Sing it now! "... Isn't she loooooov-ely ... Isn't she wooooon-der-ful ... " Oh, I just LOVE Chamomile, don't you? Seriously, sometimes when I'm feeling blue I just stroll out into my garden and sit down beside her. She's so sweet and gentle, and a truly trusted friend. Being with Chamomile makes me feel happy and lighthearted.
She's a member of the Asteraceae/Compositae family and is related to Sunflowers and Ragweed, so watch out, allergy sufferers! We'll have a lesson on Ragweed later. Chamomile is an Eastern European native but is cultivated and naturalized from here to Australia and back. Egyptian Chamomile is supposed to have a particularly high essential oil content, but I haven't made a personal comparison. I try to use the least amount of essential oils possible (It takes tons of plant material to make them, and it seems like overkill to me).
She is also known as English Chamomile, Camomile, Roman Chamomile, Chamomilla, Fleur de Camomile, German Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), Hungarian chamomile or wild chamomile, Manzanilla, Matricaire, Pin Heads, Sweet False Chamomile, and True Chamomile. Good grief! It's no wonder plants can be so confusing. Sometimes I think a bunch of important people were sitting around a big table arguing about what to name plants, but couldn't agree on just one name and so in their great importance decided to use them ALL. This is why I love Latin botanical names. They can be hard to pronounce, but they're safe (you know exactly which plant your working with), reliable, and they cut down the confusion. I would much rather remember one fancy name than two dozen simpler ones. Interesting note: Her fresh blossoms have an apple scent, thus her Greek name "chamos" (ground) and "melos" (apple).
Roman Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis) the "official remedy" and my favorite, is a low growing perennial herb with hairy stems, and she creeps, which I adore. She may be propagated from seeds in early spring, by runners, or transplants. Either should be spaced about 18 inches apart. I have had great success with transplants. She loves a sunny site with any good, well-drained garden soil (a bit of soil acidity is also appreciated by Chamomile). For some reason I'm unaware of, seeds often produce mostly the single-flowered variety. She forms a gorgeous, aromatic (my mom thinks Chamomile's foliage smells like bubblegum) ground cover and has fine, feathery leaves and single or double sweet little pleasant tasting daisy-like flowers with a yellow center and white florets on a single, long erect stalk. She has a jointed, fibrous root.
Roman Chamomile flowers' therapeutic actions are anodyne, antiallergic, antiemetic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, aromatic, bitter tonic, diaphoretic, diuretic, emetic, emmenagogue, sedative, and stomachic.
***According to Newall, Anderson and Phillipson, large doses of Roman Chamomile have been reported to cause vomiting and stomach irritation. Excessive use during pregnancy and lactation should be avoided due to reputed abortifacient actions, its ability to affect the menstrual cycle, and the potential allergic affects. Its coumarin constituent may interfere with anticoagulant therapy if used in excessive doses.
German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is an erect annual with round stems, is branched, and about 15-24 inches in height. She may be propagated from thinly sewn seeds. They'll flower in about 8 weeks and can be harvested until the plant dies. Remember to leave some flowers to set seed for next year's crop! The German's flowers are similar to the Roman but with a hollow conical center 2 cm across, and stronger, more bitter tasting flowers. It has a fibrous root and fewer leaves which are divided and threadlike. It also smells similar to Roman but stronger and less aromatic.
German Chamomile flowers are anodyne, anthelmintic, antiallergic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antiulcer, antiviral, calmative, carminative, diuretic, diaphoretic, stomachic and tonic. WHEW! I hate typing therapeutic actions!
***German Chamomile should be avoided by people with sensitivity to the Asteraceae/Compositae family, especially asthmatics. It is not recommended for teething babies, and should also be avoided in excessive dosesduring anticoagulant therapy. Newall, Anderson and Phillipson recommend avoiding excessive use during pregnancy and lactation due to reputed effects on the menstrual cycle and uterotonic activity.
Needless to say, both Roman and German Chamomile flowers have similar medicinal properties. The wild, single-flowered variety is considered to be more medicinally powerful than the cultivated double-flowered. They are used to treat abscesses, colic, conjunctivitis, cramps, fevers, fluid retention, headaches, heartburn, indigestion, inflammation (external or internal), loss of appetite, menstrual troubles, migraines, nausea, scalp disorders, swellings, teething, ulcers, vomiting and wounds. But the lovely Chamomile is most famous for her sedative action which is useful against nervousness and induces relaxation and deep sleep. I can tell you from personal experience that it is an excellent mild sedative for restless babies and children. A cold Chamomile infusion will relieve congestion in the uterus and stimulate menstruation (emmenagogue).
Never boil the flowers because the volatile oil that contains much of the active constituents will evaporate. Always brew chamomile tea in a closed container! Allow it to steep a minimum of 10 minutes. For colic, restlessness and teething, use 1/2 to 1 t of the cool infusion. For fevers, indigestion or headaches, use a hot infusion with the addition of Ginger root. Chamomile infusion is also a wonderful, soothing addition to your bath for minor aches and pains.
I hope you'll give Chamomile a try in your garden! Happy planting!