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Chamomile – my favorite garden herb of the moment

This year, I am growing chamomile in my garden for the first time. The growing season on the West coast is longer, with more rain and milder springs and falls, so I have tried growing things I never grew in Minnesota. Actually, I tried growing chamomile in MN from a transplant, but it never took off. This is an into to this lovely herb; next week I’ll post some medicinal uses and properties.

Botanical info: Matricaria recutita is German chamomiles botanical name, an annual in the Asteraceae or aster/composite family. ‘Chamomile’ means something like “earth/ground melon/fruit/apple”, which I am guessing refers to its aromatic, apply-fruity smell and its height (about a foot or so). Anthemis nobilis or Roman chamomile is grown and used as well, sometimes interchangeably. Chamomile is an native to Europe and Eastern Asia, but it was introduced to North America and grows in temperate areas as long as it is a mostly sunny locale with decently draining soils. The flowers are small, with yellow centers surrounded by white petals. It seems that not all flowers on chamomile have petals or they fall off at some point, some are just disc flowers.

I thought that Matricaria alluded to the mat forming tendency of chamomile, but an University website says that Matricaria is from the Latin word matrix, meaning “womb”, indicating its use for women’s health, recutita meaning cut around (although I have no idea to what that is referring to).

Growth: The first thing I noticed about the chamomile was its vigorous growth. It was the first seed to sprout by almost a week; it quickly grew to about 24″, budded, flowered in a matter of weeks. It bloomed and bloomed some more after a number of harvesting. Another noticeable thing is the light but sweet aroma radiating from the patch when a breeze came through.

Harvesting: Collecting your chamomile is laborious, no doubt. There has to be another a better method than snipping every individual flower. How do big herb farms do it?! I tried giving the crop a hair cut and catching the trimmings, but that requires cleaning the herb later. The stems are thin and soft enough that I could pinch the flower heads off, but placing each individual flower in the basket got old. I ended up leaning the herb over the basket, which collected the flowers after snipping them with a scissors.

As the chamomile dries, the sunny yellow color darkens and the smell sweetens and intensifies. It is important to note that the yellow color concentrates, but the white of the petals is still present. This contrast of colors is NOT seen in chamomile that I buy by the pound, which is mostly yellowish-brown. Weeks after the first harvests, the smell of chamomile is actually getting stronger in my study/herb room. It is almost intoxicating – interfering my studying by making me sleepy, perhaps?

Chamomile has long been a favorite herb of mine for both medicine and beverage, for body and mind. It was probably the first herbal medicine I ever experienced, as my mom would make me herbal tea when I was sick with a cold. In truth, I didn’t like chamomile tea (or any tea for that matter) back then, and now I know why: it was stale. We lived in a basement apartment, and had a mold infestation. Anything that could absorb excess humidity did, herbal tea bags were a prime target. Still, there is something nice about getting tea made for you when you are in bed with a cold or sore throat, especially when that tea contains a liberal dose of honey.

Filed under: Herbalism


Tea-drinking, nature-loving acupuncturist, East Asian Medicine practitioner, herbalism and birth doula living in the Pacific Northwest.


  1. I have heard that Johnny’s Selected Seeds sells something called a “chamomile rake” which is a modified blueberry rake for picking matricaria recutita, though I don’t own one myself. I may break down and invest though, because this is one tedious little flower to harvest.

    I agree with you, I hated the first chamomile teas I tried, long before I knew anything about herbs and the importance of freshness. Stale chamomile bears no resemblance to my dried, home-grown herb, even after two years in my cupboard! to This is one that is definitely worth growing yourself and now that you have it in your garden, it will self-seed prolifically.

  2. celia says

    Thanks for your comment, Laurel. A chamomile rake – I love it! I saw a blueberry rake when I was in Germany last year and was intrigued. The organic chamomile I buy from the co-op doesn’t even hold a candle to the chamomile from my garden.

    I didn’t know that it will self-seed; what a pleasant surprise!

  3. Hi Celia,
    Thanks for the great posts, I too love chamomile, so gentle yet effective and so many uses.
    Regarding harvesting, I was talking to someone recently who runs a herb farm and they use a berry picker which I assume is the same as the rake that Laurel mentions above. What I do is cup my hands with the fingers open and then pull them through the chamomile picking numerous heads at a time. You can get a big bagful quite quickly that way.
    Interestingly Henriette Kress was saying that you should use the whole arial parts, not just the flowers. i haven’t tried this yet to compare though.
    I too was so surprised at how different the home-dried flowers looked to bought ones, this is true of so many herbs though I keep discovering.
    Thanks again,
    Love Lucinda
    p.s. I have a small plate from when I was little, all worn and chipped now, of Peter Rabbit in bed with his mother handing him chamomile tea. I’ll treasure it always!

  4. Lucinda, awww…your Peter Rabbit plate sounds sweet!

    I will have to try your flowers-in-the-hand method; thanks for sharing. I have never made tea out of the aerial parts, but I have used the tops in oils and in tinctures, but I bet it would be palatable as a tea.

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