Plant Profile: Chamomile
- Matriccaria recutita (German chamomile)
- Chamaemelum nobile (Roman chamomile)
German chamomile is an annual grower, which means it only grows for one year after planting it while Roman chamomile is a perennial that will grow again for several years in spring after being dormant over the winter. It has feathery, evergreen leaves that grow low to the ground with daisy-like flowers except the white droops a bit lower than the yellow center, so the yellow pops up like a little burst of sun framed in soft, white rays. I was surprised at how easy it was to grow chamomile. I just scattered the seeds in a sunny place and barely even covered them with dirt. By June, they had grown and flowers had bloomed. To use chamomile, the flowers can be picked off by themselves or the top part of the stems can be cut with the flowers. I loved having a little bouquet on my kitchen counter, but all that is picked can be dried and then stored for later use.
Chamomile is very commonly available as a tea. The best way to purchase it for a stronger effect is in bulk, dried from an herbal supplier, rather than boxed as tea bags. But the boxes will also do fine. My favorite way to buy herbs is from herb farms where I feel familiarity with their growing practices and integrity. I love supporting them and I feel like their powerful energy is in the plants. My two favorites are Zach Woods Herb Farm in New Hampshire and Healing Spirits Herb Farm in New York. I think this is also because I have met the people who own these farms at an herbal conference in New England. At this conference, they offer fresh plants and also dried herbs for purchase and it just makes it feel so personal. The drawback is it is a little less convenient to buy the herbs at other times besides at a conference, especially in comparison to purchasing online from a bigger herbal distributor. Smaller farms usually have a website where you can view herbs and prices, but you have to call or email for your order. The other option I love is Horizon Herbs, which is not local to me so I have never met the owners, but I have total confidence in their integrity and practice and they have a pristine reputation among herbalists. They do a great job with distribution as well, whether you want to buy seeds, plants, or other products. Everything is available to purchase and view online. The bigger companies that I like to buy from and trust are admittedly, the places from which I usually purchase. For the bigger companies Mountain Rose Herbs is my go to place for buying dried herbs. Herbalist and Alchemist is my most trusted choice for herbal tinctures which are herbs extracted in alcohol and taken in small amounts. Avena Botanicals also has a good variety of single herb liquid extracts and as well as a fantastic variety of products including powders, salves, oils, crèmes, and alcohol free herbal glycerites. I know there are others, these are just the ones that I am using right now. Truly for an herb like chamomile, it is just a matter of preference because it is easy to find from many locations.
The energy of chamomile is warm, like the sun with a touch of moistness like a drop of dew. From a nutritional perspective, chamomile contains flavonoids that have gained notoriety for their ability to decrease unwanted inflammation in the body. One of these is quercetin, which has lots of benefit including protection against heart disease and cancers. Chamomile also will provide a bit of Vitamin A, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, iron and potassium. As a culinary herb, chamomile is safe, but there are two cautions for those with ragweed allergies as they may also be allergic to chamomile and if taking blood-thinning medications, large amounts must be avoided.
Chamomile has a sweetness and flowery presence to it that contributes to a flavor that most people can easily identify once they have been exposed to it. I have to admit; I have never really loved drinking chamomile tea, although many people do. I think it is a little too sweet for me (I never add sugar to any of the tea that I drink), so that is just me. But for anyone who is not really a tea drinker, and especially for children, the taste is easy to like. It also mixes well with other herbs like peppermint or hibiscus or can help to cover the taste of an herb that may not be so pleasing. It is a common practice to mix herbs together as tea formulas to increase beneficial qualities, so chamomile is a very good herb to keep around for this.
The honey and apple like odor of chamomile is distinctive. It is equally as strong in the fresh plant as in the dried form as well as if brewed as a tea. I grew Chamomile this year for the first time and I got shivers down my back whenever I could kneel down and stick my face right into the flowers, breathing in that smell. I think I even felt a calming effect although I am not sure if there is any science behind this type of aromatherapy. The dried flowers are lovely additions to potpourri blends, just for the fragrance.
There is evidence that chamomile was used in Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. The name chamomile comes from the Greek word chamomaela, which means ground apple, obviously named due to its smell. In the Middle Ages, chamomile was also called maythen and it considered sacred, used for cleansing the atmosphere of gatherings and festivals, and also as a bitter ingredient for brewing beer. From a magical, mystical perspective chamomile can be used as meditation incense and also as a ritual bath for the release of anger and loss or to cleanse negative energy. Sachets of chamomile can been carried or kept near to bring luck and attract love, peace, money, and tranquility.
Culinary and Cooking
Chamomile flowers are edible and sort of taste like they smell, sweet like honey and a little flowery. They can be used as decorations or added to salads, they are especially good in a fruit salad because of their sweetness. The Spanish sherry, Mantazilla, is made with infused chamomile. As I began experimenting with adding herbs in baking, chamomile was the first herb that came to my mind; it just felt like its flavor would mix well in cakes and other delicate desserts. I have not been disappointed. Please try my vanilla chamomile cupcakes and tell me if you agree.
Chamomile is among the easiest of herbs to use; maybe that is why it is so readily present in the herbal tea market. It tastes nice and it is well known for its calming effect. In the herbal medicine realm, chamomile is called a nervine because of this tranquilizing and soothing quality. This action reaches farther than just helping to calm the nerves, it also provides benefits to the digestive system and helps to relieve gas, stomach pains and spasms and diarrhea that specifically are related to stress and anxiety, in other words a nervous stomach. Chamomile is also anti-inflammatory, which means it can help relieve muscle pains. Using chamomile during a cold or flu-type illness eases discomfort because it can aid in decreasing fevers, relieves achy feelings, and provides a general relaxation to help you feel better. Overall, chamomile is an herb that can lift the spirits, calm the mind and the stomach, help relieve stressful feelings and difficulty sleeping. All of this with a pretty nice taste making it a truly valuable herbal remedy.