Chamomile flowers are used to make tea. Chamomile tea has a fresh, clean flavor that is immediately soothing. There are two different chamomile plants—Roman chamomile and German chamomile. Roman chamomile has a fragrance and flavor similar to that of freshly cut hay. German chamomile has a scent and flavor similar to apples. For many, German chamomile is favored; tea made from German chamomile is sweet; tea made from Roman chamomile can be bitter.
Get to Know to Chamomile
- Botanical name and family: There are two chamomiles: Roman chamomile (botanical name Chamaemelum nobile) and German chamomile (botanical name Matricaria recutita). Both are members of the Asteraceae daisy family.
- Type of plant: Roman chamomile is a perennial; German chamomile is an annual.
- Growing season: Summer
- Growing zones: Chamomile grows best in zones 5 to 9.
- Hardiness: Chamomile is cold hardy to -20°F; it can be short-lived in hot summer regions.
- Plant form and size: Roman chamomile is a creeping 6-inch plant with lacy, gray-green foliage; the stems root as they creep. German chamomile grows 15 to 30 inches tall.
- Flowers: Both Roman and German chamomiles have daisy-like flowers–yellow centers surrounded by whitish petals.
- Bloom time: Chamomile blooms early summer to first fall frost.
- Leaves: Roman chamomile has bright green threadlike segmented leaves that form a soft-textured mat to about 3 inches high. German chamomile is an erect plant with feather-like leaves. The flowers of both bend backward from the yellow centers. Leaves of both are covered with downy fuzz.
How to Plant Chamomile
- Best location: Both chamomiles—Roman and German—prefer to grow in full sun but will tolerate partial shade.
- Soil preparation: Roman chamomile prefers light, compost-rich, evenly moist soil. German chamomile prefers well-drained sandy soils; if your soil is moist, plant German chamomile in a raised bed. Both prefer a soil pH of 6.5 to 7.5. Add 2 or more inches of aged compost to the planting bed and turn it under before planting.
- Seed starting indoors: Chamomile can be started indoors 3 or 4 weeks before transplanting to the garden. Sow seed in organic potting mix in flats or pots under fluorescent light. Keep the tiny seeds moist or germination will be difficult. German chamomile seeds germinate in about 14 days at 55° to 65° Roman chamomile germinates best in warm soil, about 70°F.
- Transplanting to the garden: Seedlings started indoors can be transplanted out after 3 to 5 weeks when all danger of frost is past.
- Outdoor planting time: Sow both types of chamomile in the garden after all danger of frost has passed when the soil temperature has reached 55°F to 60°
- Planting depth: Sow seed ¼ to ½ inch deep; sow seed 2 inches apart.
- Spacing: Thin chamomile plants when they are 1 to 2 inches tall. Allow 6 to 8 inches between German chamomile plants and 18 inches between Roman chamomile plants.
- How much to plant: Grow 40 chamomile plants for tea and preserving.
- Companion planting: Plant chamomile with lavender or hyssop. Chamomile is said to aid the growth of cucumbers, onions, and most herbs. Some say chamomile improves the flavor and growth of cabbages, onions, and aromatic herbs. Chamomile flowers attract beneficial insects including hoverflies and predatory wasps.
How to Grow Chamomile
- Watering: Chamomile grows best in that is soil evenly moist but not wet.
- Feeding: Side dress chamomile with aged compost or feed plants with a dilute solution of fish emulsion.
- Care: Plants can be cut back in early spring to renew growth. Low-growing Roman chamomile can be cut with a lawnmower in early spring to encourage fuller growth. Keep the area around chamomile weed-free; it is a poor competitor against weeds.
- Container growing: Grow chamomile in a container at least 8 inches wide and deep.
- Pests and diseases: Both chamomiles are pest-free and disease-free. Roman chamomile is said to help control damping-off disease when mixed with water and used as a spray.
How to Harvest Chamomile
- When to harvest: Chamomile flowers are ripe when the petals curl back toward the center in late summer or early fall.
- How to harvest: Cut whole stems and flowers of German chamomile. Pinch off the flowers of Roman chamomile.
Chamomile in the Kitchen
- Flowers: Use the flowers freshly picked or dried. Flowers can be added to fruit salads or to decorate cakes.
- Flowers for tea: Both chamomiles make excellent teas. The dried blossoms of German chamomile are sweeter flavored. To make tea: Fill teakettle water and begin heating. Place chamomile fresh flowers (is best) or dry flowers and a sprig of mint in a strainer or cheesecloth in your cup (or place flowers in a tea ball); pour boiling water over the chamomile flowers and mint and then steep for 5 minutes.
- Note: Do not use chamomile during pregnancy.
Preserving and Storing Chamomile
- Drying: Dry flowers on a screen or in a loose paper bag in a cool place with good air circulation. Watch for insects that can hide in the flowers; if you see insects pour hot water on the flowers and dry them again.
- Storing: Store flowers in an airtight container.
- German chamomile is grown from seed, however seed starting success is less than 50 percent.
- Roman chamomile is propagated by division or cuttings. Divide the plant’s rhizomatous roots to start new plants or root 3- to 5- inch cuttings indoors in pots in early spring or in midsummer.
Also of interest: