Chamomile is one of my favourite herbs, but I am only now writing a post about it because in the past I've had little success with growing it. I have been buying and using dried chamomile, but I currently have a lovely healthy plant out in the food forest, so I'm going to tell you all about it (and maybe learn some tips for myself to keep it alive this time).
Firstly, what do I mean by chamomile?
When I started reading looking for chamomile in my herb books, I realised that its a bit complicated as there are several species and varieties with similar names and different names for the same species! Even the botanical names have changed over time, which makes it a bit tricky to know which plant I have in the garden. This is why it helps to have multiple herbs books to check, as they will all have slightly different information on the same herb.
Chamaemelum nobile (syn. Anthemis nobilis) - Garden Chamomile, Roman Chamomile, Lawn Chamomile, Mayweed
Perennial, growing to 50 cm, feathery aromatic leaves (and daisy-like flowers on some varieties). A non-flowering variety is also used for lawns. This species is more hardy and tolerant of different weather conditions.
Matricaria recutita (syn. Chamomilla recutita) - German Chamomile, Manzanilla
Annual, also growing to 50cm with feathery leaves and daisy-like flowers. Note that the leaves are not aromatic.
Both the Roman Chamomile and German Chamomile are related and have similar properties. Generally the German Chamomile is grown for flowers and that is what you can buy as dried chamomile. The Roman Chamomile is used to extract essential oil.
I actually have both in my food forest at the moment (I now make sense of a confusing conversation with the lady with the herb stall at the market! I bought German Chamomile, Roman Chamomile and Tansy from her that day. The German Chamomile is now flowering - in winter! - and the Roman Chamomile is creeping along the ground, I have confirmed by smelling the leaves and flowers).
How to grow chamomile
German Chamomile prefers a sunny position with well-drained soil (I think in the past I had too much shade and damp soil). The plants can be propagated from seed only.
Roman Chamomile is perennial and can be propagated from either seeds or cuttings/root-division. It seems to be more hardy to different conditions and is not frost sensitive.
How to use chamomile
Flowers should be picked when they are in bloom and dried in the shade. They can be allowed to dry on the plant for seed-saving. If you can't grow chamomile (as I have been struggling with it in the past!), you can buy chamomile tea from most supermarkets. I prefer to buy the loose chamomile tea, then you can use it for other purposes as well.
Chamomile is a gentle sedative and commonly used as a bed-time tea. I'm sure many of you are familiar with chamomile tea, it has a slightly apple taste. You can also put dried flowers in a small bag near your pillow to release the calming aroma.
It also helps with indigestion and inflammation (as a tea) and can be used externally as part of tincture or salve for skin healing (I have previously posted about a chamomile lip balm, which is great for chaffed lips in winter). The flowers and leaves are commonly used. It can also be used as a rinse to highlight blond hair (and sooth the scalp).
Chamomile contains sprioether, a strong antispasmodic, which can ease muscles and cramps. Roman Chamomile is often available as an essential oil, which can be useful externally, but should not be taken internally.
Overall, chamomile has many benefits and many uses, it can be made into an infusion (tea) to drink, added to bathwater, inhaled by steaming, made into a tincture, cream or salve, to treat many different symptoms.
Do you grow chamomile? Which one do you have? And how do you use it?