If you’ve ever drunk herbal teas, chamomile is likely to be one of the first varieties that you tried, with its fruity, apple-like flavour. A member of the daisy family, chamomile is best known for it’s soothing, sleep-inducing properties.
Beatrix Potter, the celebrated British author of children’s books was certainly aware of its calming influence, mild enough to give to children. Her classic ‘Tale of Peter Rabbit ‘ follows the mischievous and disobedient young Peter Rabbit, being chased about the vegetable garden of Mr. McGregor. After escaping, Peter returns home, exhausted and sick from snacking on too much lettuce, beans and radishes. We read that Mrs. Rabbit put Peter to bed, made some chamomile tea, and gave a dose of it to her unruly son. “One table-spoonful to be taken at bedtime”
Well, if it’s good enough for naughty rabbits, then it’s good enough for me.
Easy to grow from seed, the most popular types of chamomile are German and Roman:
Roman chamomile grows only 12 inches high and is often used as ground cover in pathways where its aroma is released when walked on. A perennial, hardy in zones 5 – 9.
German chamomile is an annual that self-seeds easily; a few years ago I started some from seed and it’s been growing in my garden ever since. It grows up to 2 feet tall and is the most prolific producer of white, daisy-like flowers, making it the best choice for tea lovers.
- How to Grow:
Sow seeds late March indoors, or direct seed outdoors after all chance of frost has passed. If starting indoors, be sure to harden the seedlings off before they are transplanted. Sow seeds 1cm (½”) deep and keep moist. Optimal temperature for germination is 19°C (65°F) and seeds should germinate in 10-14 days.
Chamomile does best in full sun in well-drained soil. Transplant at spacings of 8″ and water frequently. Once established, the plants are generally tolerant of drought and trouble free, blooming in late spring to early summer.
- How to Harvest:
Unlike many other herbs, it’s the flowers that you want to collect, not the stems, leaves or roots. The flowers should be harvested when they’re fully open with flat petals, just before they begin to droop backwards. If the petals have begun to droop backwards you can still use them but by harvesting the flowers at their peak they will have the most essential oils. Choose a sunny day and pick the flowers after the dew has dried. I find the easiest and quickest method is to use my fingers as a rake to snap the flowers from the stems.
Be sure to leave behind any heads that have not come into bloom…these will be your next crop. By removing the blooming heads the chamomile plant will reward you with lots more flowers.
Remember to leave some flowers to reseed for next years plants.
- How to Dry:
Simply place the flowers on a paper towel and allow to dry naturally, away from dust or sunlight. Depending on the humidity, this usually takes 1-2 weeks. Alternatively, you can dry them in a dehydrator which really helps cut down on drying time. Set the temperature to the lowest heat, (about 95 degrees F), and they should be dry in 12-24 hours.
Once completely dry, place in an airtight glass jar and store away from direct sunlight. Crushing the flowers will release their flavour, so store the flowers whole and crush them as you use them.
- How to Make Tea:
Add 1 teaspoon of crushed, dried chamomile flowers to 8 oz of boiling water. Let the tea steep for 5-7 minutes, then pour through a strainer, sip slowly and relax!
Chamomile is supposed to be a light flavour, so don’t make it too strong. If you prefer a stronger tea, use more dried flowers rather than steep longer which will just make the tea bitter.
Chamomile is one of my favourite herbs to have in my garden each year; it’s easy to grow, pretty to look at, the bees love it, and it makes a relaxing tea at the end of the day. Now if only I can find a way to keep those naughty rabbits away!