Though chamomile is one of the best-known herbs for tea, it can be a bit confusing when it comes to the specific varieties. You can grow either German chamomile or Roman (English) chamomile but they are not the same plant. While they may be used interchangeably when making tea, the two plants are very different when it comes to how you grow them.
German chamomile is an annual, and it grows in a bushy shrub up to 3 feet tall. On the other hand, Roman chamomile is a perennial that only gets about a foot high and tends to grow along the ground. Though both will produce very similar aromatic blossoms, it’s German chamomile that is the more commonly grown for its blossoms. The information in this article will focus on how to grow the German variety in your garden.
Chamomile bushes have blooms with small white flowers with large yellow centers (like small daisies), and it has a distinctive apple-like aroma when in bloom. Though it can be grown in a flower bed, the blooms are very small compared to the large and rather wild-looking bush.
Chamomile tea is enjoyed for its taste, and as a home-remedy for stomach upset. It also can help you fall asleep in the evenings. There are no significant levels of any other nutrients in chamomile tea.
If you have hayfever or allergies to ragweed, you may find that chamomile has the same effect on you because they are closely related. That includes the plants growing outdoors, but also the tea you brew as well.
Days to germination: 7 to 14 days
Days to harvest: 30 days
Light requirements: Full sun or light shade
Water requirements: Occasional watering
Soil: Light sandy soil with good drainage
Growing Chamomile from seed
You can start your chamomile seeds indoors for later transplant, about 6 weeks before you are expecting the last frost of the winter. Start them in seed pots but don’t bury the seeds under the soil. They need light to sprout, so just sprinkle a few seeds in each pot right on the surface of your potting soil.
Keep them moist, and thin down to one per pot after they start to grow. Your seedlings should be kept in a sunny spot until its time to plant them. For container growing, you can sprout your seeds directly into their final pot if kept indoors until after the frosts are past.
You’ll want to keep your little seedlings about 12 to 18 inches apart when you plant them. Sunny locations are best for chamomile but they will do just fine with a little bit of shade as well. Plant them into the garden after the last frost is over.
Though an annual that will only survive for one year, chamomile will readily seed itself. That means you can have an ongoing patch of chamomile if you let some of the blossoms go to seed rather than picking them all. If you take this route, plan your location with the intention of having a permanent chamomile bed.
You can also plant your chamomile seeds directly into the garden, rather than starting transplants if you prefer. In that case, you can either sow your seeds in the early spring or even put the seeds out in the fall to overwinter.
Chamomile isn’t a very heavy feeder, and you should only need to add a bit of standard fertilizer right at planting. Unless you have very poor soil, you don’t need to fertilize through the season.
Your plants will likely thrive without additional watering though they can use more water once they start to bloom, or during any prolonged bout of hot dry weather.
Chamomile grows very well in containers, though is a little large for most window-sill herb gardens. Each plant should have a 12-inch pot to itself, and the soil should be well-drained with some added sand. Water the plants occasionally, maybe once a week.
Since chamomile does seed very well, and has a tendency to spread around the garden, many gardeners keep their chamomile in pots. You can keep your plant a bit more under control, and grow your chamomile in a location that it can’t spread (such as a patio or deck).
In the garden, it will self-seed and keep your patch growing. In a container, this isn’t likely to happen. So you should collect a few seeds in order to replant more chamomile the next season if you want to perpetuate your plants.
Pests and Diseases
Not very many insects will bother your chamomile plants, and they even repel cucumber beetles (so plant near the veggie garden).
You do sometimes find clusters of tiny aphids on chamomile but they are not much of a threat. They are easy to spray off with the regular garden hose, or a little bit of insecticide spray can help control the bugs. Only use pesticides intended for fruits or vegetables, and don’t spray right before you intend to pick your flowers.
Harvest and Storage
Your plants can bloom all through the summer, so there isn’t any one specific harvest time. Most plants will start to put out flowers about a month after planting.
Harvesting your chamomile flowers is a tedious task, but worth the effort. You only want the blossoms, not their stems which means you have to pick them quite carefully. Of course, you can always go through your chamomile after picking to remove any extra bits of stem later. You can use fresh flowers for tea, but it’s more typical to dry them before use.
Spread them out somewhere warm and well-ventilated to thoroughly dry. Direct sunlight can harm the chamomile oils, so don’t just leave them out in the sun to dry. Indoors is usually best. Once dry, you can store chamomile flowers in a sealed container for a year.
When making tea, you’ll need approximately 1 teaspoon of dried flowers per up. For brewing with fresh chamomile blossoms, use almost twice that. Add a little honey for sweetness.