Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is one of the medicinal plants that is probably found in every kitchen and is mainly used in the form of chamomile tea when the stomach or intestines are causing problems. But also applied externally, the healing properties of the herb come into effect and provide relief for inflamed, sore and itchy skin.
Profile of Chamomile:
Scientific name: Matricaria recutita
Plant family: composite, asters
Other names: German Chamomile (Chamomilla recutita), Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile)
Sowing time / Planting time: March- May
Flowering period: May – October
Harvest time: May – October
Location: sunny to partially shaded locations
Soil quality: nutrient rich and loamy to sandy soils with moderate humidity
Use as a medicinal herb: gastritis, gastric ulcers, common cold, wound healing, inflammation of the mouth and throat, discomfort of the paranasal sinuses
Use as aromatic herb: wild herbs salads, desserts
Plant characteristics and classification of Chamomile
Origin and distribution of the genuine chamomile
The chamomile is probably native to southern and eastern Europe and the Middle East and is mainly found on nutrient-rich fields, wild meadows but also brownfields. It has been introduced to many countries and is now widespread. Thus, it is now wild in most European countries as well as in Asia, North America and even Australia.
In hilly regions or mountain landscapes, chamomile tolerates montane elevation levels. Depending on the mountains, the herb can still be found at heights between 1200 and 1700 meters (4000 and 5600 feet).
Plant order of chamomile
The chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) belongs to the composite (Asteraceae) and is thus related to other well-known wild herbs such as the dandelion, the marigold or the mugwort. In the botanical system the herb also belongs to the tribe Anthemideae. The genus camomiles includes only three species. In addition to chamomile here is still the rounded chamomile sometimes to be found. Occasionally, the chamomile is also known by the botanical name Chamomilla recutita.
Other species, such as corn chamomile, featherfew (feverfew) or sea mayweed are also members of the composite. In the narrower sense those are not related to chamomile. All of these plants also have a different chemical composition of secondary plant ingredients.
Characteristics of chamomile
The chamomile shows typical characteristics of composite. The herb is basically annual and, depending on location, nutrient conditions and soil type, growth heights between 20 and 60 cm (8 to 24 inches). It emits a characteristic scent, which makes it relatively easy to distinguish from false chamomiles. The plant forms relatively thin roots, which are usually pale brown to yellowish.
The leaves are usually between 3 and 8 cm (1.2 and 3.2 inches) long and are alternate. The leaves are relatively diminutive, two- to three-pinnate and tapering. Also the leaves are usually numerous in the upright and usually highly branched and hairless stems.
The flowering period of the chamomile is usually between mid-May and early October. The plant then forms each individual, yellow flower heads sitting together in the capitulum. Per capitulum can be formed up to 900 flower heads, which are usually much less (on average about 100). The capitulum is surrounded by about 26 to 48 involucral bracts, which are colored white. The white bracts usually point towards the ground. To fruit ripeness from the flower heads, typical achenes (special nut fruits in the case of asteraceae) are formed, which are up to 2 mm (0.08 inches) long and have a brownish to grayish-brownish coloration.
Excursus: Distinguish Genuine and False Chamomile
Often the genuine chamomile is mistaken for the false chamomile (Matricaria inodora). The fake or false chamomile looks like the genuine chamomile confusingly, but is in height much smaller. While the genuine chamomile with inflorescence is a maximum of half a meter (20 inches) in size, the false plant reaches a stature height of up to 80 cm (31 inches). The size of the flower heads is also different. The flowers of the genuine chamomile are about 2 to 2.5 cm (0.8 to 1 inches) in size; those of the false chamomile are with nearly 4 cm (1.6 inches) almost twice as large. The smell test is much easier for the determination of both chamomiles: the genuine camomile emites an intense, powerful aroma, as known from chamomile tea. The false one, however, is almost odorless and smells only slightly – thus the botanical species inodora = odorless or odorless chamomile. Another clue to identification is the structure of the flower heads: those of the genuine chamomile are hollow on the inside compared to the false chamomile.
Sow and plant chamomile
The chamomile do not need to be covered with soil after sowing as it needs light to germ. The seeds are scattered loose on the ground and pressed gently to prevent the wind from blowing away the seeds. The right time for sowing depends on the place of cultivation. In the house, it can be sown from the end of March. Direct sowing outdoors or in the garden will take place from the beginning of May.
Camomiles have no special requirements for the location. In nature, they are found on both brownfields and wild meadows. However, sun-exposed areas with nutrient-rich and moderately moist mixed soils (loamy and sandy) are the optimal location. In addition, the soil should have more neutral to slightly alkaline character. Ordinary potting soil should therefore be mixed with garden lime.
If the chamomile is grown in commercially available potting soil and in well nutrient-rich garden soils, additional fertilization during the growing season is not necessary. Exceptions are sandy soils, which usually have a high nutrient eluviation. In such case, it is possible to fertilize with light organic or long-term fertilizers such as cattle dung pellets. More important in cultivation is that the soil does not dry out and is kept steadily moist.
Care, pests and diseases
Despite the relatively undemanding care, it may happen that chamomiles are attacked by pests, usually such as aphids and mildew are to be complained of. Since camomiles are crops, it is best to focus on ecologically sound solutions when controlling pests. With regard to the elimination of aphids, useful creatures have proven themselves. The larvae of the lacewings, but also gall gnats and the larvae of the two-spot ladybird eat the aphids and thus ensure a phytopathogenic control (Tip: beneficial insects are available in the garden shop, online shops and some in health food stores to buy). Alternatively, the plants can be treated with a slurry of nettles or common horsetail.
The fight against mildew is a bit more complex. A distinction is made between real (powdery) and (lettuce) downy mildew: While the powdery mildew is shown on the top of leaves as white, finely atomized and flour-like topping and can be rubbed off with your fingers, the downy mildew is on the underside of the leaf, to recognize as a non-removable coating. With some natural methods and precautions, mildew can be well-controlled.
Chamomile and its use
Camomile in the kitchen
Chamomile is almost meaningless in the kitchen. Exceptions are fresh flowers, which are sometimes used as an ingredient for wild herb salads. The flavors are very similar to the well-known camomile tea. Occasionally its flowers are also used to decorate desserts.
Camomile as a medicinal herb
Chamomile is one of our most important medicinal herbs today. It is indispensable in many households as a home remedy for stomach and intestinal complaints. Various associations have awarded the chamomile as a medicinal plant and as „medicinal plant of the year“.
As a medicinal plant, it has been important since the Middle Ages. In old herbal books it can be seen that the chamomile was one of the most frequently used medicinal herbs. It was then used as it is today for the treatment of gastrointestinal complaints. The plant or its leaves were boiled in wine or water. Her healing powers were also attributed to it in the treatment of “lung ulcers” and falling sickness, but today this is no longer medically acceptable in the form. Externally, the camomile was used for paleness, aching skin blisters or inflammation of the skin.
Today, the camomile is among others used for the following diseases and conditions:
- Angina tonsillaris (supporting)
- various inflammations of the skin
- Colds or flu infections
- stomach cramps
- gastric mucosal irritation
- Stomach and intestinal inflammation
- irritable bowel
- sore throat
- Gingivitis and gum irritation
The healing ingredients of chamomile are both in the flowers, as well as in the leaves and are used fresh as well as dried.
Chamomile has many health-promoting or healing-interesting ingredients that can be useful in a variety of ailments. It is above all the essential oils, flavonoids, coumarins and bitter substances that make up the healing effect of camomile. So the plant contains among others numerous essential oils and flavonoids as well as coumarins and bitter substances. The anti-inflammatory effect of the herb is attributed to the substances bisabolol, matricin, umbelliferone and chamazulene.
The well-known chamomile tea relieves through the content of bitter and tannic acids in the chamomile upsets in the gastrointestinal area (stomach cramps, colic, diarrhea, irritable bowel, irritable stomach). It soothes and promotes sleep, helps with sore throat and menstrual pain, just like chamomile tea is an effective means of flushing the urinary tract. Some researches and studies have even shown that chamomile can prevent bacteria such as Heliobacter pylori and Campylobacter jejuni from growing and dividing.
Similarly, camomile tea promotes the production of breast milk, so that preparations of chamomile can be drunk by nursing mothers, unlike other medicinal plants such as sage or peppermint, which stop the flow of milk.
Preparing chamomile tea
For a tea infusion, the flowers are used, whether fresh or dried. The flowering period of chamomile begins in May and extends into October, with the best harvest time in June and July, when the flower heads are fully opened, but not yet faded.
How to proceed with the preparation:
- Add two to three teaspoons of chamomile flowers to a cup
- Add 250 ml (8.5 fl.oz) of hot but no longer boiling water
- Cover for ten minutes
- Strain, pour the condensed water on the lid into the tea and enjoy
The genuine chamomile is also used in the naturopathic treatment of some eye diseases. It is especially important for bacterial conjunctivitis. Occasionally, camomile is also used in the treatment of styes. It is mainly used as a compress, but care should be taken that the compresses are sterile and do not cause any further bacterial infections.
Another field of application is external complaints. The plant is used primarily as a skin-calming and anti-inflammatory herb and is used in some skin care products (e.g., lotion, cream, masks). In addition, chamomile extract is sold in pharmacies, which, for example, relieves inflammation in the mouth area or the gums as a gargle solution, and also helps with skin impurities. Usually, the camomile is dabbed on the relevant body site or used as an ingredient for facial steam baths. Such a camomile steam bath is also to be recommended as supportive of sinusitis and other obstructions of the nose, since the essential oils present in the steam have a beneficial effect on the moistening of the mucous membranes. Furthermore, camomile extract can be added to the bath water. Hip bath are used when people, e.g. suffer from hemorrhoids or treated fistulas.
The genuine chamomile is generally a very well tolerated medicinal plant. Complaints caused with known allergy to composite/daisies family. Also, long-term use with higher doses may cause discomfort such as dizziness and restlessness.
Camomile in cosmetic and hygiene articles
In addition, chamomile has made a name for itself in hair care. Conditioner of strong chamomile tea (4 teabags per liter (33oz) of boiling water) give the last cast after the hair wash shine and – on blond hair – a golden shimmer. However, the lightening effect is not as pronounced and intense in genuine chamomile as in Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile).
Some manufacturers of natural care products specifically use chamomile extract.
Buy – What is there to pay attention to?
Genuine chamomile is available in stores in various forms and types to buy. Fresh plants can be found in many plant specialty markets and partly in hardware stores. Here, the botanical name should be compared, as sometimes the Roman chamomile is sold. Also, it should be examined for plant diseases such as powdery and downy mildew, which can occur quite frequently. Note that chamomile is an annual plant.
In addition to fresh plants, seeds of genuine chamomile can be purchased in most plant centers and online. Since the plant is not a rarity, the prices of seeds are usually very reasonable. Seed-packages from brand manufacturers are usually between 0.50 and 1.00 EUR/$, depending on the weight of the packaging. From time to time certain subspecies or breeds are offered, which are aimed directly for use as a medicinal herb. Worth mentioning here is, for example, Bodegold, a breed that stands out due to its particularly high contents of essential oils.
In online trade as well as in some supermarkets or discount stores also dried flowers are offered, which can be used directly for the preparation of chamomile teas or bath additives. Consumers who use a lot of chamomile a year should switch to the cheap kilo (2 lb) packs right away. Since the aroma of dried chamomile lasts long, it can be stored well, even kept for several months to a few years. Again, the prices are usually very moderate. However, there are differences in chamomile flowers from organic farming.