a packet of wild flower seeds there, hoping to choke out many weeds. It did help, and years later, only the heartiest flowers still thrive there. Among those flowers is chamomile, which can also be found in the wild.
This year, I was determined to harvest the chamomile for the first time. Joyously, it's easy as can be, and results in excellent chamomile tea.
For centuries, the calming power of chamomile has been recognized. Chamomile may also soothe upset stomachs and cold symptoms, bring on gentle slumber in children, ease nerves, help teething and colic, sooth gas pains, help heal mouth sores, ease the pain of hemorrhoids, and more.
For gardeners, chamomile is among the easiest plants to grow. Start by seed after the last threat of frost, on well broken up soil. Keep the seed and seedlings moist, but not damp. Once the plant is established, it needs no additional care and fares well in poor soil, with little water, or with lots of rain.
Types of Chamomile
There are a few types of chamomile, domestic and wild. All self seed easily, meaning if you don't cut back the flowers, you'll find chamomile plants throughout your yard. I don't mind this, as the seedlings are easy to recognize (look for the chamomile's feathery leaves) and easy to pull out. And if a seed chooses it's own growing spot, it will typically thrive there.
When trying to identify wild chamomile, first smell the plant. It should have that distinctly chamomile scent - although there are domestic varieties that are scentless or stink.
If you're planting your own, your best choice is German chamomile - the variety used for most commercial tea, and the type known to have medicinal virtues.
The flowers are the harvestable part of the chamomile plant. Harvest them in the morning, after any dew or wetness has dried away, cutting away only fully opened flowers that haven't begun to wither or turn brown. Using scissors, snip off the flower head, leaving behind all of the stem. I find it easiest to have a bowl sitting nearby, and to cut off a number of flowers one at a time, collecting them in my hand. Then I dump a handful into the bowl and begin again.
If, however, you'll be air drying the flowers, wait until a stalk is filled with blossoms; trim off any dying blooms, then cut off the stalk. Hang the stalk upside down in a cool, dry, dark location (like a closet) until the flowers are completely dry. Finally, cut the flowers off the stems.
I prefer to use an electric dehydrator. Place the just-cut flowers on dehydrator trays and dry at 95 degrees F. until no trace of moisture remains.
Store dried flower heads whole in a glass jar with a well-fitting metal lid in a cool, dry, dark location.
To make chamomile tea, fill one half of a tea ball with dried chamomile flowers; for best flavor, or for medicinal purposes, crush the flowers a bit. Cover with boiling water and steep 10 to 15 minutes. If using the tea medicinally, be sure to cover the tea cup with a saucer, so the steam doesn't escape.
The tea may also be cooled and used as a mouth wash, gargle, or poultice.
For a soothing bath, place dried flowers into the center of a square piece of muslin. Bring up the corners and tie them together. Tie this bag to the water spout of the tub, while running the bath water.
CAUTION: Some people are allergic to chamomile, especially if they are allergic to plants the ragweed family. In addition, those who take blood thinners should consult a doctor before ingesting chamomile.