How to Grow, Use and Indentify the Chamomile Herb

Learn how you can grow, use and identify the chamomile herb, includes tips on how to identify different chamomile varieties and using chamomile for tea.

| December 1991/January 1992

  • Growing the chamomile herb is easy with these helpful tips.
    Growing the chamomile herb is easy with these helpful tips.
    Photo By Fotolia/Marta Teron

  • Growing the chamomile herb is easy with these helpful tips.

Grow the chamomile herb for your health using these helpful tips.

Mrs. Rabbit put Peter to bed, made some chamomile tea, and gave a dose of it to her unruly son. “One table-spoonful to be taken at bed time,” Beatrix Potter intoned in The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Just what was this elixir that calmed our favorite woodland renegade?

If you pick up a half-dozen herb books to look up the chamomile herb, you are likely to find a bewilderment of names. There’s Roman (or English) chamo­mile, a perennial, and German (or Hungarian) chamomile, an annual. The German species might be listed as Matricaria chamomilla, Chamomilla recutita, or Matricaria recutita. These are all the same plant! Roman chamomile is referred to in some sources as Anthemis nobilis, in others as Chamaemelum ­nobile. The currently accepted nomenclature is Matricaria recutita for the German, and Chamaemelum nobile for the Roman. But what a confusion for such a lowly European weed!

The word chamomile (sometimes spelled camomile, and generally pronounced with a long i) is derived from Greek—chamos (ground) and melos (apple), referring to the fact that the plant grows low to the ground, and the fresh blooms have a pleasing apple scent. Even at this level of naming, all is not clear. Roman chamomile is indeed low growing, and is used for clipped lawns in England. But German chamomile grows to a relatively stately 2 1/2 feet.

Telling Chamomile Varieties Apart

German chamomile is a sweet-scented, branching plant whose tiny leaves are twice-divided into thin linear segments. The flowers, up to one inch across, have a hollow, cone-shaped receptacle, with tiny yellow disk flowers covering the cone. The cone is surrounded by 10 to 20 white, down-curving ray flowers, giving it the appearance of a miniature daisy. German chamomile is native to Europe and Western Asia, where it is weedy; it has escaped from cultivation in the United States as well.

Roman chamomile, on the other hand, has a spreading habit and grows only about a foot high. Leaves are twice or thrice divided into linear segments, which are flatter and thicker than those of German chamomile. Its flowers are also up to an inch across, but its disk is a broader conical shape, and the receptacle is solid. Roman chamomile also has white ray flowers, though a number of cultivated varieties have none at all and give the appearance of little yellow buttons. There are also double-flowered cultivars (well-known by the sixteenth century), and a flowerless one called ‘Treneague’, named for the English estate on which it was developed. Roman chamomile is native to Western Europe northward to Northern Ireland.

4/16/2019 3:20:26 PM

I have chamomile in the garden, every year this plant comes up! It must be a Roman, if so can I use this plant for tea flowers, as well as the green foliage!
5/26/2018 8:05:40 PM

I have grown the German chamomile, and then realized it was an annual. I am switching to the Roman variety. However, my mail problem was the harvesting of the tiny little flowers. Where can I find a 'chamomile rake' to make harvesting easier and faster?

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