The daisy-like flowers of German chamomile rise up front and center among lobelia, beets, zinnias and pole beans in Petersen's greenhouse in Thorne Bay.
German chamomile with its apple-like aroma is easy to grow and may bear a prolific harvest of flowers for tea
Story last updated at 8/7/2013 - 4:17 pm
Unlatching the double screen door, I slip quietly into my burgeoning greenhouse and examine my recently transplanted herbs, flowers, and vegetables for signs of progress. It's always so exciting when those carefully nurtured seedlings finally escape the confines of their small containers for the wide-open real estate of raised beds. One day there's just bare soil and empty space, then, boom, a room filled with glorious, thriving greenery.
I carefully inspect each transplant, visualizing the plant when fully grown and hope I've left enough space for once. I've interplanted more herbs this year - oregano, basil, marjoram, cilantro, chamomile, savory, hyssop, parsley, thyme, lemon balm - and am especially interested to discover the outcome of the ones I haven't grown before.
Inside the greenhouse, not much has changed in the last three hours. It appears that the more often you look at your plants, the slower they seem to grow. I can't wait to see which will burst into bloom first.
Then there it is! Daisy-like flowers have opened up on the German chamomile. Although I'd brewed tea over the years with wild chamomile, commonly called pineapple weed, I'd never grown the one most often recommended for tea before. I'm hoping to gather enough flowers for a few nice cups of tea this winter.
After starting this aromatic herb in late March, I'd transplanted the seedlings to the greenhouse in mid-May. Two weeks later the harvest was beginning. Each day I collected the flowers from several patches of chamomile in the greenhouse and two containers on the porch, accumulating only a modest amount, especially once they had dried on the wire screens. I began to wonder if I'd ever get enough for very much tea.
Time went on and a few flowers turned into dozens of flowers. It wasn't long before I was so amazed I started counting them for fun and quickly surpassed 100 from one patch. I thought that was astounding until the count continued to increase and suddenly the chamomile flower gathering, added to numerous other pressing gardening chores, became difficult to find time for.
The two-foot plants do not support themselves rigidly, being rather floppy and often tangled, especially if one attempts to hogtie them together with a cord anchored to the greenhouse frame. Needless to say, picking hundreds of individual flowers twice a day is tedious and it sometimes seems endless but the alluring apple-like fragrance can't be overstated while immersed in chamomile flower collection.
Chamomile is easy to grow from seed and can be started indoors six weeks before the last expected frost or directly seeded outside when warm enough. Scatter and press the seeds lightly into the soil but don't cover with dirt; chamomile seeds need light to germinate. German chamomile is an annual plant so collect seeds or leave a few flowers on the plant at the end of the season to mature and re-seed. Chamomile can also be propagated by rooting 3- to 5-inch cuttings of stem tip.
German chamomile tea, ointment, tincture, and extract have traditionally been used medicinally for calming nerves, stomach problems, muscle spasms, skin conditions, insomnia and much more although actual scientific studies on humans has been limited. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, animal studies show that German chamomile reduces inflammation, speeds wound healing, reduces muscle spasms and serves as a mild sedative to help with sleep.
To make tea, I add one cup of hot water to one tablespoon of dried flowers and steep 10 minutes but recipes vary. My current harvest so far at the end of July is at three cups of dried flowers. It doesn't sound like much but it goes a long way when it's time to sit back and enjoy the wonderful flavor and relaxing effects of chamomile's essential oils.
Carla Petersen writes from Thorne Bay. She is a freelance writer and artist. Visit her website at whalepassoriginals.com or she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.