August 18, 2009 lawanda Newspaper Columns

      Have you seen those little white daisy-like flowers growing in the gravel at the very edges of country roads?  That is the herb chamomile.  You can grow a taller, prettier version in your garden.

There are a few different types of chamomile with many different common names, but for simplicity here, we’ll talk about two of them that are similar.  There is a perennial chamomile, often called Roman chamomile and an annual plant, usually referred to as German chamomile.

Roman chamomile grows 8-12 inches tall and has fewer flowers than the annual German chamomile which grows up to two feet tall.  Both plants’ flowers and foliage have a lovely apple scent.  German chamomile self-seeds freely, so once you have it, unless you are fanatical about deadheading the flowers before they go to seed, you will always have it.  However, the seedlings are easy to pull or hoe out when they are young.

Chamomile is valued for its medicinal use as an anti-inflammatory for afflictions of the skin and mucous membranes; as an anti-spasmodic for indigestion and menstrual cramps; and an anti-invective for numerous minor illnesses.

For the home gardener, a relaxing tea can be made of the dried flowers.  Steep one teaspoon of dried flowers in one cup of hot water for 5-15 minutes.  It is also makes a refreshing iced tea on a warm summer afternoon.  People with allergies to ragweed or chrysanthemums should be cautious about drinking the tea.

To add sunny highlights to blond or light brown hair, make a strong tea and use it as a rinse after shampooing.

Besides the benefits that humans get from use of the herb chamomile, it brings benefits to the other plants in your garden.  It has been called a “nurse plant” in that it helps any plant it grows near to.  It does this through the attraction of pollinators and of other beneficial insects that feed on insect pests.

Chamomile tea is traditionally drunk in the evening to promote relaxation, but my husband enjoys it first thing in the morning.  It helps him face a stressful work day.

I harvest a few thousand chamomile blossoms each year.  I store them in a quart canning jar after spreading them on a newspaper to dry for several days.

Harvesting the small blossoms in great amounts is easy but tedious (except that you get to be out in the sunshine on a beautiful day).  I usually pick about 100 blooms a day over a period of six or eight weeks.  Flowers can be harvested by snapping them off the plants by lifting them between two fingers.  They are best picked when the white petals just begin to curve downward.


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