There of two types of chamomile, and both have a fragrant, apple-like aroma. One is the low-growing Roman Chamomile, Chamaemelum nobile, a perennial ground cover. The other is German Chamomile, Maticaria recutita (or M. chamomilla), a delicate looking, lacy annual that grows to over two feet and is a common herb for teas.
(Another related plant that grows in my yard, and likely yours too, is called Pineapple Weed or wild chamomile, M. matricarioides. It too is low growing and very fragrant, although it’s flowers don’t have the white raylike petals.)
The genus name for the annual chamomile is Matricaria and is related to the Latin word mater, meaning “mother”, and matrix, “womb.” Chamomile tea is a well known remedy amongst grandmas and other wise women who give it to their loved ones for tummy aches, just like Peter Rabbit’s mama knew to give him some for his aching head.
To make a mildly sedative tea for feverish children, take 1 teaspoon dried chamomile flowers and 1 teaspoon fennel seed, and steep in 1 pint (16 ounces) of boiling water for 5 minutes only – don’t make chamomile tea too strong! Strain and sweeten with a little dab of honey, and have the child take tiny sips of the warm tea every now and then. Do not give honey to babies under one year old.
Simple chamomile tea (no other ingredients except honey) is also renowned for relieving the pain and spasm of gas or colic, relaxing the smooth muscle of the intestine. I first learned about chamomile from my Auntie Babe sending me to the pharmacy for my own baby’s colic. Chamomile is anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic, and can be useful for relieving menstrual cramps. The tincture can be used for many types of gastrointestinal complaints including IBS and Crohn’s disease as well as simple flatulence. The plant as a remedy is very popular in Europe. Often spelled “camomile” and sometimes referred to as “ground apple”, Chamomile was called Alles zutraut in Germany, meaning “capable of anything” – much as ginseng is considered in China.
Chamomile essential oil is said to cause the brain to release neuro-chemicals of a sedative nature. There is an essential oil from each type of plant, with similar yet diverging properties… they are both fairly expensive, for example, with a 1/8 ounce bottle of Roman chamomile running about $48. https://www.mountainroseherbs.com/products/chamomile-roman-essential-oil/profile
Chamomile tea makes a good hair rinse for blonde hair and can help relieve scalp itching. It is a useful bath herb for relieving scratches and irritations and even psoriasis. Chamomile in the bath is an excellent remedy for over-tired children. The simple tea itself can be preserved for a few days with a little witch hazel lotion and used as a skin toner. You can use the plain tea to make an eye compress, or just use two steeped, cooled tea bags, one for each eye.
While the flowers are edible, they may cause an allergic reaction for some people. If this is not a problem for you, you might try your hand at chamomile tea jelly. Here is one website that tells you how to make all types of floral jellies: https://theherbalacademy.com/make-it-wildflower-jelly/ The plant has also been used to make aperitif liqueurs, and the “little apple,” or manzanilla in Spanish, is used to flavor sherry and chamomile-citrus wine.
A popular medieval strewing herb, chamomile makes a good garden companion that doesn’t mind getting stepped on. It has even been called the garden’s physician. You can use a mild tea to spray on vegetable seedlings to prevent damping off, a disappointing condition where soil fungus, usually aggravated by waterlogged conditions, causes seeds to rot or seedlings to rot at the soil line; chamomile can help!
Mother’s favorite tummy-ache remedy is easy to grow, makes a very pretty background plant, or even a tumbling blowsy border around a kitchen garden. There are also double-flower cultivars. It is safe to grow around children, and they can even grow some in their own Peter Rabbit garden, along with lettuce, carrots and peas… How sweet!
The above text is a revised chapter from my book, The Wild & Weedy Apothecary. Perhaps it will inspire you to start some chamomile seeds indoors for planting out later. You could direct-seed in the ground in May, but I usually have better luck starting my herbs indoors then transplanting when the soil warms up a little.
© Doreen Shababy
Please visit our home apothecary website to purchase Chamomile Butter at www.wildnweedy.com. You can also purchase my book there as well.