Get down and dirty in the garden
Heidi Cardenas is a freelance writer and gardener in Lake County, Illinois, with a background in human resources. She has written about gardening for various online venues and enjoys The Herb Companion’s valuable resources.
Chamomile is a common herb used as tea. It is the national flower of Russia, is related to daisies, ragweed and chrysanthemums, and is native to Europe and Asia. Chamomile has been used since ancient times as an anxiety and sleep aid, for digestive ailments and to soothe skin irritations. Two of the most common types of chamomile include German chamomile (Matricaria recutita), also called pineapple weed and sweet chamomile because of its sweet scent, and Roman chamomile (Anthemis nobilis), also called common chamomile. German chamomile is an annual with lacy green foliage and Roman chamomile is a perennial with hairy gray-green foliage. Both have small daisy-like flowers.
This patch of German chamomile in my garden was grown from seed in May.
Photo by Heidi Cardenas
Chamomile prefers a light, rich soil with lots of organic matter, but like most herbs, it does well in a variety of soil types with good drainage. Grow chamomile in full sun and provide consistent water. Chamomile seeds need light to germinate, so mixing the seeds with a very light seed starting soil mix and just sprinkling it on top of the soil in the garden or in pots will give the best results. German chamomile grows to about 1 1/2 feet tall, so seedlings should be thinned to at least 6 inches apart. Roman chamomile only grows to about 6 to 12 inches tall, and is best grown as a groundcover or potted plant. Roman chamomile can be propagated from cuttings as well. It is a good companion plant for cucumbers, onions and cabbages, and is said to help vegetable plants "take" in the garden, or grow well.
Chamomile flowers are used to treat a variety of ailments, but the most common use is as a calming tea to help you sleep. It is also effective for calming anxiety and stress, as shown in a study done by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine on the effects of chamomile on anxiety. It has nervine, tonic, anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties, as well as containing coumarin, a blood-thinner. Because of this, it should not be used with warfarin (Coumadin), and should not be used two weeks before or after surgery. Those who are allergic to ragweed and mums may not be able to use chamomile. It is not recommended for use during pregnancy or breastfeeding because it has uterine stimulant properties.
Dried chamomile flowers are commonly used for tea.
Photo by Ehedaya/Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
The anti-inflammatory properties make chamomile a gentle treatment for arthritis, rheumatism and swellings from sprains, fractures and bruises. Its antispasmodic properties relieve menstrual cramps and intestinal and gas pains, as well as aches and pains from the flu and colds. Drink it as tea, using stronger preparations for more painful ailments.
Chamomile flowers and soapwort roots steeped in boiling water then strained make a refreshing natural shampoo. Boil chamomile flowers, use the water to rinse blond hair after washing, then follow with a rinse of freshly-squeezed lemon juice for natural lightening in the summer. Use dried flowers in potpourri, dream pillows and sachets. Burn dried chamomile flowers for aromatherapy. Add freshly-cut German chamomile flowers to a hot bath to soothe achy muscles and feet and soften your skin, as well as lightly scent the room.
German chamomile flowers have a delicious apple or pineapple scent that is attractive to bees and butterflies in the garden, and which makes them a wonderful, useful scented herb. The flowers are commonly used after being dried, but can also be used fresh, by steeping them in boiling water for a few minutes for a liquid drink. Use fresh chamomile flowers to make a delicious sun tea in the summer. When the tea has brewed, add orange and lemon slices, diced pineapple, and thinly sliced golden delicious apples with ice for a summer sangria tea. Add newly opened flowers to green or fruit salads for a very pretty dish and a taste and aroma of apples.
Chamomile is easy to grow, easy to use, and effective for a variety of common ailments. It is a pretty herb in the garden, and a very useful herb in the kitchen, medicine cabinet and bath. Two or three pots of chamomile will provide enough flowers to dry for tea for almost a year. Grow your own chamomile this year for your own fresh supply.