One of my favourite books is The Chamomile Lawn, so when I first began to ponder the fruitful possibilities of a large garden, I knew that chamomile would play an important role in my longed for herb garden. But my love of chamomile goes further than its connection to an oft-reached-for novel. Chamomile is probably the most famous of all herbal teas, and is known for its nutritional benefits. Chamomile has been shown to soothe ailments such as insomnia, digestive complaints, anxiety, and menstrual cramps. In my former job as a stressed out, anxiety-prone doer of all tasks (my official title), I would always make sure that I had a stash of chamomile teabags within easy reach, and I also found the herb to be a wonderful soother when my son was teething (I was breastfeeding and drank and couple cups of chamomile tea a day).
Chamomile is a member of the Asteraceae family of plants, and while there are many different species of the daisy-like plant, the two most common varieties are German Chamomile and Roman Chamomile (Marticaria Recutita and Chamaemelum Nobile). The herb was widely used in Ancient Egypt and Rome, before gaining further repute as remedy for numerous ailements, such as respiratory problems and nervous conditions, during the Middle Ages. Chamomile flowers contain oils and flavonoids (particularly the compound apigenin) which are known for their naturopathic qualities. As well as a tea, chamomile can also be used in soothing balms and tinctures. If you like further information and a few wonderful recipies, then check out Herbalist Lucinda Warner's brilliantly informative blog Whispering Earth.
Keep reading for the Lori and the Caravan super simple guide to harvesting Chamomile!
Here are my flower-laden chamomile plants, already a teeming force to be reckoned with in my herb garden (I recently found a patch beginning to grow amongst my french beans, some 25 foot away). And here too is a confession, I probably waited a little too long to harvest the flowers (hey, I'm a novice gardener and I have a rather boisterous toddler!) Best to strike when the flowers are completely open and the petals fully extended. Wait for a nice dry day, as soggy flowers can easily become mouldy flowers, and nobody want to drink a mouldy tea.
If you're right-handed like me, simply pinch the stem between the thumb and index finger of your left-hand, catch a flower between the fingers of your right-hand, and gently pull and pop the flower from its stalk. Leave behind any flower heads that are not yet in bloom - you can return for them when they're ready (and full to the brim with therapeutic oils). Your plant will thank you with many many more blooms!
Spread the harvested flower-heads over a tray lined with tissue or muslin, and cover. Place in a dry position...
...and leave them until dry. (I think this was about ten days, and by that time my plant was heavy with more flowers ready to harvest - amazing!)
Store your dried flowers in a air-tight jar or container, and enjoy! I'd like to hear your tips on growing chamomile (and other herbs) and how it has benefited you!