Chamomile is a name for a group of flowering herb plants that smell like apples – but is usually understood to refer to the herb Matricaria recutita used most often for brewing a herb tea. It has a distinct pleasant flavour and great soothing effect on the digestive system when brewed up as a tea apparently through primarily an antispasmodic effect. It also makes an interesting flavouring for adding to more subtle culinary items like ice-cream and light sauces and dressings.
It is generally a fairly easy plant to grow if it gets full sun and a medium quality soil that stays on the dry side. But it can be ‘touchy’ sometimes, especially in wet weather, and simply die back quickly.
There are several types of herb called Chamomile and the main version often referred to as ‘German’ chamomile is the one that generally has the best tasting flowers and leaves and just tends to be a bigger and more productive plant.
The other commonly seen version of chamomile is the ‘Roman’ chamomile – Chamaemelum nobile – which tends to be a very low growing plant but with very similar flowers and leaf.
They are both very similar in taste and look aside from size, and they both are often mislabelled as each other.
When trying to obtain seed German chamomile can be called all variations of the Binomial name – I have seen all of these – Matricaria chamomilla – Chamomilla recutita – Matricaria recutita – Chamomilla chamomilla and other variations applied from similar species – and there is a heap of them in the genus.
I think the main species is fairly easy to identify once seen flowering, but i have at least 3 obviously different versions growing that vary in the colour and sturdiness of the stem and leaf and in the flower size. The height also can vary a lot – based on growing conditions (e.g. sun exposure) and seasonal variation. Some tend to grow very weedy and loose and spreading while some can be like small tightly packed bushes up to about 50cm high.
The recurved petals on the flowers are a significant identifier.
There is a great deal of discussion in plant circles as to the true identification of these plants and there are a significant number of the perennial plants known as Roman chamomile that virtually don’t flower at all and seem to reproduce only by stem.
I have found most versions (ie. all the related species) to be very pleasant and tasty as a tea, but the larger tasty German chamomile plants are a better item to grow if you want primarily the flowers.
They are always reported to be very effective at helping with digestive problems such as IBS and reflux. But traditionally the German plant is seen as the most efficacious and has different tested chemistry from the Roman plant which is more often only just used for flavouring.
The only oddity I have discovered – and confirmed by talking to other people – is that if you drink a lot of it over a period of time ( e.g. several cups of it a day for a few weeks) they tend to give you fairly vivid and crazy colourful dreams, and you need to stop drinking it for a time to let it flush from your system. But given its long history of use and study and GRAS status I would assume this is not a significant problem.
The seed is very easy to germinate and will quickly sprout if just dropped onto the surface of a pot of mix and lightly stirred into the surface and then kept moist for a few days.
I have found that growing it in pots with a good potting mix and some added manure for the first few months works well at keeping the seedlings moving along.
They transplant well and easily into a garden bed – then it’s just about keeping the sun and water up to them at a steady rate. During autumn and winter if keep dryish they will often continue to flower.