Saturday, April 18, 2009

Chamomile packs a big punch in small package

By Delaine Litman-Hohenfeldt

If you are yearning to try something new this spring in the garden, try chamomile! With its easy maintenance, versatility, and fragrance of sour-apple candy, chamomile packs a big punch in a small package!
Chamaemelum nobile is the versatile, short, evergreen perennial herb better known as chamomile, Roman chamomile, or garden chamomile. Chamomile is a member of the same family as daisies, asters, and sunflowers and produces small, sweet-smelling, aster-like, white flowers with yellow centers in June and July. The word chamomile itself comes from two Greek words, chamos (meaning ground) and melos (meaning apple). This indicates that the Greeks found the plant growing close to the ground and they thought its flowers and foliage had an apple-like scent.
It is the fragrant flowers of the chamomile plant that are used for teas when in full bloom, and it was chamomile tea that Peter Rabbit’s mother gave him to calm him after he narrowly escaped from Mr. McGregor. Chamomile tea has been a popular herbal remedy throughout the ages. Rob McCaleb, President of the Herb Research Foundation in Boulder, Colorado estimates that more than one million cups of chamomile tea are consumed each day around the world. This likely makes chamomile the most widely used herb tea.
In Medieval England, chamomile was used as a strewing herb. Pieces of the plant were placed around the house and on the floor as the trendy way to keep out negative magic and to freshen up the home before the days of Oust and Febreeze. Chamomile was chosen because of its pleasant scent when walked upon and its reputation for being an excellent insect repellent. This herb was also one of several popular dream herbs such as passionflower, yarrow, bay leaves, pot marigolds, and mugwort, and was used in dreampillows, dream teas and special baths before bedtime to prevent having nightmares.
Today throughout most of the world chamomile is commonly used as a medicinal herb. The governments of 26 countries actually recognize chamomile as an official drug due to the powerful essential oils that are extracted from its flowers. In Europe the herb is commonly used for wound healing, antiseptic, anti-spasmodic, sedative, and anti-inflammatory.
Chamomile has also been used for tinctures, hair rinses, bath additives, rubbing oils, and other home remedies in the holistic treatment of a wide assortment of ailments including blocked tear glands, expelling worms, insomnia, anxiety, digestive problems, arthritis, canker sores, and irritable bowel syndrome. For more information on holistic remedies and preparations go to On the top of the right hand column on their home page it says “Most Popular Destinations.” Click on “Herbs” there and “Search by Common Name” under the letter C for chamomile.
Chamomile can be grown in most of the U.S. and is hardy to zone 4. It remains short only reaching 5 to 12 inches tall. Its feathery grey-green leaves and daisy-like flowers are deer resistant. It is not particular about where it grows, doing well in sandy, loamy or even heavy clay soils as long as they are well drained. Chamomile has no preference for acid or alkaline soils and can do well in either. Poor soil is fine for this plant. It likes a semi-shady or sunny spot and can stand slightly moist soil or periods of drought once established. Chamomile will self-seed and can be propagated by division.
For the garden, chamomile has many uses in addition to being grown as an herb. It makes an excellent, attractive ground cover under trees and around shrubs to hold moisture and prevent weeds. A cultivar named ‘Treanague’, after the estate where it was discovered, does not flower. This makes it ideal for use in lawns, along walkways and in stone paths. As Shakespeare wrote in King Henry IV, part 1, “Though the chamomile, the more it is trodden on, the faster it grows,…” Chamomile can be used in a lawn that will have light traffic or as edging plants for flower beds and mowed.
If you are a veggie gardener, you might want to try planting chamomile as a companion plant among your cucumbers, cabbage, and onions to improve their flavor. Growing chamomile is considered to be a tonic for anything planted in the garden. However, some people that are allergic to ragweed may be allergic to chamomile when touching the plant, drinking the tea, or using any form of herbal remedy.
Chamomile is a naturally high source of sulfur and a good fungicide for preventing damping off when starting seeds. To make a chamomile fungicide spray, place ¼ cup chamomile blossoms in a heat-proof glass bowl and cover with 2 cups of boiling water. Cover and let steep until cool. Strain through cheesecloth and pour into a spray bottle. Spray can be used as needed on newly planted seed starting soil and seedlings to prevent damping off. Use any time a white fuzzy growth appears on the soil of seedlings. Liquid can also be used as a seed soak prior to planting. Leftovers will keep for about one week before spoiling. If fresh chamomile blossoms are not available, dried ones may be purchased from most health food stores.
After all your gardening chores are finished and you are ready to rest your tired, aching muscles in a hot tub, may I suggest trying a nice relaxing chamomile soak. There are two versions listed below, one for the guys and one for the ladies.
Take 10 oz. chamomile blossoms and cover with 3 cups of water.
Steep for 20 to 30 minutes.
Add 1 cup to bath water and soak.
Place 4-6 oz. chamomile blossoms and ¼ cup powdered milk in a muslin bag or double layer of cheesecloth. Tie tightly.
Brew in 3 cups of water for about 15 minutes.
Add liquid and bag to bath water and soak.

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