Common Names #
Blue Chamomile, Ground Apple, Scented Mayweed, Whig Plant, Maythen, Manzanilla, Sweet False Chamomile, Hungarian Chamomile, Matricaria, Pinhead, Babuna
About This Plant #
German Chamomile is a delicate-looking but surprisingly tough fast-growing, herbaceous annual from the Asteraceae family with feathery leaves and small Daisy-like flowers. It is an airy, bushy shrub that has a bit of a wildflower look to it and grows one to two feet high and up to a foot wide. The plants can be tall and spindly and sometimes fall over in the garden if not supported by surrounding plants. It can be short-lived in hot summers and is cold hardy to -20 degrees fahrenheit. It grows best in USDA zones 5 to 9. While an annual, it is an aggressive self-seeder and sometimes confused for a perennial plant in some locations. It’s a good candidate for growing in pots.
German Chamomile flowers consist of ten to twenty white ray flowers surrounding a yellow disk. The yellow centers form a mound as the flower matures. Contained within the raised receptacle is a hollow air space. The white ray florets at first point upward as they open out from the flower center, lowering to horizontal and ultimately point backward as the flower matures. On older flowers, the rays follow a daily cycle where the ray flowers lay down at night but spring back up during the daytime. The flowers bloom from early summer to the first Fall frost and attract a bounty of beneficial insects such as hoverflies and predatory wasps.
The leaves of German Chamomile are thin and thread-like, covered with a downy fuzz and appear airy and light. The stems are not particularly strong and tend to bend over as the plant grows taller. The white ray florets eventually fall off as the yellow receptacle gets more and more conical, ripening into abundant seeds. The roots of German Chamomile are shallow and just barely grip the topsoil.
Paleolithic humans were using Chamomile as early as 800,000 years ago – it was found in excavations at Jacob’s Bridge archeological site in Israel. The ancient Egyptians were the first to document its use. In Egypt, the flowers were associated with the gods of the Sun and used in the treatment of diseases such as Malaria, as well as used in the mummification process. Chamomile grew in popularity during the heyday of English country gardens. It was realized that planting Chamomile near other ailing plants could help improve their health. It is said to have a special affinity for Cucumbers, Cabbages, Onions, and most herbs improving both the health and flavor of these plants. It also repels Cucumber Beetles. Today, German Chamomile is grown in huge volumes in Hungary where it is typically exported to Germany for processing.
The name “Chamomile” comes from Greek “chamaimelon”, meaning “earth-apple” – “chamai” means “on the ground” and “melon” means “apple”. This is due to its apple-like scent. The annual German, or Blue Chamomile, is the preferred Chamomile for medicinal and tea use. It is often confused with the perennial Roman Chamomile, also known as “lawn” Chamomile. Chamomile might be the most widely consumed herb tea today with an estimated over one million cups ingested worldwide every single day. The tea has a soothing and calming effect and Chamomile is recognized as an official drug in the pharmacopoeias of 26 countries. It has also been valued throughout history as a beneficial herbal wash. The essential oils in chamomile are a uterine stimulant and thus, despite the low concentration of essential oil in the tea form, it is generally recommended to be avoided during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester.
German Chamomile seeds can be started indoors about six to eight weeks before the last Spring frost. The tiny seeds need sunlight to germinate, so gently press them down so they have good contact with the soil but do not cover them. Keep the seeds moist. The germination rate of Chamomile seeds can be less than 50%, so sow them more liberally than typical seeds. Germination takes place in about two weeks. Seeds tend to be much more successful when started indoors as opposed to directly seeding them outside.
Once seedlings reach at least two inches in height, they can be transplanted outside once soil temperatures reach about 55 to 60 degrees fahrenheit. Seedlings can tolerate a light frost. Space transplants eight inches apart.
German Chamomile prefers to be grown in full sun but will tolerate partial shade. When grown in hot climates, a bit of shade is preferred. It likes well-drained, sandy soils. The area around Chamomile needs to be kept weed-free as it does poorly with competition from weeds. Chamomile requires a good deal of water to get well established, and while very drought-tolerant once established, keeping it watered regularly will keep the plants blooming for a longer period of time. Plants self-sow readily.
German Chamomile flowers can be harvested as soon as the plant is in full bloom and the harvest can continue throughout the Summer. Harvesting the small flowers by hand can be tedious but meditative. Chamomile rakes are available to make harvesting easier. When harvesting, pick just the flowers. The stems can be bitter and are best avoided. Harvest the flowers on a dry day, early in the morning. The blossoms can be laid out on a screen to dry in a cool place with good air circulation, or simply placed in a loose paper bag. Turn and shake them regularly. The flowers should feel dry and crisp in about four days. The fresh plant can cause skin rashes in some people.
Seed Harvest #
Harvesting seed from German Chamomile is simply a matter of harvesting the mature, dry seed heads. Once harvested, the seed heads can be further dried indoors on a screen or in a loose paper bag as described above. Store the dried seed in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.
Plant Uses #
- Herbal wash for body, face, and hair
- Cosmetics and aromatherapy
- Can be used to make a yellow-brown fabric dye
Culinary Uses #
German Chamomile is commonly used to make tea. The tea has a fresh, clean, and soothing flavor and fragrance, similar to apples. Be sure to cover the tea while it steeps to prevent the oils which give it its flavor and soothing effect from evaporating. The flowers can be steeped for five to ten minutes. German Chamomile is the preferred Chamomile for flavor as it is a bit sweet. The other Chamomile, Roman Chamomile, can be bitter and is said to taste like freshly cut hay. Chamomile flowers can also be added to fruit salads or used as decorations on cakes, salads, or in punch bowls.
Medicinal Uses #
German Chamomile is high in aromatic essential oils while also having strong bitter principles. It is regarded as anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and antifungal. It is used to soothe gastrointestinal disorders such as stomach cramps, irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion, diarrhea, gas, and colic. It is also used for muscle spasms, rheumatic pain, and menstrual disorders. Chamomile is also known to relieve allergies, much as an antihistamine would. It is used to treat hay fever and inflammation. Used as a steam, it helps to alleviate cold symptoms and asthma. Externally, it is often made into a salve for hemorrhoids and wounds.
German Chamomile is most widely known as a relaxing nervine. It helps to soothe and relax nervous system tension and is often used to help alleviate insomnia, anxiety and depression. It can be especially helpful for babies and children, assisting with teething, colic, and restlessness.
Chamomile has a number of applications when it comes to bathing. The flowers can be sprinkled in a hot bath before bedtime for a sweet and calming effect. They can be used as a facial steam. Cooled Chamomile tea bags, placed over the eyes, provide comfort from eye strain, reduce inflammation and lightens the appearance of dark circles under the eyes. An infusion of Chamomile can also be rinsed through the hair after shampooing to leave silky locks that lighten in the sun.
German Chamomile is native to Europe and the temperate zones of Asia. It was introduced to North American and Australia by European colonists.