The real chamomile has been awarded prizes for its healing properties. We will show you how this beneficial plant can be grown in your own garden. The real chamomile ( Matricaria chamomilla ) is an award-winning medicinal herb: it was named Medicinal Plant of the Year in 1987, followed by the award of Medicinal Plant of the Year in 2002.
Chamomile is known and valued all over the world because of its beneficial effect on the stomach and intestinal problems, but also as an anti-inflammatory agent. The sunflower (Asteracea ), which originally comes from southern and eastern Europe, is grown commercially in the local Balkan region, among other places. But chamomile cultivation centers are also located in distant Egypt and Argentina in South America, to be able to meet the high demand.
However, when harvesting in fields and meadows, it can easily be mistaken for other, ineffective camomile species. For chamomile to be grown in your own garden, only a few requirements of the undemanding herb have to be met. But it is worth paying attention to – because there are many possible uses of real chamomile for healing and wellbeing.
Cultivation of real chamomile
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The annual herb prefers a bright location, preferably in the blazing sun. But the soil properties must also be taken into account when choosing a location for real chamomile. So the soil should have a pH value of around 7. If it is also nutritious and humus, that would be optimal. Barren soils can be improved with a more nutrient-rich soil such as our peat-free Plantura organic universal soil. This is also ideal for growing in pots. A detailed step-by-step guide on how to grow chamomile can be found here.
The easiest way to start growing your own chamomile is to sow it outdoors. Since germination occurs relatively quickly after four to five days and the seedlings are sensitive to frost, sowing should not be done before the beginning of May. Of course, the seeds can also be spread in a light spot in the house beforehand. So you can sow from March and give the plants a head start in growth until they are planted in a bed at the beginning of May. Outdoor sowing in autumn would also be conceivable.
However, it must then be ensured that the young plants are protected from frost. In general, when sowing, it should be noted that this daisy family is a light germinator. The seeds should therefore not be covered with a substrate layer that protects them from drying out. Simply pressing the seed on ensures the best germination results with uniform moisture retention. If the annual chamomile has faded, it rejuvenates at its location due to fallen seeds and germinates there again in the next year.
The sowing and cultivation of chamomile is relatively easy
Depending on the date of sowing, the chamomile blooms from the end of May to September
Water and fertilize
Depending on the nature of the soil, care should be taken to ensure that the herb is adequately supplied with water. There is no need for additional fertilization. In commercial cultivation, for example, supplementary nitrogen fertilization is completely dispensed with. That would benefit the growth of wild herbs immensely.
In culture, some parasites can also threaten the camomile population: Fungal pathogens are, for example, powdery mildew and downy mildew, and fusarium that occurs on the roots and stems. The chamomile beetle threatens the harvest of the chamomile flowers because it eats their flower heads.
Depending on the date of sowing, the chamomile blooms from the end of May and into September. In the composites, many small, tubular individual flowers sit on a domed flower base that is hollow on the inside. Together with the white, circularly arranged ray-flowers, they form a flower-head – the inflorescence of the chamomile.
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Well-known varieties of chamomile
There are several different varieties of real chamomile ( Matricaria chamomilla) on the market. They differ mainly in their composition of the valuable chamomile essential oil. But the uniform growth is a breeding goal of great interest, especially for large-scale cultivation, to facilitate machine processing and harvesting.
- Bodegold: Large-flowered variety that is very aromatic.
- Gosal: Chamomile oil contains a high proportion of bisabolol.
Types of chamomile – recognizing the differences
But in the wild, there are still some comrades-in-arms who look very similar to real chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla ) but do not have the healing power of this. We will show you the related composites, where the likelihood of confusion is greatest.
- Radiant chamomile ( Matricaria discoidea ): Without the ornamental white lip flowers.
- Dog chamomiles ( Anthemis ): A cross-section through the flower show that the flower base is not hollow.
- Odorless chamomile ( Tripleurospermum maritimum ): The flower base on which the yellow tubular flowers sit is flatter than that of real chamomile.
- Roman chamomile ( Chamaemelum nobile ): A perennial herb that also has a healing effect, but also differs from real chamomile in the composition of the ingredients. Grows to only 6 to 12 inches.
Roman chamomile also has a healing effect, but the composition of the ingredients differs
The dog chamomile looks very similar to the real one
If you want to harvest chamomile in the wild, the herb should have the following characteristics:
- clearly arched flower base with many yellow tubular flowers.
- the cross-section shows that the flower base is hollow on the inside.
- it grows up to 50 cm.
- when rubbing any parts of the plant, a characteristic chamomile odor arises.
If all these characteristics are met, you can be sure that it is real chamomile.
Botanical characteristics of real chamomile [Photo: Biodiversity Heritage Library – CC BY 2.0]
Schematic representation of botany [Photo: Swallowtail Garden Seeds]
Close-up of a chamomile blossom
Chamomile harvest and storage
The coveted chamomile flowers should be harvested depending on their stage of development. The yellow tubular flowers on the domed flower base can be used for orientation. When about two-thirds of them have blossomed, you can harvest. This is about three to five days after the bud opens. The whole cup flower is harvested. When selected by hand, it is simply clipped off on the stem just below the inflorescence.
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Freshly harvested chamomile blossoms
After harvesting, the flowers should be dried immediately
The dried flowers, hermetically sealed, retain their effectiveness for up to a year
In commercial chamomile cultivation, specially designed combine harvesters are available for more effective harvest. When harvesting, it should be ensured that the sensitive flowers are treated as gently as possible. Touching as little as possible and never washing is the motto here.
After the harvest, the flowers should be dried immediately, otherwise, there is a risk that the valuable ingredients will change. But caution is also advised with the drying temperature: too high a temperature results in a reduced content of the ingredients. The dried flowers, if hermetically sealed, retain their effectiveness for up to a year.