by Matt Gibson
Learning how to grow chamomile is a simple and easy process. Any gardener, new or experienced, should be able to grow chamomile successfully with just a little bit of knowledge and preparation. Chamomile has been cultivated and consumed for centuries as a natural remedy for several different health conditions, namely as a treatment for insomnia, stress, anxiety, and nervousness.
Though drinking chamomile tea does indeed bring about a calming and sedative effect, it’s health benefits are far more widespread than just its ability to help one relax. Studies have shown that chamomile is loaded with antioxidants and nutrients which can help lower the risk of several major diseases, including heart disease and cancer.
Chamomile tea is also known for a long and impressive list of other health benefits, and is a must have for any tea garden. Drinking a cup in the evening can help one fall asleep more peacefully and improve the overall quality of sleep, as well as improving digestive system functions, including relief of nausea, gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Compounds in chamomile also work to keep the stomach free of ulcers and other gastrointestinal issues.
Varieties of Chamomile
Chamomile is the name for a handful of daisy-like flowering plants from the family Asteraceae, most of which grow in the wild and are not cultivated for any particular reason. The two species of chamomile that are grown for use are Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) and German chamomile (Matricaria recutita). The Roman chamomile species is considered true chamomile, but the German species is grown and used for the same things, and the growing conditions and steps to grow the two plants are nearly identical.
Roman chamomile, also known as Russian or English chamomile, is a perennial creeping ground cover that grows like a carpet, or floor mat, while producing small daisy-like flowers that have white petals and yellow centers. It’s foliage is small and feathery in texture. German chamomile looks quite similar to its Roman sibling, but is a reseeding annual that grows upright and produces flowers that reach a height of one to two feet above the ground. If you are using chamomile as a ground cover plant, choose the Roman variety. If you are cultivating chamomile for tea or for its oils, it is probably wiser to use the German variety, though the Roman variety makes a nice tea as well. There’s little to no difference between the two varieties when it comes to care, so we will refer to them both as chamomile moving forward, unless otherwise noted.
Other, lesser known species of chamomile include Corn, or Field chamomile (Anthemis arvensis), Stinking chamomile (Anthemis cotula), Morrocan chamomile (Cladanthus mixtus), Dyer’s chamomile (Cota tinctoria), Cape chamomile (Eriocephalus punctulatus), Wild chamomile, or Pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea), and Scentless or False chamomile (Tripleurospermum inodorum).
Growing Conditions for Chamomile
You can grow chamomile in USDA plant hardiness zones 3-9. It grows best in partial shade and cooler conditions, but can also grow in full sun. The soil should be allowed to dry out completely between waterings and should remain relatively dry at all times. This is because chamomile is drought tolerant, and only needs to be watered in times of prolonged drought.
How to Plant Chamomile
Plant chamomile in the garden in the early spring. Choose a location that receives full sunlight to partial shade Growing chamomile from seed is not impossible, but it is not at all recommended. The best way to propagate chamomile is by division, so if you have a friend or garden club member who has chamomile plants, see if you can get a cutting the next time they divide their plants. If that’s not an option, simply purchase a small chamomile plant from your local nursery to get yourself started. Once you have established plants, you can propagate anytime you wish by dividing and replanting your own plants.
Plant Roman chamomile next to onions, cabbage, or create a mini tea garden with chamomile and mint plants. These three crops, and many others, make excellent neighbors for the Roman variety of chamomile, because it’s a quickly-spreading ground cover. As your chamomile plants fan out and move into the areas immediately surrounding your vegetable crops, they should help to minimize weeds and other intruders from growing up in those same areas.
Onions and cabbage can use a bit of help with pests, and Roman chamomile’s abundant aroma will work nicely in this role, as the nutrients needed for growing prolific veggies will also help to boost the smell and flavor of your chamomile. Mint plants have a tendency to spread too quickly and bite off more garden area then you want them to, so using chamomile to help keep your mint plants contained is a smart move as well, as it is just as quick as mint when it comes to moving into open space and establishing its borders.
As an added bonus, chamomile plants produce simple, but eye catching white and yellow flowers, which will add a pop of color and luster to what can be a drab and desolate vegetable garden area. If you want to get even more flair from your chamomile crop, mix in a bit of the German variety of chamomile with the Roman. Pairing the two species of chamomile will keep the herb from hiding away its beauty too low to the ground. The Roman variety will spread out into the open spaces nicely, while small clusters of the German chamomile extend vertically around the fruit and foliage of your vegetable crops, bringing some flowers up closer to eye (and nose) level.
Care of Chamomile
As with most other herbs, chamomile does very well with very little care once the plants have been established. Chamomile doesn’t need a lot of extra attention. Too much fertilizer will result in less flavorful foliage and far less flowers.
If you are growing chamomile to make it into tea, simply pluck off the flowerheads from your German chamomile whenever you need them for brewing, Ideally, harvesting should occur when the flower petals begin to curl downward. The most potent tea can be made from dried flowerheads, but fresh flowerheads will work as well in larger amounts.
If you have an allergic reaction to ragweed or chrysanthemums, it is very possible that chamomile will also set you off. If so, you may want to steer clear of chamomile altogether, or at the very least, wear protective gear, such as a mask and gardening gloves, when handling chamomile plants directly.
Garden Pests and Diseases of Chamomile
Because of chamomile’s strong scent which has the ability to keep pests away, chamomile is often recommended as a companion plant for vegetable gardeners. However, chamomile is not invincible to garden pests, and an undernourished chamomile plant, due to insufficient water, nutrients, or exposure to sunlight, has a less pungent aroma, and is therefore more susceptible to pests.
Aphids, mealybugs and thrips will all attack weakened chamomile plants. If you see evidence of pests on your chamomile, try removing them by hand or spraying the plants down with short but powerful bursts of water. If problems persist, remove infected plants and treat the immediate areas with pesticides.
If the weather in your area is making your garden’s atmosphere hot and damp for extended periods of time, keep an eye out for signs of powdery mildew. If this occurs, you can easily solve the problem by making your chamomile leaves into an herbicide to treat mildew issues. All you need to do is brew up a batch of tea at triple or quadruple the normal strength, let it steep overnight, and then spray your infected plants down with it on the following day.
Videos About Growing Chamomile
Want to start growing German chamomile from seed indoors, this tutorial video is just what you need:
Looking for a hands-on walkthrough to learn how to harvest and dry chamomile for tea making? Check out this short but informative film:
More of a visual learner? This comprehensive tutorial video will teach you everything you need to know about growing chamomile at home:
Wanting to keep your herb garden operation indoors only? This video will show you how to grow chamomile indoors with great success: