GROW: German Chamomile
Chamomile has a long history of medicinal use and though many species grow wild worldwide, several were brought into European apothecary gardens in the 1200s and carried over the ocean to North America in the 1500s.
It was revered by the Egyptians for healing, and used specficially in the embalming process. Greeks used it for fever and gynecological problems but it’s best known as an herb for digestion and relaxation.
Though she is referring to a different species (Roman chamomile), Maud Grieve says of chamomile in A Modern Herbal,
"When walked on, its strong, fragrant scent will often reveal its presence before it is seen. For this reason it was employed as one of the aromatic strewing herbs in the Middle Ages, and used often to be purposely planted in green walks in gardens. Indeed walking over the plant seems specially beneficial to it…The aromatic fragrance gives no hint of its bitterness of taste.”
Medicinal Uses for Chamomile
If you read a variety of modern profiles about the medicinal uses of chamomile, it becomes evident that there is one primary action that could be used to describe how best to use it: to relax tension. I keep a large jar of dried chamomile in my tea cupboard and drink several cups of strong tea on those days when anxiety and tension have settled into my head, my neck and my shoulders.
Chamomile works especially well with muscle tension but it is also a relaxing nervine - an herb that soothes the nervous system. Herbalist Matthew Wood states that chamomile is ideal for the following condition: "the person complains, whines, and demands....it is suited to babies of any age...petulant, self-centered, intolerant of pain or not having their way, inclined to pick quarrels."
I think we all have someone in our lives now and then that fits that description.
You may recall that Peter Rabbit’s mom gave him chamomile tea after he stuffed himself silly in the farmer’s vegetable patch. Chamomile’s most well-know use is as an herb to help digestive complaints; a cup of tea after a rich dinner can provide relief from indigestion and heartburn.
You can also use chamomile to modulate inflammation, especially with gums. Clinical herbalist, Rosalee de Foret, recommends dipping a clean wash rag into a cooled chamomile tea, freezing it solid and then giving it to teething babies. And note that chamomile is one of the safest herbs to use with children.
In fact, years ago, I read a blog post by a mom who introduced chamomile tea to her often-frustrated pre-schooler. Her daughter would become emotionally charged and would have minor melt-downs while playing, sharing or learning to do something new. She encouraged her daughter to ask for a chamomile tea-time whenever she was beginning to feel upset. The only rule was that mom and daughter had to sit for 15 minutes to drink tea together, sometimes talking about the problem, sometimes in semi-silence. I wasn’t this smart as a young mom but I wonder how our families and classrooms would look and feel if we gave children our undivided attention while drinking a relaxing herbal tea for 15 minutes each day.
Herbal Preparations : Tea, Tincture, Compress, Poultice
How To Grow Chamomile
Chamomile is an herb that belongs in everyone’s herbal medicine chest and ideally, in the garden. One of the easiest herbs to grow, chamomile is started in early spring by simply casting seed onto a bed, tamping it down, and watering it regularly. A short-lived annual, the life cycle from seed to blooms is 8 weeks long. It thrives in the long days of spring’s full sun and cooler temps but will dramatically wilt under the heavy heat of mid-to-late summer. If allowed to go to seed instead of harvesting the flowers, it will joyfully return the following spring and likely in places it wasn’t growing the year before. I have found that most of my effort when growing chamomile is used in harvesting of the delicate 1-inch daisy-like flowers. I pick a sunny dry morning, pull up stool and patiently pluck the newer blooms while listening to birdsong and observing the pollinators’ garden soap operas.
The worldwide demand for this popular herb has created a large system of commercial chamomile farms in Eastern Europe, Argentia and Egypt. These commercial farms use specially designed combines to harvest acres of chamomile flowers. The quality of commercially grown chamomile is only as good as its process for market preparation so dont’ buy cheap; buy orgainc and from companies that have relationships with their growers. Or just grow a patch of your own!
PLANT NAME: German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita); several European cultivars
NOTE: Roman Chamomile (Chameamelum nobile) is a smaller perennial that is often confused with German Chamomile. The essential oils are different.
HEIGHT: 3 - 24 inches
WIDTH/SPREAD: 1 feet, a bit of upright semi-sprawling
SPACING: 6 inches apart
LIFE CYCLE: Hardy annual, hardy through light frosts; reseeds (self sows) easily
MATURITY: 40-50 days
USDA HARDINESS ZONES: All zones; best in zones 3-9
PREFERRED GROWING CONDITIONS
SUN: Full sun
SOIL: Well-drained loamy garden soil
WATER: Abundant moisture but not constantly wet; allow to dry out.
CONTAINER: Can be grown in containers
Direct sow seed into garden bed in early spring. Press into soil to ensure solid contact, cover lightly as the seed needs light to germinate. Keep moist until germinated. Can start seed indoors 3-5 weeks before last freeze date, harden off for a week and transplant after frost threat is gone.
GERMINATION TEMPERATURE & PERIOD: 43-45 degrees & 7-10 days
BLOOMS: In a bigger patch, small daisy-like flowers can be harvested 2-3 times per growing season if optimal conditions are maintained. Hot temperatures (over 82 degrees) reduces flowering.
Harvesting the small flowers is labor-intensive and a tool called a chamomile rake can be used for large plantings. For best production, maintain watering. Can increase potassium in soil to ensure strong flower development.
To reseed for next season, do not pick remaining flowers the last 4-6 weeks before the first frost. This allows them to go to seed and drop into the garden bed.
PESTS: Aphids and mealybug