Wondering about growing and using chamomile?
Chamomile has been used for centuries as a remedy for inflammatory issues, like arthritis and colic, as well a treatment for aches and pains. It’s a popular sedative and can help reduce stress and anxiety, as established in clinical studies. As if that weren’t enough, chamomile is helpful in soothing upset stomachs or reducing nausea. Applied topically, chamomile can reduce skin irritations. The great news is that growing and using chamomile is very easy, so you can enjoy all the benefits this herb has to offer easily. Here’s how to grow chamomile and what to do with it once you’ve harvested the flowers.
Chamomile is probably used most often in teas, either alone or as part of bedtime blends. The flowers provide most of the flavor and benefits but the leaves are useful, too.
Perennial Chamomile vs. Annual Chamomile
There are two common varieties of chamomile. Roman chamomile is perennial, so you can plant it once and harvest flowers for years. German chamomile is an annual, so it needs to be grown from seed each year. The tradeoff is that it gets taller and has the potential to produce more flowers. In nearly every way, the flowers from both are identical, so you can use them interchangeably.
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How do you grow chamomile?
It’s a really easy plant to grow, especially in Zones 4-9. Both varieties need sun to flower but the plants don’t care for extremely hot weather. When the temperature climbs, the plants tend to get leggy and aren’t likely to flower. Because of this, those growing in places with hot summers might want to grow Roman chamomile or plant their annual chamomile early in order to get the most blossoms.
In climates with longer growing seasons, it can flower a second time. It’s best to sheer the plants back after the first bloom to encourage new flowers and to keep the plants looking compact and healthy. The perennial version will often keep some green foliage over the winter, which can be a nice way to keep a little winter color.
Growing Perennial Chamomile
It can be started from seeds but the germination rate is fairly low. A four inch plant will spread rapidly and can easily take over a foot or more of bed space. This may be one of the easiest plants to propagate from cuttings or divisions, so even if you only purchase one plant, you can have a large patch within a year. It’s pretty forgiving about being walked on (gently) or otherwise disturbed, so it makes a great filler between pavers. Some people even grow chamomile lawns in areas where there isn’t a lot of heavy foot traffic!
The plants have a wonderful aroma that is fresh and vaguely citrusy, which is another great reason to grow them along a path. I use mine as edging for my perennial herb bed. It does a great job keeping weeds and grass out and if it gets nipped by the lawn mower, the foliage grows right back.
Roman chamomile grows around 12″ tall.
Once established, perennial chamomile doesn’t need much maintenance, other than a seasonal trim.
Growing Annual Chamomile
German chamomile seeds are very small and have a germination rate around 50-70%. It can be started indoors and moved outside after the last frost date in your area. If your growing conditions are favorable, it can be directly sown in the bed. German chamomile will happily re-seed, so once a patch is established, you may never need to sow seeds again!
Unlike Roman, German can grow to 18″ and it may produce more flowers, in optimal conditions. Serious chamomile connoisseurs can grow both types and enjoy the best of both worlds.
I’m not kidding about how easy it is to propagate nor how fast it will fill in. This border is only a year old and the entire thing came from dividing a single plant into smaller pieces.
Despite it’s rapid growth, it’s very easy to control. Just pull up the runners and either plant them elsewhere or use them in the kitchen.
In June, the plants will form cute little white flowers with yellow centers. The easiest way to collect them is by raking your hands through the plants or by using a harvesting rake (they’re amazing!). If you’re growing more than a couple of plants, the rake is a great investment. As noted, it’s possible in warmer zones to get a second round of flowers in the later summer or early fall.
Using chamomile medicinally
It’s probably more common to think of chamomile for it’s calming properties than it’s culinary uses. Chamomile has been well-established as a sedative and it’s often used in bed time tea blends to promote restful sleep. The nervine components that help you feel sleepy can also reduce stress and anxiety, making chamomile useful for more than bedtime. Chamomile can also soothe an upset stomach and aid digestion. Topically, chamomile is soothing and can help with skin irritations.
One of the nicest ways to harness chamomile’s properties is through a classic cup of tea.
How to Brew Chamomile Tea
Use 1 teaspoon dried or 2 teaspoons fresh flowers per cup of hot (not boiling water). Use a loose tea strainer or tea ball. Steep 15 minutes, covered. Fresh chamomile will become bitter if steeped too long, so be cautious about letting it sit too long. The leaves can also be steeped as part of the tea.
Chamomile can also be used to make a tincture or an infusion. The tincture will be stronger and more concentrated and is generally intended to be taken in small, regular doses. A reputable herbalist can advise you on the correct ration of chamomile to alcohol and the proper dosage and usage. I highly recommend Rosemary Gladstar’s excellent book Medicinal Herbs, if you want to learn more about safely using herbal medicine.
Using chamomile in the kitchen
Chamomile is most well-known as a tea, and of course, it’s wonderful in that capacity. But both flowers and leaves have other culinary uses. The little blossoms make a pretty decoration for cakes or other desserts. Chamomile offers a touch of earthy, floral flavor to both sweet and savory dishes. Next time you roast a chicken, stuff it with rosemary, thyme, sage and a few chamomile flowers. The greens can be minced finely and sprinkled over finished dishes, especially poached fish. Finally, the flowers are great in salads – or as part of a vinaigrette.
Other ways to use chamomile
The greenery can make a lovely addition to floral arrangements. Both flowers and leaves can be dried and added to potpourri.
The easiest way to preserve chamomile is by drying it. Lay the flowers on a non-metal screen or drying rack and allow them to sit for several weeks. Once the flowers are completely dry, store them in a sealed jar away from sunlight.
DISCLAIMER: As with any medicine or medicinal substance, consult your doctor before using. The information offered here is just that, information. It is not given as advice or medical guidance. Use at your own risk.
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