My herb garden is finally starting to ramp up for the season, and out of all of the plants that I grow for our pollinators, chamomile has to be one of my favorites.
This delightful herb is not only beautiful to look at, but it tastes (and smells!) delicious. Brew it in a tea, use the essential oil, or steep a nice bath…whatever you do, grow some chamomile this year! You won’t regret it.
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Chamomile is a member of the plant family Asteraceae, which is the same family that includes flowers like marigolds and sunflowers – both of which also have some pretty powerful aesthetic, medicinal, and culinary benefits.
When consumed, chamomile has a unique flavor profile that can best be described as herbal, fruity, and smooth. It’s often compared to the taste of an apple, and while it’s light ana diary, it’s definitely one of the most underrated herbs.
What are the Health Benefits of Chamomile?
Chamomile has a rich history. It was first used in Ancient Egypt, where it was used as an early cosmetic as well as a fever reducer. Later, Romans used chamomile to add flavoring to beverages and also as a medicinal herb.
Fast forward to the Medieval times, and chamomile was used ceremoniously to add a nice aroma. It has also been used in beer production to enhance the flavor, similar to the way hops are used today.
Modern studies have shown chamomile to be effective at doing the following:
- Relieving stress
- Helping you sleep
- Reducing feelings of anxiety
- Enhancing and improving skin health
- Aiding in digestion
- Improving immune functioning
- Improving heart health
- Lowering cholesterol
- Treating eczema
- Addressing the symptoms of hemorrhoids
- Improving and accelerating the rate of wound healing
Does Chamomile Have Any Bad Side Effects?
Not really. Although you’ll want to be avoid consuming chamomile if you have allergies to flowers in the daisy family, you should otherwise be ok. Steer clear if you are allergic to chrysanthemums, daises, ragweed, or marigolds.
You should also avoid consuming high amounts of chamomile if you’re headed into surgery. It contains small amounts of coumarin, a known blood thinner. As always, if you’re pregnant, you should avoid chamomile, as there’s not a lot of research regarding whether it’s safe or not.
Best Varieties of Chamomile
Looking for the best type of chamomile to grow in your herb garden? Here are some of the best cultivars to consider.
There are two major types of chamomile: These are German and Roman chamomile, which are the two types of chamomile most often used for essential oils, teas, and other household uses.
Roman chamomile, also often referred to as English chamomile, is often regarded as “true chamomile.” This plant grows as a low perennial ground cover in zones 4-11, growing best in partial shade. It will only reach a maximum of a foot in height.
German chamomile is an annual and can self-sow. It is more upright, growing up to two feet in height, and it does not spread like ROman chamomile. It has fern-like foliage and its stems branch outward.
When you’re planting chamomile and trying to decide between German and Roman varieties, know that both are quite similar and have the essential oil you’ll be looking for – chamazulene. German chamomile contains higher amounts of it, but both will have a sweet scent and both can be used medicinally
If you’re looking for chamomile plants or seeds, you will probably purchase a cultivar that falls into one of the categories I mentioned above. However, keep in mind that many other species’ common names include chamomile – but they are not in the same family and shouldn’t be grown for the same purposes. These include:
- Scentless chamomile
- Field chamomile
- Stinking chamomile
- Moroccon chamomile
- Golden chamomile
- Yellow chamomile
- Oxeye chamomile
- Dyer’s chamomile
- Cape chamomile
- Wild chamomile
Where Can Chamomile Be Grown?
You can grow chamomile just about anywhere, but remember that your success in growing it as a perennial will depend on what type of chamomile you choose. Chamomile can be grown in hardiness zones 3 to 11, and will be perennial in zones 4 to 9 (as long as you select Roman chamomile).
How to Start Chamomile from Seed
Chamomile can be sown directly into the garden or they can be started early indoors and then transplanted once the weather warms. If you’re growing German chamomile, you may have better luck starting it inside. This is because they are seeds that require light to germinate, making starting by seed quite difficult if you don’t have absolute control.
Broadcast the seed over moist potting mix , and mix it lightly into the soil. Do not cover it completely, as this will make it too dark. You should use standard fluorescent lamps to provide the delicate chamomile seeds with the light they need. Keep them about two or three inches from the tops of the plants, and consider putting an oscillating fan in front of them to keep the seedlings aerated.
Seeds will develop into seedlings in about seven to fourteen days. If you use a good propagation media, you can often get them to germinate even faster. You might want to consider Oasis Rootcubes or Grodan Stonewool for this.
Once your seeds have developed into seedlings and the danger of frost has passed – usually in May or June – you can transplant them outside. Once the seedlings are established in the soil, they are actually quite hardy.
How to Transplant Chamomile
Chamomile likes to be cultivated in fertile, well-draining soil. Select a nice sunny spot, such as the one at the end of a raised bed or vegetable row. Prepare your soil in the spring with lots of aged compost for extra fertilizer.
Wait to transplant until the danger of frost has passed. While young seedlings can survive mild spring forests, they may not tolerate a heavier cold snap. That being said, in some mild climates, chamomile has been known to survive through the winter months!
Chamomile grows well when planted alongside companions such as:
- Leafy greens
Its strong aroma helps to repel pests and it does not get in the way of your spring-producing flowers, herbs, and greens.The only pests that will ever really bother your chamomile plant are rabbits. Chamomile can actually increase the essential oil production of other herbs it is planted by, too.
When you plant your chamomile, make sure you provide spacing of about eleven inches between plants, with rows nine inches apart.
Caring For Your Chamomile Plant
Chamomile has minimal problems you will need to worry about. Occasionally, you may find aphids and mealybug infesting your plants, but these can be controlled manually by removing them and dunking them in a bucket of soapy water when you spot them. You can prevent problems with these pests by maintaining good watering habits.
You should water your plants regularly, taking care not to overwater. The soil beneath your chamomile can be allowed to dry out almost completely before watering – just make sure you give it a good thorough soaking when it’s ready to be watered. In fact, many people get by with watering chamomile only during times of prolonged drought.
Chamomile will spread quickly if you are growing it as a perennial, so make sure you don’t plant it anywhere you don’t want it! It can be cultivated in a container, which may be a good method of controlling it if you have limited space. This plant self-sows freely and is a great attractive to bees, butterflies, and birds.
This herb doesn’t need a lot when it comes to fertilizer, and can actually thrive in relatively poor soil. Check the pH of your soil before planting, as it should be in a pH range of 5.6 to 7.5. You may need to add amendments like compost tea if that’s not the case.
How to Harvest Chamomile
Chamomile will grow to an approximate height of 12 to 30 inches, depending on the type you’ve decided to grow.
This is a unique herb to harvest in that you will harvest the blossoms – not the leaves, stems, or roots as with other plants. You will collect the white, daisy-like flowers whenever they appear. You can harvest at any time the flowers are blooming, and the more often you harvest, the more flowers will appear.
Ideally, you should pick the blossoms when they are open at their fullest -before the petals begin to droop. You can harvest them a little early or a little late, but they might not be quite as potent. Try to harvest in the morning, after any dew has dried, but before the midday sun has started to beat down on the flowers.
When you pick the flowers, use your fingers to pinch the flower head. Remove the flower head from the stem while using your other hand to keep the stem of the plant secure. You don’t want to rip it off!
If you choose not to harvest the blossoms when they’re open, you may have some self-seeding result. This is not a bad thing! It will result in an even bigger crop of chamomile next year.
Culinary & Medicinal Uses for Chamomile
To dry chamomile, shake the flowers and look for any dirt or insects. You don’t have to wash them, but you can. TO aird ry, simply spread them out in a single layer and place them in a warm, diary, dark space for two weeks. You can also put the blossoms in a dehydrator for 12 to 18 hours.
Once you’ve dried petals, you can store them in a glass jar. You can then make a tea by combining two to three stepsons of dried chamomile with a cup of boiling water. You can also make your own chamomile tea bags with coffee filters using this technique.
Chamomile can also be made into a salve, sleep pillow, or tea to help calm you and your body down. Apply it directly to your skin or drop the petals into a hot bath for best results.
Here are some more chamomile recipes you need to try:
- Chamomile Kool Aid for Children by the Hippy Homemaker
- Herbal Popsicles by Port and Fin
- Chamomile Smoothie by Herbal Academy of NE
- Chamomile Latte by Return to the Garden
- Digestive Tea by Herbal Academy of NE
- Chamomile Infused COconut Oil by Pistachio Project
Where Can I Get Chamomile Plants?
Check your local nursery for started chamomile plants, or pick up some seeds on Amazon. You can plant in the fall, too, if you’re interested in a later planting for a perennial crop next year!
That’s everything you need to know about growing chamomile. What are your favorite uses for chamomile, both in and out of the kitchen? Be sure to let me know in the comments.
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