Chamomile from Culinary Herbs for Short-Season Gardeners

Chamomile from Culinary Herbs for Short-Season Gardeners

  • The chamomiles are among the most popular of all herbs used for making tea. German chamomile is a sweet-scented, upright annual that grows from 0.6 to 1 m (2 to 3 feet) tall. Equally aromatic Roman chamomile, a low-growing, trailing perennial - at least the root system is perennial - ranges from 10 to 30 cm (4 to 12 inches) in height. German chamomile is native to Europe and western Asia; Roman chamomile is a native of western Europe, the Azores, and North Africa.
  • German chamomile has feathery, bright green, fern-like leaves. Roman chamomile has finely divided, parsley-like leaves that are flatter and thicker than those of German chamomile.
  • German chamomile has smooth, branched, erect stems. Roman chamomile has creeping, many-branched, hairy stems, and a fibrous root.
  • Both chamomiles produce small, daisy-like white blossoms with yellow centers. The chamomiles bloom in midsummer, with Roman chamomile usually flowering first.
  • The chamomiles have a delightfully light aroma and taste that is redolent of apple.
  • Both flowers and leaves may be eaten.


  • German chamomile grows well in poor, clay soil, while Roman chamomile does best in well-drained, slightly acidic, moderately fertile soil. Recommended pH range for German chamomile is 4.5 to 7.5; for Roman chamomile, the recommended pH range is 5.5 to 8.0.
  • Roman chamomile does not tolerate hot, dry weather.
  • Both chamomiles thrive in open, sunny locations, but will grow in light shade.
  • Grow both types from seed, which should be sown in the garden in spring. Sow seeds shallowly to a depth of 6 mm (1/4 inch) or less. Keep ground moist and free of weeds. Seedlings usually appear in 5 to 10 days.
  • Roman chamomile can also be propagated easily by separating the runners and replanting them.
  • Space German chamomile about 10 cm (4 inches) apart and Roman chamomile about 45 cm (18 inches) apart. German chamomile seedlings transplant best when plants are young and no more than 5 cm (2 inches) tall.
  • Both types are mostly pest- and disease-free.
  • Once established, German chamomile self-sows readily, so you'll likely have a fresh crop the following year. Roman chamomile can overwinter outdoors as far north as zone 3.


  • Harvest flowers of both types for drying and for fresh use when they are fully open. Do not delay harvesting Roman chamomile, as the flowers lose their flavor once they start to darken.
  • To dry both chamomiles, snip the flowers off with scissors, then rinse and pat dry. Place flower heads on a rack or mesh screen and set to dry in a warm location. When flowers are completely dry, store in jars in the dark.
  • Harvest fresh leaves as needed.


  • Use fresh or dried chamomile flowers to brew delectable herbal tea. Deciding which chamomile to use is a matter of personal taste. German chamomile is sweeter than Roman chamomile, which has a slightly bitter bite. Whatever your choice, both make excellent tea.
  • To make chamomile tea, infuse 15 mL (1 tablespoon) of fresh flowers or 10 mL (2 teaspoons) of dried flowers in 250 mL (1 cup) of boiling water. Steep for 5 to 10 minutes. Strew a few Roman chamomile flowers over a tossed green salad, and season cream sauces, butter, and sour cream by adding small sprigs of either type.
  • Both German and Roman chamomile are used commercially to flavor alcoholic beverages, such as Benedictine and vermouth, and confectionery, candy, ice cream, baked goods, desserts, and chewing gum.


  • Add fragrant chamomile flowers to potpourris and sachets.


  • In traditional folk medicine, both types were widely used as sedatives and tonics. Chamomile was also used to treat asthma, colic, fever, flatulence, heartburn, inflammations, menstrual problems, hemorrhoids, toothache, earache, and cancer, while poultices of Roman chamomile were recommended for neuralgia sufferers.
  • While chamomile's curative powers are limited, it is one of the safest of the traditional medicinal herbs. Chamomile does have mild sedative ability and it can help to reduce gastrointestinal upsets.
  • In modern medicine, Roman chamomile is used in antiseptic lotions and to flavor pharmaceutical products.
  • Chamomile is used commercially in a number of personal care products including cosmetics, hair color, mouthwash, and sunscreen. It's also used in shampoos and conditioners to bring out the highlights in blond hair, and as a moisturizer for dry hair.


  • People who are allergic to ragweed may also have an allergic reaction to chamomile, but this is rare.
  • Chamomile is sometimes consumed in very large doses for medicinal purposes. If you are pregnant or nursing, you should not take large medicinal quantities of chamomile.
  • Avoid using chamomile preparations for teething babies.


  • Treneague chamomile (C. nobile 'Treneague'). Non-flowering form of Roman chamomile. Makes attractive ground cover and can be mown. Unfortunately, it lacks chamomile's distinctive scent and is not winter-hardy.

More InformationExcerpt from Culinary Herbs for Short-Season Gardeners by Ernest Small and Grace Deutsch, (ISBN: 0-660-17785-4), reproduced with permission of the publishers NRC Research Press and Ismant Peony Press.

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