Putting the Ahhhh in Afternoon, with Chamomile

Spring has sprung and the weather is warming and with the sunshine comes the flowers. Daisies have always been among my favorite flowers. They are a member of the Asteraceae family, which includes so many of my other favorites, including:

  • cosmos
  • sunflowers
  • dandelion
  • calendula
  • echinacea/coneflowers
  • dahlias
  • chrysanthemums
  • artichokes
  • zinnias
  • marigolds
  • ….there are actually over 30,000 members of this large family!

AND ….Chamomile!

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3 years ago, I tossed some chamomile seeds in an empty spot in one of my flower beds. It sprouted and produced two sad, spindly plants. Then I found out chamomile loves the sun! So I dug up those plants and relocated them to a flower bed on the sunnier side of the house, and WOW! In the two years since then, those two sad, spindly little plants have spread to this:

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I think there are about eight plants total there now, the tallest somewhere around 2 1/2 to 3 feet tall. Three of the eight came up this year from self-seeding and are still small since they are first year plants.

Growing your own chamomile

Of all the herbs, chamomile is probably the most easily recognizable and mainstream out there, not including the culinary herbs of course. Who hasn’t had a cup of chamomile tea at some point in their life?

Chamomile doesn’t mind crappy soil. If you look at the surrounding dirt in the picture above, I have hard, arid, generally crappy soil. Weeds love it. Bulbs manage to push up through it. And my chamomile thrives beautifully in it! Of course, it also loves a very sunny spot, but in this area, I generally let nature do the watering, and my plants have yet to show any signs over the years of any kind of water stress, whether super wet or super dry as the seasons go.

On the warmer days, I can sit out on the patio and let the breeze waft that wonderful apple-y smell all around while watching all the pollinators: bees, butterflies, ladybugs, etc., visit each happy flower. When there’s no breezed, the slightest jostle of the plants, simply brushing my hands over them lightly, releases the smell into the air.

And chamomile is generous. Two days before I took that picture, I harvested every open blossom on the plant (which was my 3rd harvest this year so far). After the picture, I harvested again, and as the summer gets into full swing, harvesting will be a daily chore delight.

Harvesting and drying

As I said, as the summer really gets going, harvesting will need to be done daily, if not at least every other day. The best time to harvest is on a sunny day, late enough that all the dew has dried, but early enough that the volatile oils (the wonderful smell stuff) haven’t dissipated too much. During the week, I normally don’t get to harvest until late afternoon/early evening due to my work schedule, but I find that it is a perfect way to unwind after a long day: sitting in the sun, all the smiling flowers looking up at me, and the calming aroma surrounding me. Ahhhhh. It’s my own little relaxing spa ritual and works wonders for the nerves!

You want to harvest when the flowers are at their fullest, meaning fully open and just before, or just after the petals start to pull backwards, like this:

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or this:

I think they look like miniature badminton birdies! (Does anyone play badminton anymore?)

My theory is, the fuller the center yellow part, the more potent the flower overall will be. I have no scientific basis for this, just a hunch I’m going to try to explore this year. If you look at the picture below, you can see the area closest to the petals is a little thicker than the rest. Eventually, given the right conditions, the whole yellow area will become full and thick like that. However, if the petals start to pull back like the two pictured above, I will go ahead and pick.

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The “florets” in the center (yellow) begin to open at the bottom of the flower

Basically, I just sit in the grass and pop off the heads of the fullest flowers. It is a welcome slow-down after a day at work and isn’t super complicated so allows me some time to think about whatever else I want, or nothing at all! Additionally, that apple-y, calming smell works like aromatherapy to ease the stress of the day, and put me in a tranquil mood. Afterwards, I’ll take my container and pull off whatever stems are still attached before putting them in a single layer in the dehydrator on the lowest setting for about a day and a half, or until all moisture is gone (or until I remember to take them out!). Alternatively, if you have a sunny spot outside that doesn’t get very windy (they are small and light and will blow away) you can leave them on a screen or tray outside to dry in the sun.

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Left – store bought, right – home grown/harvested/dried

You can see the difference in the store bought vs. home grown and “processed” in the picture. The lingering smell, and taste are much more potent in my homegrown as well. And they look so much prettier stored in my jar!

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bottom – store bought, top – homegrown

 

Using chamomile

Chamomile is a classic tea herb. It has mild sedative qualities. As a tea, I would only use about 1 TBSP to a cup of water, steeped for no longer than 10 minutes. It’s not like a pharmaceutical sedative in that it puts you to sleep, rather it has overall calming qualities that facilitate relaxation.

It’s calming effect works on other systems as well. I’ve drank, and given my children chamomile tea to combat an upset stomach, and it has worked wonderfully. It is a wonderfully gentle herb, and can safely be used with children.

The same properties can be harnessed with external applications of chamomile. An infused oil, made the same way I described to make plantain oil (or any other plant-infused oil), can be used as is or as a boost to a salve to increase the soothing, skin-loving qualities.

Chamomile baths are simply delightful! I make bath bags: fill a large reusable tea bag, or a muslin bag, or even some cheesecloth with herbs (in this case chamomile) and toss it in a hot bath to steep. The chamomile bath is soothing to achy parts, dry or itchy skin, even sunburns. The aromatherapy part also does wonders for mood and overall relaxation. You can mix other herbs such as lavender, calendula, or oatstraw in there too.

Chamomile tea (cooled) can also be poured over the scalp to relieve itchy scalp and dandruff. I’ve heard you can also use it to lighten and add shine to your hair (for blondes primarily).

Chamomile’s smell makes a soothing dream pillow. I mix chamomile, lavender, and sweet annie (wormwood) and lay it on my pillow for a little extra calm when trying to relax and go to sleep, or if I’m looking to tap into my unconscious dream state just a little bit.

 

Easy to grow, easy to love. That’s my sweet chamomile.

 

 

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