Brightens gardens, calms nerves
For Mother’s Day, I received many herbs, among them chamomile, a species of the daisy family (Matricaria chamomilla).
It’s small flower is easily recognizable with white ray flowers reaching from its yellow center. It is much like a daisy bloom, only about a fifth of the size. The flower of the German chamomile distinguishes it from the Roman chamomile, which lacks the rays that reach the center.
Originally from Europe and western Asia, it has gained popularity among herb growers for its many uses. It is now a common plant in pastures, along roadsides and, of course, in the herb garden.
Although most gardeners purchase chamomile as a plant, it can be grown from seed and planted in early spring. Chamomile grows quite quickly, spreading its shallow roots, which is why I planted mine in a patio planter.
The leaves are alternate double pinnate and narrow with an aromatic scent. Erect branches produce flowers attractive to bees and butterflies which help in pollination.
You can plant it seeds throughout the year to continue to harvest flowers until the first frost in autumn. Just remember, the seeds need to see light to germinate. Simply press seeds into the soil without covering.
When the seeds from last year are allowed to germinate on their own, the flowers bloom in early to midsummer. They should be harvested at nearly full bloom but can be dried for later use in herb tea, although fresh flowers can also be used and the taste will probably be quite similar.
Removing only some of the flowers and sharing them will still provide our pollinators with needed resources. Spent flower centers turn yellowish-brown and will self-seed unless removed — more plants next year.
Fabric dye is another use of chamomile, providing a yellow-brown coloration. Medicinal herbs have been mixed with chamomile as a powder, possibly to help soothe the patient. Anyone looking to use herbs as medicine should consult their physician or a medical expert.
Potpourri or lovely sachets can be made from the apple-scented foliage.
As an attractive plant, chamomile is grown in full sun and well-drained soil. Because of its shallow roots, the soil level should be kept moist, but too much water will cause problems. This herb has very few pests and is ignored by deer.
Another option could be spacing this herb between the vegetables in your garden as well as placing it near flowers planted for the pollinators to enjoy.
This lovely plant can also be displayed in an herb garden or as an ornamental, adding beauty to your garden as you relax and enjoy your cup of chamomile tea.
To learn more about this plant and see photos, go to http://go.osu.edu/chamomile.
Kane Shipka is an Ohio State University Mahoning County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer.