, but older ones do not survive this process.
If you plant around the first of June in the North, expect flowering in mid to late July or early August. Here in the southern Ozarks, self-sown plants complete their life cycle by mid-June. Blooms develop continuously, and once flowering commences, harvesting is possible every ten days to two weeks. When I was at the Sabbathday Lake, Maine, Shaker community back in the late seventies, we planted double rows of German chamomile 10 inches apart and harvested the flowers with a blueberry rake. Commercial growers in northern Europe get two to three cuttings of flowers during a season.
• Roman chamomile can be started from seeds or cuttings, or by root division. Seedlings should have a 6- to 12-inch spacing. It likes full sun and a slightly acid-to-neutral garden soil with good drainage. A rich soil will produce lush leaf growth but few flowers. It is an excellent, but slow-growing, ground cover for cooler areas. Roman chamomile does not tolerate hot, dry weather; I’ve had a very difficult time trying to grow it in the Ozarks. Roman chamomile is a perennial, growing from the same root year after year. German chamomile is an annual, but don’t expect it to grow in the garden for just one year! It self-sows freely and you can bet if you plant it one time, it will spring up in the garden from then on. The second year I grew German chamomile, I found plants springing up along the driveway several hundred yards away! In Boulder, Colorado, you can find the plant naturalized along roadsides and in the cracks of sidewalks, where seeds escaped from Celestial Seasonings tea company.
Chamomile for Your Health
In Europe, chamomile is highly esteemed as a medicinal herb. Matricaria recutita is included in the pharmacopoeias of 26 countries. Writing on the plant in the Australian journal Focus on Herbs, Slovakian chamomile expert Ivan Salamon quoted a common folk saying of his country: “An individual should always bow before the curative powers of the chamomile plant.” And “As a popular remedy, it may be thought of as the European counterpart of ginseng,” Dr. Varro Tyler wrote in The New Honest Herbal. Dr. Tyler tells us that the Germans describe it as alles zutraut—“capable of anything”.
Are these statements just over-enthusiasm, or is there meaning behind the folklore? Indeed, German chamomile, and to a lesser extent, Roman chamomile, is among the best-researched medicinal herbs now used in Europe. There it is used in a wide variety of ways and in dozens of products: compresses, rinses, or gargles are used externally for the treatment of inflammations and irritations of the skin, mouth, gums, and respiratory tract, and for hemorrhoids. A chamomile bath—a pound of flowers to 20 gallons of water—is also used. (Alternatively, alcohol extracts of the flowers are available in Europe—a much more convenient way to take a chamomile bath!)
Internally, a tea made from 2 to 3 grams of the herb to a cup of water is used to relieve spasms and inflammations of the intestinal tract, as well as for peptic ulcers. (Remember that there are about 28 grams in an ounce, so this is a very mild tea.) A mild tea is also used as a sleeping aid, particularly for children. These medicinal uses, cited in a monograph developed by the European Scientific Cooperative for Phytomedicine, are backed by intensive research of recent years as well as many centuries of common use.
Over the last decade, the popular press and even medical literature in the United States have reported that drinking chamomile tea may cause severe allergic reactions. The basis for this, according to Dr. Tyler, is 50 allergic reactions resulting from “chamomiles” reported between 1887 and 1982. Of these, only five were attributed to German chamomile. I think this says more about its safety than it does any potential harm; nonetheless, persons who experience allergic reactions to ragweed or other members of the aster family are warned that they should use chamomile with caution.
German chamomile has highly variable chemistry. To date, more than 120 chemical components have been identified from its clear blue essential oil. For many years, chamazulene was thought to be the primary active component, but scientists now believe that any antiinflammatory, antispasmodic, antimicrobial, and mildly sedative effect is due to one called bisabolol. Since the late 1970s and 1980s, European plant breeders, producers, chemists, and pharmacologists have been working on programs to improve the plant. Today, they recognize four basic chemical types of German chamomile, which has led to the production of higher-quality chamomile with more stable, predictable constituents and higher levels of active components. Crop improvement programs are continuing in both eastern and western Europe.
Next time you sip a cup of sweet, delicate, apple-flavored chamomile tea at bedtime, think of its interesting history and all the upset stomachs and other minor irritations it has soothed over the centuries. And don’t feel even a little bit sorry for Peter Rabbit, though Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail got blackberries and milk for supper instead.
What’s In a Name?
Every few years, botanists from all over the world convene at an International Botanical Congress to establish or revise the rules that govern the naming of plants. Botanists voluntarily follow the published results, known as International Code of Botanical Nomenclature, in an attempt to make plant names universal and unambiguous. According to the Code, the first valid publication of a name for a particular plant has “priority” over other names. However, when current rules of the Code are applied at a given time by taxonomists, a plant name may change, and chamomile is a case in point.
The starting point of modern botanical nomenclature is Linnaeus’s Species Plantarum (1753). In it, Linnaeus named two entities, Matricaria chamomilla and M. recutita. Both names have been applied to the plant known today as German chamomile, but for more than 200 years, the plant was officially referred to as M. chamomilla. Then, in 1972, a European researcher decided that the plant deserved a genus of its own, and he renamed it Chamomilla recutita. But seven years later, an English botanist reinterpreted the Code and concluded that the correct name for the plant should in fact be M. recutita. Today, any of these three names may be used in reference to German chamomile in catalogs and other botanical literature.
In 1589, Joachim Camerarius bestowed the common name Roman chamomile on a plant he had seen growing in the vicinity of Rome. In many books published before 1976, the plant is referred to as Anthemis nobilis. However, as early as 1785, Italian botanist Carlo Allioni separated this and several other plants out of the genus Anthemis and placed them in Chamaemelum, bestowing the name C. nobile on Roman chamomile. This name was buried in obscurity for nearly 200 years, but when it resurfaced in the mid-1970s, it was adopted because, according to the Code, it had “priority”.
Steven Foster is a botanical researcher, photographer, and writer in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. His book credits are legion, including: Herbal Emissaries: Bringing Chinese Herbs to the West with coauthor Yue Chongxi (1992) and Echinacea: Nature’s Immune Enhancer (1991), both published by Healing Arts Press in Rochester, Vermont.
Tips For How To Grow Chamomile
Many people swear by homegrown chamomile tea to calm their nerves. This cheery herb can add beauty to a garden and may have sedative qualities. Chamomile growing in the garden is both useful and visually pleasing.
There are two kinds of chamomile. The first is Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) and the other is German chamomile (Matricaria recutita). The Roman variety is the true chamomile but German chamomile is used herbally for nearly the same things. The steps for growing Roman chamomile and growing German chamomile are also nearly identical.
Roman chamomile is also known as Russian chamomile and English chamomile. It is a creeping ground cover that grows like a mat. It has small daisy like flowers with yellow centers and white petals. The leaves are feathery. It is a perennial.
chamomile looks similar to Roman chamomile with the differences being that German chamomile grows upright to the height of about 1 to 2 feet and is a reseeding annual.
How to Grow Chamomile Herb
As stated, both kinds of chamomile grow in similar conditions, so from here on down, we will refer to them as just chamomile.
You can grow chamomile in USDA plant hardiness zones 3 to 9.
Plant chamomile in the spring from either seeds or plants. It’s easier to establish chamomile herb in your garden from plants or divisions than from seeds, but growing chamomile from seed is also relatively easy.
Chamomile grows best in cool conditions and should be planted in part shade, but will also grow full sun. The soil should be dry.
Once your chamomile is established, it needs very little care. Like most herbs, chamomile grows best when it is not fussed over. Too much fertilizer will result in lots of weakly flavored foliage and few flowers.
Chamomile is drought tolerant and only needs to be watered in times of prolonged drought.
For the most part, chamomile is not affected by many pests. It is often recommended as a companion plant to plant in the vegetable garden as its strong scent often keeps pests away. That being said, a chamomile plant weakened by lack of water or other issues may be attacked by aphids, mealybugs or thrips.
Chamomile (aka Roman chamomile) is an easy-to-grow, fragrant herb that is a favorite nectar stop for pollinators. This hard-working garden plant, which also boasts edible parts, grows well in most gardens and containers. Add chamomile to an herb garden, rock garden, or other growing space; it will produce a host of white flowers from early summer through fall.
German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is a taller version of Roman chamomile often grown for its white flowers with showy yellow centers. The 1- to 2-foot-tall, clump-forming plant mixes well with herbs in a traditional herb garden. It also grows well alongside perennials in a mixed border or cascades artfully over the edges of containers.
Low-growing Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) makes a fragrant perennial groundcover. Plant it in a rock garden where it will soften hard edges and slowly spread to cover large swaths of soil with its tiny, daisylike flowers. Grow chamomile along a flagstone walkway because it will creep between the stones, blanket the soil, and prevent weeds. It can even be used as an aromatic grass substitute for lawns. It tolerates minimal foot traffic, though, so plant it in areas that are primarily viewed.
Here’s how to grow herbs from seed.
Chamomile Care Must-Knows
Roman chamomile does best in well-drained, sandy soil, full sun to part shade, and cool summer climates. It tolerates a little drought. Grow it from seed and see how it spreads over time via creeping stems that root as they move across the soil. But get ready; if you provide chamomile with optimum growing conditions it can grow aggressively.
German chamomile often reseeds in the garden, so it comes back year after year. German chamomile grows best in well-drained soil and full sun, but it tolerates light shade and poor soil, too. Plant seeds directly in the garden shortly before the last spring frost. For earlier flowers, start seed indoors in small pots about 6 to 8 weeks before the last spring frost.
Two for Tea
Roman chamomile’s bright-eyed flowers can be harvested when they are fully open, then dried to make a soothing herbal tea. Historically chamomile tea has been used as a remedy for ailments ranging from minor problems like headaches to major conditions like gastrointestinal disorders. Fresh or dried chamomile flowers are also used to flavor butter and cream cheese, or as a garnish on fresh fruit or green salads. German chamomile’s flowers are the ones most often commercially packaged as herbal tea because they taste sweeter and less bitter than their Roman cousins. For either variety, store the fresh or dried flowers in airtight containers, or freeze the harvested blossoms for future use.
Grow you own herbal tea with these easy herbs.
In spring and summer, gather leaves to use fresh or to dry for later use. Pick fully open, fresh blossoms early in the day, rinsing and patting dry. To dry flowers, spread blooms on a rack or screen and place in a warm spot. Store dried flowers in airtight jars in the dark. To brew a soothing tea, pour hot (not boiling) water over fresh or dried blooms; steep, strain, and add honey and lemon. Aim for a ratio of 1 cup of hot water to 2-3 teaspoons of flowers. Brew tea from leaves in similar fashion. Women who are pregnant or lactating shouldn’t use chamomile.
Check out these fanciful indoor herb garden ideas.
More Varieties of Chamomile
Matricaria recutita is an annual bearing daisy-shape white flowers all summer. It grows 2 feet tall and has a milder flavor than Roman chamomile.
Chamaemelum nobile is an evergreen groundcover to 12 inches tall with daisy-shape flowers in summer. It has a stronger flavor than German chamomile. Zones 4-8
German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
You can grow either German chamomile or Roman (English) chamomile but they are not the same plant.German chamomile is an annual, and it grows in a bushy shrub up to 3 feet tall. On the other hand, Roman chamomile is a perennial that only gets about a foot high and tends to grow along the ground. Though both will produce very similar aromatic blossoms, it’s German chamomile that is the more commonly grown for its blossoms.
Not very many insects will bother your chamomile plants, and they even repel cucumber beetles (so plant near the veggie garden).
You do sometimes find clusters of tiny aphids on chamomile but they are not much of a threat. They are easy to spray off with the regular garden hose, or a little bit of insecticide spray can help control the bugs. Only use pesticides intended for fruits or vegetables, and don’t spray right before you intend to pick your flowers.
German Chamomile is a herbaceous annual native plant to southern and western Europe as well as northern and western Asia. It should not be confused with Roman Chamomile, which is perennial. German Chamomile is hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8 (6). It grows best in full sun or light shade and can grow up to 3 feet tall. It should be planted in light sandy soil with good drainage and should be placed about eight inches apart. The plant requires occasional watering. German Chamomile repels cucumber beetles and is recommended to be planted in vegetable gardens along with other companion plants. Not many insects bother the plant. Sometimes, clusters of aphids may be found, and they can be sprayed off with water or insecticide.
Culinary or Medicinal Uses
Chamomile is commonly used as a medicinal plant for its anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-allergenic, and sedative properties (1). German chamomile is a herb, and its flower heads have been used to made medicine. Medicinal ingredients have been extracted from the dry flowers using water, ethanol, or methanol as solvents and corresponding extracts known as aqueous, ethanolic (alcoholic) and/or methanolic extract (9). Research shows that taking 220-1110 mg of German chamomile capsules daily for 8 weeks can reduce anxiety and depression in adults (7). Many people in the United States take chamomile to relieve anxiety or help them sleep (8). In the past, chamomile had been used to treat stomach cramps, irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion, diarrhea, gas, and colic (8). Chamomile can be used in tea to treat lumbago, rheumatic problems, and rashes (3) It can also be used in a salve for hemorrhoids and wounds as well as a vapor to alleviate cold symptoms or asthma (3).
Significance to Cultural Communities
Many cultures use it as a medicinal plant for its anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-allergenic and sedative properties.
German chamomile is native to Europe, North Africa, and some parts of Asia. It is closely related to the Roman chamomile, which has many of the same medicinal properties as German chamomile (8). Chamomile has been well-known throughout Egypt Greece, and Rome. its popularity grew through the Middle Age when people used it as a remedy for asthma, colic, fevers, inflammations, nausea, nervous complaints, children’s ailments, skin diseases, and cancer (9). Chamomile is often used in a cream or ointment to soothe irritated skin, especially in Europe (8). Chamomile is also used to naturally lighten hair. A strong chamomile tea is brewed should be used as a leave in treatment after shampooing. Chamomile flowers can also be used to make a yellow-brown fabric dye. Chamomile is one of the most popular herbal home remedies in Mexican and Puerto Rican cultures (10).
Rationale for use:
Dried chamomile flower is an age-old medicinal drug known in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. Chamomile’s popularity grew throughout the Middle Ages, when people turned to it as a remedy for numerous medical complaints including asthma, colic, fevers, inflammations, nausea, nervous complaints, children’s ailments, skin diseases and cancer. As a popular remedy, it may be thought of as the European counterpart of ginseng.
specifically, chamomile may:
- as a tea, be used for lumbago, rheumatic problems and rashes.
- as a salve, be used for haemorrhoids and wounds.
- as a vapor, be used to alleviate cold symptoms or asthma.
- relieve restlessness, teething problems, and colic in children.
- relieve allergies, much as an antihistamine would.
- aid in digestion when taken as a tea after meals.
- relieve morning sickness during pregnancy.
- speed healing of skin ulcers, wounds, or burns.
- treat gastritis and ulcerative colitis.
- reduce inflammation and facilitate bowel movement without acting directly as a purgative.
- be used as a wash or compress for skin problems and inflammations, including inflammations of mucous tissue.
- promote general relaxation and relieve stress. Animal studies show that chamomile contains substances that act on the same parts of the brain and nervous system as anti-anxiety drugs. Never stop taking prescription medications, however, without consulting your doctor.
- control insomnia. Chamomile’s mildly sedating and muscle-relaxing effects may help those who suffer from insomnia to fall asleep more easily.
- Treat diverticular disease, irritable bowel problems and various gastrointestinal complaints. Chamomile’s reported anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic actions relax the smooth muscles lining the stomach and intestine. The herb may therefore help to relieve nausea, heartburn, and stress-related flatulence. It may also be useful in the treatment of diverticular disorders and inflammatory bowel conditions such as Crohn’s disease.
- soothe skin rashes (including eczema), minor burns and sunburn. Used as a lotion or added in oil form to a cool bath, chamomile may ease the itching of eczema and other rashes and reduces skin inflammation. It may also speed healing and prevent bacterial infection.
- treat eye inflammation and infection. Cooled chamomile tea can be used in a compress to help soothe tired, irritated eyes and it may even help treat conjunctivitis.
- heal mouth sores and prevent gum disease. A chamomile mouthwash may help soothe mouth inflammations and keep gums healthy.
- reduce menstrual cramps. Chamomile’s believed ability to relax the smooth muscles of the uterus helps ease the discomfort of menstrual cramping.
Harvest and Storage
Your plants can bloom all through the summer, so there isn’t any one specific harvest time. Most plants will start to put out flowers about a month after planting.
Harvesting your chamomile flowers is a tedious task, but worth the effort. You only want the blossoms, not their stems which means you have to pick them quite carefully. Of course, you can always go through your chamomile after picking to remove any extra bits of stem later. You can use fresh flowers for tea, but it’s more typical to dry them before use.
Spread them out somewhere warm and well-ventilated to thoroughly dry. Direct sunlight can harm the chamomile oils, so don’t just leave them out in the sun to dry. Indoors is usually best. Once dry, you can store chamomile flowers in a sealed container for a year.
When making tea, you’ll need approximately 1 teaspoon of dried flowers per up. For brewing with fresh chamomile blossoms, use almost twice that. Add a little honey for sweetness.
How to Grow and Harvest Chamomile
The Chamomile plant may be the easiest herb on earth to grow. Most herbs are pretty simple – plant, prune, contain. Chamomile, with its delicate, apple-like aroma, self-seeds year after year and also happens to be a great host for beneficial insects.
German Chamomile reseeds reliably every year in my garden.
Years ago, I bought a pot of German Chamomile at (of all places) a grocery store, thinking it would be nice to dry a little to make tea from over the winter. Definitely an impulse buy, but well worth the few dollars. I planted the chamomile in my herb garden, but it has since migrated throughout the well-drained soil of my raised garden beds. Now, chamomile grows liberally in every one of my garden beds to one degree or another, but has really settled in among my blueberry bushes, where I have managed to contain it.
Varieties of Chamomile and its uses
Chamomile is an ancient herb and has been used for centuries for culinary and medicinal use – historians have found notes of its use in ancient Egyptian medicinal texts. It was also used in ancient times as a “strewing” herb – cut and thrown on floors, as it gave off its sweet apple aroma when walked on.
Chamomile is a member of the Asteraceae/Compositae family and there are 2 common varieties: Roman Chamomile and German Chamomile, with a number of individual cultivars of each variety. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, chamomile has been used to treat many human ailments, including hay fever, inflammation, muscle spasms, menstrual disorders, insomnia, ulcers, wounds, gastrointestinal disorders, rheumatic pain, eye infections and other maladies. Personally, I find chamomile tea very relaxing and drink it almost nightly during the winter – it makes me sleep like a baby. I’ve also used the same tea (unsweetened) as an eye wash to clear irritated eyes. An essential oil is frequently distilled from chamomile flowers and is used in cosmetics and perfume, and as flavoring in beverages and confections.
Roman chamomile and German chamomile are quite different plants in their growth habits. Roman chamomile is a perennial which grows 3-6″ tall and forms a spreading mat of foliage. Bloom time for the flowers is summer through fall. German chamomile likes weather on the cool side, is an annual which grows up to 36″ tall and blooms in early summer. There are no serious disease or pest problems in either variety.
Chamomile is sometimes known as “the plant doctor”, because it is thought to help the growth and health of many other plants, especially ones that produce essential oils. It is thought to increase production of those oils, making certain herbs, like mints (spearmint, sage, oregano) and basil stronger in scent and flavor.University of Florida Nassau County Extension
Chamomile attracts beneficial insects to your garden
It’s no secret that many varieties of insects can cause damage to your garden. One of the most efficient ways to control these damaging pests is to cultivate plants which attract beneficial insects – wasps, flies, beetles and other species which eat or otherwise kill the unwanted insects. Among the species that chamomile hosts are Lady Beetles, parasitic wasps and hover flies, which together consume enormous quantities of aphids, leafhoppers, thrips, corn borers, and many other pests.
Chamomile can be grown from seed or small starter plants. Plant it in most well-drained soils in either full sun or part shade, but it grows best in full sun and sandy soils. Ultimately, it likes the soil a little bit on the dry side and I’ve seen its growth slow during very wet periods. During the growing season, it spreads by creeping stems which root as they grow. New plants arise the following season from seeds produced by the flower heads.
How to harvest chamomile
Drying chamomile flowers in a cut-off paper bag. Separate the stems from the flowers and give it a shake once or twice each day to stir the contents.
Harvest chamomile when the flower petals are white and the centers bright yellow. Time of year will depend on which variety you grow, but early morning or late evening are the best times to pick the flowers, as the oils in the flowers are more concentrated when the weather is cool. Additionally, wait a day or two after rain to harvest, as chamomile holds onto moisture for quite awhile.
Harvesting German or Roman Chamomile is somewhat labor intensive. The flowers grow atop rather brittle stems and when harvesting, one can’t help but get stems along with flowers. You can find chamomile rakes online, but they tend to be rather expensive and don’t appear to save that much time for the home gardener (field production is always a different issue). Personally, I find it relaxing to pull the individual flowers off of each stem on a beautiful late spring morning, throw them into a brown bag as I go and then “clean” the flowers from the stem.
Most herbs are typically washed after harvesting, but that will damage chamomile flowers and may soak them to the point that they will be difficult or impossible to dry quickly. If insects are inhabiting the flowers, let your harvest sit outdoors for an afternoon on a porch or shady area – the insects will find their way out of the bag quickly, in my experience.
Tip: Once harvested, let the chamomile flower stems lay in the garden bed, as they make an excellent light mulch and quickly decompose, providing excellent organic matter for the soil.
How to dry and store chamomile
I allow the chamomile flowers to dry in a cut-off (shortened) brown shopping bag for 1-2 weeks. It’s easy to tell when the flowers have dried sufficiently, as they crumble into a powder and are dry to the touch when you rub them between your hands. Store dried chamomile in a tea tin (you can never save too many tea tins).
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