As I was sitting down to start researching this extraordinary herb, I began to realize how many names there were for the simple chamomile plant! I even have 3 books calling it something different. I always love a challenge, and when something like that pops up it makes the writing and researching process even more intriguing.
Lets start at the beginning.
There is annual chamomile and perennial chamomile.
The annual variety of chamomile is the “German Chamomile” or Matricaria recutita (synonyms include: Matricaria chamomilla and Chamomilla recutita. This is considered the “true” chamomile that Linnaeus identified.
IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE: Linnaeus formalized the modern system of naming organisms using Binomial Nomenclature aka Scientific Names or a plants TRUE name. This system is where two terms are used to denote a species of living organism, the first one indicating the genus and the second the specific epithet.
Linnaeus also mis-identified chamomile at first thus creating part of the multiple name problem.
The perennial chamomile is “Roman Chamomile” or “Chamaemelum nobile“.
You can tell the two apart by their flower heads. In annual chamomile or “German Chamomile” the base of the flower head is hollow. Roman Chamomile, or perennial chamomile has a solid base.
Chamomile is extremely easy to grow and I highly suggest it if you plan to use it medicinally. Perennial chamomile is hardy from zones 4-10. It prefers full sun but can also tolerate partial sun.
Chamomile might be easy to grow but it doesn’t like competition, so keep the area well weeded. Chamomile can be direct seeded or you can transplant plants into the garden. Dividing existing chamomile and using transplants is not difficult. I prefer this method because the seeds are extremely tiny and can wash away. You can also start plants inside and transplant outside when ready.
Plants tend to get leggy and sometimes even “melt out” in really hot weather. This is where the center of the plant just flops to all sides and leaves a big hole in the middle of the plant. This is not a bad thing it just looks ugly. So plant in early spring when the weather is cool. Established chamomile can easily take spring frosts, so don’t be afraid to get it out there early.
Chamomile used to be known as “The Plants’ Physician” because it enhances and helps any other plant around it including curing whatever ailment a plant next to it might have. Because of these attributes, chamomile is still used as an all around companion plant keeping other plants disease and pest free.
Herb books (and the internet alike) will usually tell you to use the flowers to make teas, sachets, herbal bath mixes, and potpourri. I am an advocate for using the whole plant and not just what looks pretty or what the plant is commonly known for.
Instead of just cutting off the flower tops, I cut my chamomile like it’s rosemary or lavender. Usually taking all or a portion of the stem as well as the flower head attached. Chamomile will bloom and produce all summer, so you have plenty of opportunities to harvest.
Although a lot of research hasn’t been done on the medicinal and nutritional benefits of chamomile leaves and stems I just can’t stand to only harvest a single part of a plant.
Chamomile flowers have Azulene in them. This is a type of oil that is steamed from the chamomile plant.
Although I could not find any research on the matter, I would assume that this is why drinking chamomile tea (steaming the leaves) and bathing in steaming chamomile are so beneficial versus just using the leaves as a poultice or compress.
The Azulene from the chamomile plant has anti-inflammatory and antifever proponents. So anyone who has arthritis or other inflammatory conditions would do well to drink a cup of chamomile tea every once in a while or soak in a chamomile bath.
Chamomile also has soothing properties. The tea made with its leaves and flowers has a wonderful calming effect. This can help with nervousness, ease digestion, promote sleep, dissipate a headache, relieve menstrual cramps, and cool heartburn.
Infants benefit greatly from chamomile. It can be used to aid their digestion, bring down a fever, or ease pain and discomfort during teething. Chamomile is also said to help the overactive child calm down and aid in a baby suffering from colic symptoms.
Chamomile can also be used on the skin.
You can rub in oil to relieve stress, tension, and relax sore muscles. Using it on irritated and itchy skin, such as with eczema, will ease the symptoms. Mayo clinic even states the chamomile oil has the same or greater effect at treating eczema symptoms than a hydrocortisone cream.
If you have insect bites, chamomile can relieve the pain and itching from those as well.
If I’m talking to people about chamomile I always save this little story for last.
If you ever need to just pass out cold…drink chamomile tea. 😀
Brewed strongly enough, it acts as a sedative. How do I know? Yes, all of my herb books tell me it’s a sleep aid, but lets just say I had to learn the hard way how strongly to brew my chamomile tea the first time around.
Drooling apparently was involved and so was an awesome and unexpected 8am-8pm deep sleep!
So use caution if you’re planning on brewing your own!
Chamomile Tea Recipe
1 teaspoon of dried flowers/stems (or 2 teaspoons of fresh flowers/stems)
1 cup boiling water
Let water and chamomile steep for 15-20 minutes, covered. This traps the steam.
The longer you let it steep the stronger the tea gets.
SIDE NOTE: This topic is for another time, but be aware of where you’re getting your chamomile. Using store bought tea bags is not going to give you the same results as fresh chamomile or newly dried chamomile. A certain tea bag may have been sitting on the shelf for who knows how long.