“….. Peter was not very well during the evening. His mother put him to bed, and made some chamomile tea and she gave a dose of it to Peter.” ~ from The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
“How the Doctor’s brow should smile, Crown’d with wreaths of chamomile.” ~Michael Eyquen de Montaigne
Chamomile: I’m fond of chamomile and have grown the annual variety Matricaria recutita, also called German, which reseeds itself and has a sweet sort of apple scent. Last year we added the perennial Roman or English Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis) which is fast forming fragrant mats in the flower and herb border. We grew it from seed. My hope is that it will grow around the larger plants, including the roses, and choke out weeds as well as looking pretty and smelling good. I’ve read that the hardier chamomile can be used on garden paths and walked on as long as the traffic isn’t too heavy, but I suspect the tread of feet here would tax the plants unduly. I’m up to experimenting on it to, though. Once I have enough to spare and it seems quite vigorous. On a march to the sea, even.
Not only is chamomile agreeable to people but is often grown as a companion plant in gardens, being beneficial to many other plants. Add German Chamomile here and there to perk up ailing neighbors. Either variety is used in making tea. Although a simple looking little herb, Chamomile has quite a wealth of lore behind it.
From the University of Maryland Medical Center: “There are two plants known as chamomile: the more popular German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) and Roman, or English, chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile ). Although they belong to different species, they are used to treat similar conditions. Both are used to calm frayed nerves, to treat various digestive disorders, to relieve muscle spasms, and to treat a range of skin conditions and mild infections.
The medicinal use of chamomile dates back thousands of years to the ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks. Chamomile has been used to treat a variety of conditions…” And it goes on, very interesting.
From a site that sells herbal tea, Adagio Teas: “The finest chamomile flowers in the world come from the Nile River Valley of Egypt. Considered a remedy for all ills by the ancient Egyptians, this golden herb remains a modern favorite to promote calm and relieve anxiety. When steeped, these fragrant blossoms smell of freshly cut apples and produce a rich, golden cup with superior flavor. This caffeine free herbal infusion is delicious served with honey.
*(Roman chamomile and evening primrose in our garden)
The name Chamomile comes from the Greek word meaning “ground apple.” Its history dates back at least to ancient Egypt, where Chamomile tea was prescribed as a cold remedy. The Romans enjoyed it as a beverage, as well as an incense. Ironically, the name “Roman Chamomile” by which it is sometimes known, does not stem from this time. It rather comes from an arbitrary naming of the herb in the 19th Century by a botanist who happened to find some growing in the Roman Coliseum.”
*This tea sounds fabulous and makes me think I have to try it.
From A Modern Herbal: Chamomiles
Chamomile is one of the oldest favourites amongst garden herbs and its reputation as a medicinal plant shows little signs of abatement. The Egyptians reverenced it for its virtues, and from their belief in its power to cure ague, dedicated it to their gods. No plant was better known to the country folk of old, it having been grown for centuries in English gardens for its use as a common domestic medicine to such an extent that the old herbals agree that ‘it is but lost time and labour to describe it.’
Description: The true or Common Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis) is a low-growing plant, creeping or trailing, its tufts of leaves and flowers a foot high. The root is perennial, jointed and fibrous, the stems, hairy and freely branching, are covered with leaves which are divided into thread-like segments, the fineness of which gives the whole plant a feathery appearance. The blooms appear in the later days of summer, from the end of July to September, and are borne solitary on long, erect stalks, drooping when in bud. With their outer fringe of white ray-florets and yellow centres, they are remarkably like the daisy. There are some eighteen white rays arranged round a conical centre, botanically known as the receptacle, on which the yellow, tubular florets are placed- the centre of the daisy is, however, considerably flatter than that of the Chamomile.
All the Chamomiles have a tiny, chaffy scale between each two florets, which is very minute and has to be carefully looked for but which all the same is a vital characteristic of the genus Anthemis. The distinction between A. nobilis and other species of Anthemis is the shape of these scales, which in A. nobilis are short and blunt.
The fruit is small and dry, and as it forms, the hill of the receptacle gets more and more conical.
The whole plant is downy and greyish green in colour. It prefers dry commons and sandy soil, and is found wild in Cornwall, Surrey, and many other parts of England.
History: The fresh plant is strongly and agreeably aromatic, with a distinct scent of apples – a characteristic noted by the Greeks, on account of which they named it ‘ground-apple’ – kamai (on the ground) and melon (an apple) – the origin of the name Chamomile. The Spaniards call it ‘Manzanilla,’ which signifies ‘a little apple,’ and give the same name to one of their lightest sherries, flavoured with this plant.
When walked on, its strong, fragrant scent will often reveal its presence before it is seen. For this reason it was employed as one of the aromatic strewing herbs in the Middle Ages, and used often to be purposely planted in green walks in gardens. Indeed walking over the plant seems specially beneficial to it.
‘Like a camomile bed –
The more it is trodden
The more it will spread.’
The Chamomile used in olden days to be looked upon as the ‘Plant’s Physician,’ and it has been stated that nothing contributes so much to the health of a garden as a number of Chamomile herbs dispersed about it, and that if another plant is drooping and sickly, in nine cases out of ten, it will recover if you place a herb of Chamomile near it.
Parts Used Medicinally: The whole plant is odoriferous and of value, but the quality is chiefly centered in the flower-heads or capitula, the part employed medicinally, the herb itself being used in the manufacture of herb beers.
Both single and double flowers are used in medicine. It is considered that the curative properties of the single, wild Chamomile are the more powerful, as the chief medical virtue of the plant lies in the central disk of yellow florets, and in the cultivated double form the white florets of the ray are multiplied, while the yellow centre diminishes. The powerful alkali contained to so much greater extent in the single flowers is, however, liable to destroy the coating of the stomach and bowels, and it is doubtless for this reason that the British Pharmacopceia directs that the ‘official’ dried Chamomile flowers shall be those of the double, cultivated variety.
The double-flowered form was already well known in the sixteenth century. It was introduced into Germany from Spain about the close of the Middle Ages.
Chamomile was largely cultivated before the war in Belgium, France and Saxony and also in England, chiefly in the famous herb growing district of Mitcham. English flower heads are considered the most valuable for distillation of the oil, and during the war the price of English and foreign Chamomile reached an exorbitant figure.
The ‘Scotch Chamomile’ of commerce is the Single or Wild Chamomile, the yellow tubular florets in the centre of the head being surrounded by a variable number of white, ligulate or strap-shaped ray florets. The ‘English Chamomile’ is the double form, with all or nearly all the florets white and ligulate. In both forms the disk or receptacle is solid and conical, densely covered with chaffy scales, and both varieties, but especially the single, have a strong aromatic odour and a very bitter taste.
Medicinal Action and Uses:
Culpepper gives a long list of complaints for which Chamomile is ‘profitable,’ from agues and sprains to jaundice and dropsy, stating that ‘the flowers boiled in Iye are good to wash the head,’ and tells us that bathing with a decoction of Chamomile removes weariness and eases pain to whatever part of the body it is employed. Parkinson, in his Earthly Paradise(1656), writes:
‘Camomil is put to divers and sundry users, both for pleasure and profit, both for the sick and the sound, in bathing to comfort and strengthen the sound and to ease pains in the diseased.’
‘It hath floures wonderfully shynynge yellow and resemblynge the appell of an eye…the herbe may be called in English, golden floure. It will restore a man to hys color shortly yf a man after the longe use of the bathe drynke of it after he is come forthe oute of the bathe. This herbe is scarce in Germany but in England it is so plenteous that it groweth not only in gardynes but also VIII mile above London, it groweth in the wylde felde, in Rychmonde grene, in Brantfurde grene…Thys herbe was consecrated by the wyse men of Egypt unto the Sonne and was rekened to be the only remedy of all agues.”
*Royalty free images