by Brenda Hyde
Roman chamomile is a perennial which is hardy to Zone 4 -- along the Alaskan coastline, parts of New York, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming and Idaho where winter temperatures go -30 to -20 degrees F. -- and sometimes to Zone 3 -- parts of Canada, Alaska, the coldest parts of the Northern US and the upper elevations of the Rockies, where winter temperatures go -40 to -30 degrees F. If you are unsure because of harsh winters, you may mulch the plants for extra protection. Roman chamomile will grow up to nine to 12 inches tall when in bloom. It will grow in any type of soil, but will do best in a well prepared bed that is kept evenly moist.
Roman Chamomile has some enchanting uses in the garden and landscape that have been enjoyed for centuries. It can be planted in between stepping stones or on garden paths, where it will release its apple-like scent as its trodden upon. It may be kept mown just as grass and actually, has actually been used as an entire lawn in some landscapes.
Another charming idea comes from the 19th Century gardens when seats were created by mounding the soil and planting chamomile thickly over the entire mound, or seat. This was then kept trimmed or mown. It's easy to picture the lady of the house sitting amidst the sweet aroma of chamomile while reading the latest novel. In modern times we could adapt this idea in an area where we read aloud to our children and grandchildren as well as teaching them of garden treasures and nature.
German chamomile is an annual that grows two to three feet tall and will self sow if you leave some of the flowers on the plant when you harvest. You can direct seed this type of chamomile in light, well drained soil that is kept evenly moist. It prefers full sun but will grow in partial shade as well. Grow your plants close together and they will help support each other. You can direct seed in the fall or spring.
Deciding what to grow
How do you decide which chamomile to grow? Both can be used for the recipes below, but the annual German chamomile is somewhat sweeter and less medicinal. I think both should be grown for their charm and their usefulness. I plant the annual chamomile in a space that is out of the way where I can harvest easily.
Roman chamomile is fun to grow where the aroma can be enjoyed. It's also a great companion plant to cucumbers and onions if you plant it among your vegetables. Some individuals with ragweed allergies may react to touching the plant, using it on the skin or drinking the tea, but this is true of many herbs and flowers. If you have sensitive skin, and a history of allergies it's always good to try small amounts of a new herb and wear gloves in the garden.
Harvesting chamomile is an easy project. It is best dried on a screen while covered lightly with cheesecloth. When the blooms have opened fully (the petals falling back from the center) you will want to harvest the flowers only. The petals actually have the essential oils, but all can be used for tea and other recipes.
Tips for using Chamomile
The petals of chamomile may be used in salads. Use fresh blooms on cakes for a lovely summer dessert presentation. Fresh chamomile can be used in wreaths and bouquets of flowers and herbs.
The leaves of chamomile may be dried as well for potpourri. Press the blooms to use in crafts. I like making bookmarks, note cards and gift tags.
Place a handful of chamomile in a square of cheesecloth or muslin, gather and tie then throw into your bath for a soothing skin treat. I also make bath teas by placing chamomile and powdered milk or ground oatmeal in a muslin bag then brewing it for about 15 minutes before adding to my bath.
In researching for this profile I found much of the text I read regarded the chamomiles as "disagreeable" and the tea was often used only medicinally. Perhaps I am too sentimental about herbs, but I find the aroma and taste of chamomile to be comforting. Though it's not considered a "kitchen herb" I think it should be grown in every cook's garden.
Tea of Cheer and Joy
1/2 cup dried chamomile flowers
1/2 cup dried calendula petals
2 tablespoons grated lemon peel
1/4 cup dried peppermint
1 tablespoon whole cloves
Honey to taste
Combine all ingredients and store in an airtight container. To brew use 1 1/2 tsp. of tea with 1 cup (8 ounces) boiling water. Steep for three to five minutes. Strain and sweeten with honey to taste.
Winter Afternoon Tea
1 tsp. dried chamomile
1 tsp. dried mint
1 tsp. dried lavender
Combine the herbs in your warmed tea pot and add 2 cups boiling water. Steep for five minutes and strain. Add 1 tsp. of honey to each cup of tea. Note: I put together this simple mellow tea one winter afternoon. I like it with the honey, but lemon would be fine too. This makes 2 cups of tea, but it can easily be doubled and tripled. Makes 4 cups
You will need:
2 tsp.. dried chamomile
1/4 cup boiling water
1/4 cup baby shampoo (or another mild variety)
Pour the boiling water over the chamomile and steep for 30 minutes, strain, then mix into the shampoo and use as usual.
Chamomile Hair Conditioner
You will need:
1/3 cup chamomile flowers
1/3 cup olive, safflower or sunflower oil
Clean jar with lid
Combine the chamomile and oil in a jar with a lid. Place on a sunny windowsill and shake the jar at least once a day. After two weeks, strain out the herbs. To apply, use about 2 to 4 teaspoons, depending on the length of your hair. Brush out your hair and apply to the hair ends, avoiding the scalp. Leave on about 10 minutes, then shampoo out.
Chamomile Hair Rinse
You will need:
1 cup boiling water
1 tsp. chamomile flowers
Pour the water over the chamomile; steep until it cools to lukewarm. Strain out the flowers. This will soothe your scalp. To use pour over your hair as a rinse after shampooing.
Herbal Foot Soak
You will need:
2 ounces mixed fresh herbs-peppermint, rosemary, chamomile
4 cups boiling water
1 tablespoon borax
1 tablespoon Epsom salts
Roughly chop the herbs. Put in a bowl, pour in boiling water. Let stand 1 hour; strain. Place the "tea" water into a tub or bowl large enough to hold both feet and another 6 to 7 cups of warm water. Stir in borax and Epsom salts. Soak feet 15 to 20 minutes. Add hot water if needed to keep the temperature as warm as desired. Afterwards use a good lotion and place cotton socks on your feet for the evening!