A soothing cup of chamomile tea is a perfect nightcap. You can make it from either of the two types of chamomile, German or Roman. Most people grow German chamomile, especially in their vegetable gardens where it repels the dreaded cucumber beetle. It is also known as The Plant Doctor because anything planted near it will grow better.
The name chamomile derives from Greek and means earth apple, a reference to the apple scent of the flowers. German chamomile is native to Europe and temperate zones in Asia. It was introduced in North America and Australia by European colonists. In Europe, it has been in use for centuries.
German chamomile is an annual herb that grows to a height of 24 to 36 inches tall. The plants tend to be tall and spindly, often falling over in the garden if not supported by surrounding plants so it is not usually used as a bedding plant. It prefers full sun, but will tolerate a little shade. Grow your German chamomile in sandy, well-drained soil that is not too rich. Like most herbs, it does not require a lot of fertilizer. Water your plants regularly. Don’t let them dry out.
German chamomile is easy to grow from seed. You can start your seeds indoors 6 weeks before your last frost, direct sow them in your garden in the spring or even sow them in your garden in the fall for spring germination. No matter when you sow your seeds, make sure that you are sowing them on the surface of the soil. Gently press them down so that they have good contact with the soil but do not cover them. The seeds need light to germinate. Germination should occur within 7 to 14 days. If started indoors, you can transplant your seedlings outdoors after your last frost.
Chamomile tea is made from the flower of the chamomile plant. Some people use the leaves also but they can be bitter. When harvesting most herb flowers, you harvest them before they are fully open. In the case of chamomile, you want to harvest the flowers when they are fully open. Don’t let them fool you! Even though they look like daisies, the flowers aren’t fully open until the petals are pointing downwards. Harvesting the flowers is easy. Use your garden shears and shear them off of the plants. Be sure to leave a few flowers to make seeds for next year.
You can dry your chamomile flowers using one of several methods. You can spread them in a single layer on an old window screen in a dark, dry spot until they are dry, use a food dehydrator, or even dry them in your oven. Simply place them on parchment paper covered cookie sheets in a 100°F-110°F oven for 2 to 3 hours. Then put them in an air tight container and store them in a cool, dark place with no sun exposure.
To make chamomile tea, bring your water to a boil and transfer it to a non-metal teapot. Add 1 tablespoon of the dried flowers to the pot for each cup of water, plus an extra 1 tablespoon “for the pot.” Don’t forget to use more chamomile if making ice tea to allow for the extra water from the melting ice cubes.
If you are going to steep it in a cup, be sure to cover the cup while it is steeping. This prevents the oils which give it the flavor and soothing effect from evaporating. Steep it for five minutes to 10 minutes, strain out the flowers and enjoy!
A word of caution for those of you who suffer from hay fever. Chamomile is related to ragweed, so you may have the same reaction to it. You should also avoid chamomile if you are pregnant. It can cause contractions which could result in miscarriage.