Chamomile is an ancient herb that has been grown, harvested, and used for thousands of years. It is used for its medicinal properties, such as a digestive aid, treating cold symptoms, and even for treating mild skin conditions.
It has to be used with some caution as it does cause drowsiness. Chamomile is a fairly low maintenance plant to grow, so growing chamomile and harvesting it for tea is very doable, read more below to find out how.
What is Chamomile?
Chamomile is a daisy-like flower that is part of the Asteraceae plant family. Chamomile can be grown in USDA zones 3-9, it doesn’t do well in tropical zones as it does not like the hot humid conditions found in the higher zones.
Types of Chamomile
There are two main varieties of chamomile, Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum Nobile) and German Chamomile (Matricaria Chamomilla).
Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum Nobile)
Roman chamomile is what is considered the traditional herb when talking about varieties of chamomile. It is a low growing perennial (6-12 inches) ground cover that spreads in a thick mat.
It is a good choice as a border ground cover, in between pavers on a path, or it can even be used (and mowed) as a lawn alternative.
German Chamomile (Matricaria Chamomilla)
German chamomile is an annual variety that spreads via seed. This is the variety that will self seed like crazy if the flowers are left on it.
The flowers grow taller than its Roman counterpart, growing up to 2 feet high; it makes for a great second tier flower, behind a ground cover.
It actually contains higher amounts of the chemical chamazulene that is the medicinal part of the chamomile plant. This flower looks great in wild cottage gardens, and pollinator gardens.
How to Grow Chamomile
Chamomile seeds are readily available and easy to plant. They can be sown indoors 6-8 weeks before the first frost. Sow the seed evenly on to some seed starting soil and cover lightly with seed starting mix.
Growing Chamomile Using Seeds
Cover and place in a warm area until the seed germinate, in 7-14 days. Unlike some seeds, chamomile does require light to germinate, so keep it near the window, or under grow lights through the germination process.
Once the seedling emerges, keep the seedling under grow lights, or in a very bright, south facing window. If you don't have one on hand, check out our review on the best LED grow lights available online.
Thin the seedlings out to about 6 inches apart per plant. As the seedlings grow, place a fan or lightly touch the seedlings to create stronger stems (mimicking winds), if the seedlings appear stringy or leggy, they are reaching for light.
Place closer to the grow light, or closer to a south window. Once the seedlings are ready to go outside it is very important to go through a process known as “hardening off”.
This means the seedlings are used to indoor conditions, and cannot survive in the real elements. To do this, bring the seedlings out and leave them in the shade for a few hours and then bring them back in.
The next day, bring them into the shade even longer, eventually bringing them out into some sunny conditions. This usually takes about a week and then the plants are strong and sturdy and ready to be introduced to the garden
Direct Sowing Chamomile
Another option is to direct sow chamomile. This can be done in the Spring, but it’s actually even better to sow them in the fall so they can be stratified and ready to germinate in the spring.
Just scatter the seed in the fall and worry about thinning them to 6 inches once they start sprouting in the spring. German chamomile is an avid self seeder, so once you have it established, there’s really not much that needs to be done.
Roman chamomile is a perennial which means it will die back and regrow every season. It will also self seed, pull out any unwanted seedlings to keep it in check and deadhead (take the flowers off) the flowers regularly to prevent self seeding.
Chamomile Care Guide
Chamomile grows best in full sun, but some light shade in the heat of the afternoon really helps it. It prefers cooler temperatures.
Just regular soil is what chamomile likes. Whatever is in the existing garden is likely fine. Well draining soil is important, but extra nutrient richness is not necessary. In fact, poorer soil makes for more fragrant blossoms.
Water regularly to establish it, then forget it. This is a super low maintenance flower. Unless it is super dry and hot, no extra watering is needed once the plant is established.
In times of drought, give it a drink, chamomile will be pouting, drooping, and crispy if it is dry. Do not over water, it will rot and turn to mush with too much water.
Nope, don’t do it. No fertilizer makes for more fragrant and potent blooms.
How to Harvest Chamomile
Now onto the fun part. Once established and growing, chamomile will produce lots of small daisy-like flowers, this is the medicinal part that makes that beautiful amber sleepy time tea.
Harvest chamomile when the flower petals are fully open and in the process of curling inward. Simply snip off the flower and then it will need to dry.
Chamomile leaves will bloom all summer, and the more they’re picked, the more will grow.
If you want the chamomile to self seed to ensure next year's supply (this is referring to German chamomile as it is an annual, the Roman variety is perennial and the plant will come back the following year), leave some of the blossoms on as the end of summer approaches so that they can go to seed and provide next year’s crop.
Once the flower heads are harvested, remove the stem and place them in a bowl of water to wash any dirt and debris off of them. There are a few methods of drying chamomile flowers for use:
- Air drying - allowing the flower heads to dry naturally by placing them in a single layer in a dark, dry space for a week or two, or until completely dry.
Go ahead and flip them around every once in a while to ensure they dry evenly.
- Oven drying - preheat the oven on the lowest possible setting and place the blossoms in a single layer on a sheet pan lined with parchment.
Keep a close eye and check and flip them every 10 minutes or so. Once they are dried remove from the oven and let them cool completely before placing in a glass jar to store.
- Dehydrator - put in a single layer on the dehydrator and put the dehydrator on the lowest setting and leave on until the flowers are dried.
Once the chamomile is dried it is best to store them in a glass airtight container. Place the container in a dark cool cupboard to retain the medicinal value of the chamomile for the longest time.
How to Make Chamomile Tea
To make the tea, place 2-4 teaspoons of the dried flowers into a cup of water, steep for 2-5 minutes and then strain out the flowers and enjoy.
It is also possible to make tea from the flowers before they dry. Use double the amount of fresh flowers, and let them steep a little longer. The liquid will be a lovely golden yellow color when it is ready to drink.
Chamomile Companion Planting
Chamomile is a versatile garden plant that makes friends with many other plants in the garden. It does beautifully in a cottage style garden, next to other flowering plants, such as peonies, delphinium, and roses.
It naturalizes and fills in spaces with cheery daisy-like blossoms. Chamomile will also jazz up any herb gardens with its floral appeal.
A lot of herb gardens tend to be mostly green foliage (think parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme), adding some cheerful balls of sunshine into the herb garden is a lovely, and useful, addition.
Chamomile grows well in pots, it can be incorporated into an herb bowl, or for more impact placed in a container all by itself.
Roman chamomile is a low growing creeping perennial. It grows into a thick mat of flowers, and can actually be grown as an alternative to a lawn. It can even be mowed down with the lawn mower if it gets too tall!
In a vegetable or herb garden, chamomile is great to plant amongst the vegetables as a natural deterrent to bugs such as carrot flies, mosquitos, and potato beetles.
It also has flowers that attract all the beneficial pollinators to the garden.
Possible Chamomile Pests and Diseases
Chamomile is generally pest free, and even deters some pests. But it can sometimes get infested with aphids, or powdery mildew. This is usually due to a problem with the growing conditions. Perhaps not enough sun, and too damp of conditions.
Aphids can usually be sprayed off with a blast of the hose, or ladybugs can be purchased or caught and unleashed on them (a single lady bug can down 5000 aphids in her bug life!).
Try to avoid any chemicals if harvesting is the goal. Giving the flowers a good soak in water and washing all the aphids off before drying will work too.
For powdery mildew try a mixture of apple cider vinegar and water (2-3 tablespoons per gallon of water). It's best to apply this mixture in the early morning or evening, not in the heat of the day. Do not over do the vinegar as it will burn the plants.
Powdery mildew is usually a sign that there is not proper airflow through the plants, so try thinning out the number of plants to prevent the mildew in the first place.
Is chamomile easy to grow?
Yes, it is fairly easy to start from seed and grow. Choose a well drained, mostly sunny, area of the garden and place the chamomile plants there for best results.
Or scatter the seeds in the fall and they will emerge in the Spring.
Should I prune chamomile?
Yes, especially if you intend to use your chamomile flowers. Prune the flowers when the petals are just starting to curl inwards. It is not necessary to prune the plant itself, but taking the flowers off will limit their self seeding and spreading.
The lower growing Roman Chamomile can be pruned, or dug up to keep it from spreading to areas you don’t want it growing.
How tall does chamomile grow?
German chamomile will grow up to 2 feet tall, whereas Roman chamomile is a lower growing perennial and will only grow to about 6 inches high.
Is chamomile plant invasive?
It is best to check your local government website for a list of invasive species, chamomile may be considered noxious in some areas.
It is a mover and a shaker, so make sure you are deadheading (popping off the flowers before they go to seed) to keep them in check.
It is definitely on the lower end of annoying spreaders and easy to keep in check if you ask me.
How do you harvest chamomile?
Grab a basket or bucket and go to your garden and pop off the flower heads of the chamomile, trying to get as little of the stem as possible.
If there are a lot of flowers try putting your fingers through it and popping off multiple flowers at a time.
What can I do with fresh chamomile flowers?
They can be used as edible flowers to decorate cakes, or put in salads. They can also be used to make tea. You will just have to use more of them then you would the dried version to achieve the same tea strength.
Time to Enjoy Your Chamomile Tea
Chamomile is a beautiful, medicinal plant that grows great in a variety of areas in the garden. It’s low maintenance, sunny flowers are a wonderful addition to the garden.
Then after a hard day’s work in the garden, sit back with a beautiful tea set and sip homegrown chamomile in the garden. Relax!