Long cultivated throughout Europe for its many medicinal properties, chamomile is a member of the daisy family. The flowers look like miniature daisies and the foliage is wonderfully fragrant when brushed. It is often grown as a companion plant in gardens to help ward off disease. German and Roman forms of this herb have almost interchangeable benefits.
Although it’s most commonly known today as a calming tea ingredient, chamomile has been used for centuries to treat a host of complaints and conditions. It’s been used to effectively treat inflammation, skin infections and disease, fevers and for easing digestive conditions. Its actions on receptors in the brain produce similar effects as the prescription drug Valium, but this herb, used in tea or tincture form, is non-harmful. In addition to soothing the skin, it makes a fragrant and calming addition to bath water In the garden, chamomile tea can be sprayed onto seedlings to prevent damping off disease.
German chamomile grows about 20″ to 30″ tall and loves a sunny spot in the garden. Loose clusters of small yellow-centered white flowers bloom in the summer. The finely-textured foliage wafts a fragrant apple scent when bruised. Although the plants are annuals, they self-sow freely unless the flowers are harvested.
In the north, start seeds indoors about 8 weeks before last frost date or sow directly in the garden in the fall or spring. Fall-planted seeds will grow the following spring. In the South, plant seeds directly in very early spring. Seeds require light to germinate, so do not cover them with soil. Just press them lightly onto the soil surface and keep the soil moist until they germinate.
Chamomile grows in a wide range of soils, but prefers full sun and well-drained soil. It grows best before the heat of midsummer.
Harvest & Keeping
Harvest individual flowers or cut stems when they are fully open, preferably on a dry, sunny day. Pick flowers individually or run them through your fingers, like a comb to harvest large patches. Dry the flowers on a screen in a dry, airy place. You can also cut the plants as bouquets of stems and hang them to dry. Cut at least 6″ below the lowest flowers, bundle the stems and hang in a dry, airy place for a couple of weeks. Separate the dried flowers from the stems. The flowers are the medicinal part and will keep for up to a year in a sealed jar.
People with ragweed allergy may also be allergic to chamomile. It may also act like estrogen in the body and should not be used by women who should avoid estrogen exposure. Avoid use within two weeks of surgery that requires anesthesia.