Wednesday, September 21, 2016


(Chamaemelum nobile)
‘Like a Chamomile bed –
The more it is trodden
The more it will spread,’

Native to Western Europe and North Africa, Chamomile is one of the most popular herbs in the world.  There are two plants known as chamomile which come from unrelated species, yet have similar daisy-like flowers, feathery foliage and a long history.  German chamomile is an annual, known especially for its use as an herb tea and Roman chamomile is a perennial, best known for its use as a fragrant lawn.  The common name Chamomile” came from the Greeks who were inspired by the plant’s distinct apple-like fragrance to name it kamai meaning “ground” and melon meaning “apple”.  The Spanish call it manzanilla or “little apple”.  The early Romans enjoyed the herb; however, the common name “Roman chamomile” actually comes from its discovery by a 19th century botanist growing in the Roman Coliseum!  In ancient Egypt, the daisy-like flower reminded them of the sun so it was used to honor the gods as well as embalm the dead and cure the sick.  During the Middle Ages, chamomile was used as a strewing herb to improve the atmosphere at gatherings and festivals as well as to create green seats in the garden and to the Anglo Saxons it was one of the “Nine Sacred Herbs” and known as Maythen.

Roman chamomile is hardy to Zone 4 and makes an excellent groundcover since it grows only 4-9 inches in height.  It thrives in most soils if kept moist, but well drained and although it prefers full sun, it will also do well in part shade.  Usually propagated by root division, this spreading herb can be trodden upon and therefore can be planted between stepping stones, but is also pretty in rock gardens or borders.  Often called the “Plant’s Physician”, chamomile makes a good companion plant and planting near a sickly plant often results in its recovery.  Especially good among vegetables, such as cabbage, cucumbers and onions, it deters pests and diseases plus helps to attract beneficials.  An infusion of chamomile can help prevent damping off of seedlings as well as revive cut flowers and make them last longer.

Use caution when ingesting Roman chamomile as it may induce allergenic reactions in especially ragweed-sensitive individuals.  However, its flowers make a distinctly soothing apple-like tea and its foliage can be chopped and stirred into butter or sour cream to top baked potatoes.  The edible petals can also be added to salads or used to decorate cakes.  Make sure you harvest the blooms when the petals are just turning back from the center to get the best flavor.  Chamomile can also be used alone or blended with other herbs for an overall feeling of well-being in sachets, bath products and shampoos to bring out the natural highlights in blond hair.  The leaves as well as the flowers may be dried upside down for potpourri or pressed to use in crafts such as note cards and gift tags.

Plant Roman chamomile 4 inches apart
to form a fragrant lawn,
then weed regularly until establish
and keep mowed just like grass
“. . .All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of the Lord stands forever.
. .”
I Peter 24-25

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