Chamomile, or camomile, refers to several different kinds of daisy-like plants in the aster family, Asteraceae. It’s a wild medicinal plant that’s often grown in home gardens as an ornamental and edible herb. These delicate plants, sometimes aromatic, can be annual or perennial, depending on the cultivar.
What is the chamomile plant, and why is it so unique to gardeners? Let’s dive deeper into this plant and find out more.
Chamomile isn’t a single species. Instead, it’s a familiar name to describe a variety of plants. Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum Nobile) and German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) are the most common varieties. Though they’re different species, they are beneficial in treating the same health ailments. The German variety gives sweet-smelling flowers that are popular for making herbal tea.
|Common Name||Chamomile, Camomile, German Chamomile, Roman Chamomile, Etc.|
|Botanical Name||Chamaemelum Nobile, Matricaria Chamomilla, Anthemis Arvensis, Etc.|
|Plant Type||An Annual Or Perennial, Depending On The Species|
|Size (Fully Grown)||8 To 24 Inches (About 20 To 61 cm)|
|Sun Exposure||Full Sun|
|Soil Type||One That Drains Well, Sandy, For Example|
|Soil pH||From 5.6 To 7.5|
|Flower Color||White Petals, Yellow Center|
|U.S. Hardiness Zones||3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, And 9|
|Native Area||Western Europe, India, Western Asia|
How Many Chamomile Varieties Are There?
Besides the two most popular species, Roman and German varieties, several other varieties also fall under the same category. Here’s a list of some common ones:
- Roman Or English (Chamaemelum Nobile)
Considered the “true chamomile,” Roman chamomile is a perennial, often grown as a ground cover or edging walkways. You can also use it for making tea as a herbal remedy for several ailments.
- German (Matricaria Recutita)
Grown as an annual, the German chamomile is the most preferred one for tea. It has a higher concentration of essential oils and is slightly more aromatic as compared to Roman.
- Morrocan (Anthemis Mixta)
It’s a Mediterranean cultivar that people often treat as a weed. But, its oil can be extracted and included in perfumes and skin products.
- Cape (Eriocephalus Punctulatus)
It’s one of the lesser-known varieties. Cape Chamomile oil has a characteristic blue color and is used for its calming properties.
- Pineapple Weed Or Wild Chamomile (Matricaria Discoidea)
Wild chamomile flowers give a pineapple-chamomile aroma when crushed. You can add them to salads or make herbal tea out of them.
- Dyer’s Or Yellow Chamomile (Anthemis Tinctora)
Also known as golden marguerite, the yellow variety is a beautiful garden ornamental for its showy flowers and feathery, aromatic foliage.
- Corn Or Field Chamomile (Anthemis Arvensis)
The corn variety, also known as field chamomile or scentless chamomile, is also grown as an ornamental.
- Stinking Chamomile (Anthemis Cotula)
Anthemis cotula is distinguished from its strong, unpleasant odor. It’s toxic to cats, dogs, horses, and pigs.
Where Is Chamomile Originally From?
Among the two most popular varieties, Roman chamomile originated in Western Europe and North Africa, while German one comes from Europe and Asia. They offer the same herbal benefits and have been cultivated and used since ancient times. Throughout both the species’ native regions, the plant has been an essential healing herb in many cultures.
People have also found drawings of chamomile flowers in 2000-year-old Egyptian hieroglyphics. Egyptians valued the herb as traditional medicine and held it sacred to the sun god Ra. An ancient Anglo-Saxon herb catalog also lists the plant among the nine holy herbs of Lacnunga.
The plant was also popular among ancient Greeks and Romans for treating a variety of ailments. The name “chamomile” is a combination of two Greek words, Khamai or “on the ground” and melon, which means “apple.” Pliny the Elder also pointed out the “apple-like” aroma of the herb. This distinct aroma is associated with the flowers of the Roman chamomile.
The plant’s popularity grew during the medieval times when doctors started prescribing it regularly during the 16th and 17th centuries for intermittent fevers. During this time, herbalists bred double-flowering varieties to enhance the herbal properties.
The plant is extensively used in cosmetics, aromatherapy, medicinal drugs, and food flavoring, and the plant grows across the world. The chief producers include Argentina, France, Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Germany, Italy, Slovakia, Hungary, and Australia.
What Does Chamomile Look Like?
The Roman variety is a low-growing perennial that’s often grown as a groundcover. Because of the mat-like growth of this hardy plant, it’s also sometimes called lawn chamomile. Roman chamomile’s aromatic foliage only reaches about 3 to 6 inches (about 7,5 to 15 cm), with a 12-inch (about 30 cm) spread. During the summers, the groundcover will offer a phenomenal display of daisy-like flowers that can be harvested to add to tea.
The German variety usually grows as an annual, reaching up to 2 feet (about 61 cm) high. It bears white flowers all summer with a milder flavor than that of Roman one.
The Roman variety has finely divided leaves, like parsley, while those of German are light-green and feathery, thinner than the Roman variety. German chamomile has slender, weak stems that bend over as the plant grows taller. Roman chamomile leaves give off a fruity smell when crushed.
For both varieties, the leaves are also harvested and consumed alongside flowers. You can add them to salads or pour hot water over them to prepare herbal tea.
The attractive daisy-like flowers that appear in summers and are available until early fall are the plant’s main attraction. White petals surround a cone-shaped yellow center in these tiny flowers, measuring no more than an inch (about 2.5 cm) in width.
The Roman variety flowers have a more robust flavor, but blooms from both varieties can be harvested once they’re fully open. People generally dry them before brewing tea, but you can also use them fresh.
Can You Smell It?
They’re both aromatic herbs, with Roman variety giving off a light apple-like fragrance when walked upon. German one gives a scent similar to sweet straw. Both varieties make lovely essential oils for improving skin, calming mind and body, and improving sleep.
What Kind Of Conditions Does Chamomile Grow Best In?
Since the plant grows like a weed in many regions, it shouldn’t be challenging to grow in your garden. But, take a look at some basic requirements highlighted below to make sure it thrives.
You can plant chamomile in your garden once frost has passed and the soil temperature is consistently above 55°F (about 12,5°C). They’ll thrive as long as the summer temperatures are below 100°F (about 38°C).
Soil And Sun
Though both varieties can grow in partial shade, they prefer full sun. The herb grows faster and blooms better when it gets plenty of sunlight. But, in hotter climates, partial shade is a better option.
For best results, plant in organic, well-drained, sandy soil that doesn’t contain an excessive amount of nutrients. Though they can also grow in poor soil, the stems of the German variety will be floppier. Both prefer a neutral soil pH in the range of 5.6 to 7.5.
Water And Fertilizer
The plant is drought-tolerant once established. Moderate watering is best for the plant, but allow the top few soil layers to dry out before watering. But, you may need to water more often during the hot summer months.
Is It Safe To Eat / Consume Chamomile?
The several herbal benefits of chamomile are recognized globally. But, are there any side effects of its use in some instances? Let’s find out.
Pregnant And Breastfeeding Women
Studies show that chamomile can stimulate contractions in pregnant women, so it’s best to avoid it, especially during the first trimester. But, there isn’t much clinical evidence about the safety of consuming chamomile for nursing mothers.
Infants older than six months can drink chamomile tea to soothe an upset stomach or improve sleep. But, it may trigger an allergic reaction in some individuals. If your child is allergic to ragweed, likely, they’ll also be allergic to chamomile.
People With Allergies
Individuals who are allergic to ragweed, daisies, and marigolds are often also allergic to chamomile. Symptoms include nausea and dizziness. In rare cases, anaphylaxis can also result in people who consume or contact chamomile or its products. It’s a life-threatening reaction and will need immediate medical attention.
People With Diabetes
Chamomile tea is very beneficial for people with diabetes. It can help regulate blood sugar levels, increase antioxidant levels, and prevent complications, like blindness and kidney disease, resulting from the condition.
The plant isn’t specifically toxic to pets. But don’t let your cats or dogs munch on chamomile leaves or flowers, as it can cause dermatitis, diarrhea, vomiting, and other allergic reactions. Small amounts of dried chamomile brewed into a light tea are harmless and help calm down your pets or treat an upset stomach.