ABOUT THE PLANT
Description: Chamomile is an herb that produces an abundance of small, fragrant, daisy-like white flowers with yellow centers that grow on long, thin, light green stems and can reach up to 3 feet high. The leaves are light green, fern-like, and somewhat shiny. The fragrance is herbal, sweet, and fresh, with hints of apples and hay.
Origin: Europe, North Africa, and parts of Asia.
Usage: The flower heads may be dried and used in teas known for stress-relieving and sleep-enhancing properties. You can also use fresh flowers to garnish desserts or drinks. When crushed and steamed, the flowers produce an oil that is used as medicine. Substances in the oil reduce swelling and may stop the growth of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. It is also used in skin-care products for itchy, irritated, or sensitive skin.
Interesting facts: Chamomile is one of the oldest known herbs, dating back to ancient Egyptians.
The fragrance of chamomile is deeply relaxing and can help provide more restful deep sleep. Try sewing some flowers into a small cloth bag and use it as a dream pillow.
HOW TO GROW
General requirements: Chamomile prefers full sun and cool, well-drained, sandy soils for germination. Work in a two-inch layer of organic matter in your garden to improve drainage and enrich the soil with nutrients. It does not tolerate hot, dry weather, so providing some afternoon shading will help prevent the plants from drying out. It does best in a cool climate. Also, a period of cold stratification will increase germination.
In the garden: In early spring, prepare a fine seed bed (break up chunks and remove any stones), mix the seeds with sand, and sprinkle on the surface because the seeds need light to germinate. Then press in hard, so the seeds make good contact with the soil. The plants probably will not need to be thinned as they grow well, even when closely packed.
In containers: Chamomile will do well in any container that has good drainage. Use a loose, well-drained potting mixture and sprinkle the seeds on the surface because the seeds need light to germinate. Then press in hard so the seeds make good contact with the soil. Keep soil moist but not soggy by either watering from the bottom or gently misting. Once established, you can water from the top.
Transplanting: Start seeds indoors in trays about six weeks before the last expected frost. Use a loose, well-drained potting mixture and sprinkle the seeds on the surface because the seeds need light to germinate. Then press in hard so the seeds make good contact with the soil. Water regularly, and they should germinate in 7 to 14 days. Keep soil moist but not waterlogged by either watering from the bottom or gently misting. Once established, you can water from the top. When the plants are 3-5 inches tall, they are ready to transplant to the outdoors. Harden them off first to adjust them to the outside environment. To do this, place the flat in a sheltered, sunny location for a few hours each day, gradually increasing their exposure over the course of a week. To transplant seedlings, dig a hole in your garden or container and plant the seedling to the same depth as in the flat, then water in well.
Flowers: Chamomile flowers are best harvested on a sunny day at midday. The essential oil content is at its highest at this time when the flowers are fully open. Cut the stem just below the flowerhead. Immediately lay the flowers out to dry on a newspaper in a dark room at temperatures of 70-80°F. The flowers should take about 2 weeks in these conditions to completely dry. Stored them in an airtight container, in the dark, for up to a year without losing effectiveness.
Seeds: When the plant's flower heads are dry and the white petals have folded back and turned brown, this is the time to collect the seeds. The seeds are formed in the yellow center cones of the flower. Remove the flower heads and spread them out to dry in a protected location from direct sunlight. When thoroughly dry, rub the cones between your fingers and let the seeds fall into a container. Store the seeds in a cool, dry, dark place. They will be viable for 3-4 years.
Common name: chamomile, manzanilla
Latin name: Matricaria recutita
Growth habit: upright herb
Life cycle: Annual
USDA Zones: 2-8
Seeds per ounce: about 200,000