Chamomile, or Matricaria recutita is a very familiar herb to many. It is often found in tea blends, body lotions, or even soaps commercially. Also can be known as ground apples, garden chamomile, pin heads, chamomile consists of the fresh or dried flower heads. Some of it’s benefits include:
- nervine (soothing to the neves)
- liver and kidney detoxifier
- antibiotic (especially against gram positive bacteria)
- sedative qualities
Chamomile has no known interactions, but if you are allergic to ragweed, this is probably best not used, as there have been reports of anaphylactic shock.
This lovely plant isn’t just grown to make tea or other recipes with. In fact, Roman chamomile – one of the more popular varieties of chamomile – is often grown as a low-growing groundcover. It’s perfect for softening the edges of stone walls or to be planted along walkways.
Types of Chamomile
Actually, there are two types of chamomile, Roman or German. They are botanically unrelated, but both produce the same light blue essential oil. Most of the chamomile grown in North America is German.
Both German and Roman chamomile are used and sold commercially. However, “true chamomile” is Roman chamomile. False chamomile is another name for German chamomile. While these are the two most common varieties of chamomile, there are others, too, namely:
- Moroccan chamomile
- Cape chamomile
- Pineapple weed
Chamomile is also often confused with aster. Although aster is similar to chamomile in appearance – and in fact, has chamomilla as part of its scientific name – the two are very different plants.
Most herbal products contain Roman or German chamomile, as both plants are quite similarities and are, therefore, often confused. Both contain the essential oil that chamomile is known for – chamazulene.
However, German chamomile has a higher concentrate, which is why it is commonly used as a digestive aid, tranquilizer, antiseptic, insect repellant, or anti-inflammatory agent.
German chamomile is native to Asia and Europe but is cultivated commercially in Egypt, eastern Europe, France, and Hungary. Roman chamomile, on the other hand, is native to North Africa and Western Europe but is grown commercially in Belgium, England, France, the United States, and even Argentina.
While German chamomile is more commonly used for tea, Roman chamomile can serve all of the same purposes. German chamomile tends to be tougher than Roman chamomile, but if you want a plant that will come back each year, you need to go with Roman chamomile.
If you use Roman chamomile as a groundcover, you can plant it just about anywhere. It’s an effective living mulch to reduce weed growth between your vegetables and can even tolerate some foot traffic. Although it produces fewer blooms, it is relatively hardy in this regard.
How to Grow Chamomile
Growing chamomile is fairly easy. You can either grow from seeds, or transplanting a chamomile plant. You can find seeds online and simply sow into fertile soil, preferably on the slightly acidic side, in the early Spring for a Summer harvest. The pH should be between 5.6 and 7.5.
Chamomile does best in full sun. They spread quickly, grow fast and are beautiful when flowering. The best part is that our chickens do not seem to like the flowers, so they have not ever bothered the bed. You will harvest and dry the flowers in the Summer.
Chamomile can be grown in zones 4-11. In these areas, Roman chamomile (also referred to as Russian or English chamomile, just to confuse you a little bit more!) is a perennial groundcover that grows low and will come back each and every year as long as it is not killed off by mistake.
This plant grows best in partial shade and only reaches a maximum of a foot tall. This plant spreads underground by rooting stems, which become hairy above ground and then produce a single flower atop a single stem. Each flower has white petals and yellow, rounded discs. Its foliage is fine and feathery.
German chamomile, on the other hand, is an annual. This plant self-sows and grows upright, reaching heights of about 24 inches. It does not spread as much as Roman chamomile but instead grows in a stalkier fashion this plant also has delicate fern-like foliage, but it produces stems that branch out and produce multiple flowers on a stem.
Because German chamomile is an annual that self-seeds readily, you should start it indoors. It should be started about six weeks before the last expected date of frost.
Chamomile needs some light in order for the seeds to germinate, so you might want to scatter the seed and then press it firmly onto the soil – but resist the urge to press the seeds down into the soil or to cover them with soil. Your seeds will germinate in about a week or two.
German chamomile can be direct-seeded outside, but you will not have great success if the conditions are not ideal. If you live in a warm climate, you might be able to direct seed in the fall, allow it to stratify over the winter, and then receive a spring crop.
Roman chamomile, as a perennial, does not produce many blooms – however, it is also relatively easy to grow from seed. Let your plants go to seed at the end of the season and it will reseed each year.
Both German and Roman chamomile can thrive in partial shade, but full sun will produce more flowers. If you live in a hot environment, you may want to provide a bit of shade to give the plants some protection.
Your plants will grow best if they are planted in fertile soil, so you will benefit from putting down organic matter before you plant. You don’t need to fertilize during the growing season, as your plants don’t need overly rich soil.
In fact, in some places, chamomile is considered an invasive weed. It grows so rapidly without the need for fertilizing that you may have trouble getting rid of it once you have planted it!
That being said, some organic matter when you plant is beneficial. Plants that are not effectively fertilized will become top-heavy and floppy, particularly if they are planted in poor soil. If this happens and it’s too late in the year to fertilize, you can always stake up your plant with some stakes and twine.
Neither Roman nor German chamomile require absurd amounts of water. The more often you water, the soggier the soil will become, which can be a detriment to your plants. You will be better off allowing your plants to dry out somewhat between watering.
While regular watering sessions will allow your plants to bloom for longer, know that chamomile is very drought-tolerant once it has become established – as long as it gets some afternoon shade. Usually, you only need to water this plant about once a week – if that.
Most insects stay far away from chamomile, as they do with many other herbs. It is often used as a great cucumber companion plant as it keeps pests off the more vulnerable cucumbers. Keep in mind that both aphids and thrips can be a problem for your chamomile plants, but if you are diligent about checking your plants, you can simply brush them off the plant or treat them with insecticidal soap.
Some other good companion plants for chamomile include cabbage, onions, and mint. These plants will help reduce the appearance of weeds and will help keep similar pests at bay.
If you’d like, you can even grow chamomile in a container. You can mix and match Roman and German chamomile plants, or you can grow just one type. Just remember to choose a pot that is well-draining and filled with organic matter, and that your containers will dry out more quickly and require more frequent waterings.
Powdery mildew occasionally impacts chamomile plants. This can be prevented by monitoring your plants closely to see whether they actually need to be watered or not – this will reduce the likelihood of you overwatering and will help reduce the sogginess of the soil. Make sure you provide proper spacing, too, which will allow for airflow between your plants.
How to Harvest Chamomile
You can harvest every bit of the chamomile plant to be used in the kitchen, medicine cabinet, or garden. You can harvest the leaves and flowers of the German chamomile plant for tea. Harvest them when the flowers are fully open. They can be used fresh or you can dehydrate them and store them for later. The leaves do have a tendency to make your tea a bit bitter, so you might want to leave them out and only harvest the flowers if you have this problem.
Roman chamomile’s leaves and flowers can also be harvested. The flowers tend to be quite aromatic, while you can use both the flowers and leaves to make potpourri. You can even use the flowerheads of Roman chamomile to make a digestive extract.
The best time to harvest chamomile is when the petals of the flowers begin to curl downward (ordinarily, they will grow straight out). Let the flower heads dry before using them in a tea.
You can do this by separating them with some room between them on a piece of cheesecloth. Store it in a cool, dry place for a week. You will usually want to use two tablespoons of dried flowers per an eight ounce cup of tea.
Uses for Chamomile
Chamomile can be used as a digestive aid, assist in healing ulcers, and for women’s health.
Chamomile was also used traditionally as relaxing tranquilizer by adding flowers to a warm soaking bath, to possibly assist in reducing arthritic inflammation and for infection prevention by applying a cooled infusion to cuts in a compress form.
Using chamomile tea for sleep may help promote a more restful, peaceful sleep. Some great uses for chamomile are:
- Infuse chamomile into 1/4 cup of water to make a “tea”.
- Strain out the herbs, keeping the water.
- Gently warm the glycerine in a double boiler, and add the arrowroot powder, stirring slowly to combine.
- Add the water and ground oats, stir to combine and store in an airtight lid.
To use, add a bit and scrub all over hands and rinse. Good for up to 6 weeks.
Chamomile Nightime Tea
This is a family favorite. We all drink this at least 3 times a week, especially when we having busy weeks and need to unwind. Can be drunk hot or iced and it’s delicious either way. Chamomile tea is also safe during pregnancy for those times when you have an upset tummy.
Chamomile Skin Soothing Salve
This is also gentle enough to use as a diaper rash cream, and is gentle enough to use on the face area as well. We like to have this for mild sunburns, skin abrasions and even as a lip balm.
Gently melt the coconut oil and add the dried herbs. The oil may not cover the flowers completely, and that’s okay. Place in a 200° oven for 2 hours and allow the herbs to infuse the oil. Strain and place in a double boiler.
Melt the beeswax in the infused oil and stir completely. Pour into a leakproof container and cool completely before use. Use within 6 months.
And that’s not all! Chamomile can also be used in a variety of recipes. Here are a few you’ve got to try:
- Chamomile Honey Tea Poached Pears
- Chamomile Cake with Salted Honey Buttercream
- Honey Chamomile Simple Syrup
- Chamomile Blackberry Ice Cream
- Chamomile Honey Muffins
Chamomile serves many purposes in the kitchen. It can be used as a flavoring for cereal, oatmeal, or salad. It can even be used in desserts like custard, ice cream, or cakes!
Many people also use chamomile in cocktails. Since it has a distinctive apple flavor, it can be used as a flavoring for wheat beer, an herbal wine, or a sweeter drink.
What are some things you like to use chamomile for? Be sure to pin this to your board for later!
last update: August 21st 2019 by Rebekah White