How to Grow Chamomile

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Story at-a-glance -

  • Chamomile is easy to grow and one of the most beneficial herbs; it has a long history of medicinal use dating back to ancient Egypt
  • Though grown as an annual, German chamomile is hardy and self-seeding, as well as drought- and pest-resistant
  • In addition to acting as a natural sedative, chamomile possesses antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antispasmodic, antiulcer and antiviral properties
  • While you are very likely familiar with it as a tea, you may not realize chamomile is also useful as a bath, cream, essential oil, gargle, inhalation, poultice and tincture

By Dr. Mercola

Chamomile is one of the most beneficial herbs and it has a long history of use dating back to ancient Egypt. Best known as a soothing tea widely embraced for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, chamomile produces lovely daisy-like plants that are drought- and pest-resistant. Given its many medicinal uses, you may want to consider growing chamomile in your garden this year.

Chamomile: An Enduring Medicinal Herb

Chamomile's history1 and use as a medicinal herb dates back to ancient Egypt, where it was used as a cure for fever and as an embalming oil. The Romans used chamomile in incense, as a medicinal herb and to flavor drinks. In Spain, chamomile flowers, which are known as "manzanilla" (little apple), have long been used to flavor a light sherry of the same name.

Chamomile is the common name for several daisy-like plants belonging to the Asteraceae family — German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) and Roman or English chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) are the two most common types. German chamomile is the annual plant most often used to make tea, while Roman chamomile is a perennial groundcover.2 While you are very likely familiar with the tea, you may not realize chamomile is also useful as a bath, cream, essential oil, gargle, inhalation, poultice and tincture.

In addition to acting as a natural sedative, chamomile boasts antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, as well as antibacterial, antifungal, antispasmodic, antiulcer and antiviral properties. Consumption of chamomile tea has been shown to protect you from benign thyroid diseases and thyroid cancer.

German Chamomile, Your Best Choice for Making Tea

Given its usefulness for making chamomile tea, the remainder of this article will focus on German chamomile. Below are some interesting facts about this daisy double:3

  • Though grown as an annual, German chamomile will self-seed fairly aggressively and can become invasive if left unchecked
  • The flowers and leaves can both be used to make tea, but the leaves may have a slightly bitter taste
  • Tea made from fresh chamomile flowers is said to have a slight apple-like taste
  • The daisy-like white petals and yellow center of chamomile flowers give it a wildflower look
  • German chamomile stems are fairly weak and they tend to bend and flop over as the plant grows

Growing German Chamomile in Your Garden

In terms of growing conditions, below are some tips to help you create the right environment in which to cultivate German chamomile plants:4,5

  • Seeds: You can start seeds indoors about six weeks before the last expected frost in your area. Because the seeds require light to germinate, you'll want to simply scatter the seeds and scratch them into the soil. To promote faster germination, do not cover the seeds with soil. It takes about seven to 14 days for chamomile seeds to germinate.
  • Soil: For best results, choose an organic soil that is not too rich. Chamomile prefers a neutral pH in the range of 5.6 to 7.5. While the plants will survive in poorer soils, they will produce even floppier stems.
  • Spacing: When transplanting seedlings, be sure to harden them off first and then space them about 8 to 10 inches apart in the garden bed.
  • Sun: German chamomile will bloom best in full sun. If you live in a hot climate, however, partial shade is a better choice to ensure your plants will have some protection from the heat.
  • Water: Prior to planting, mist your starter soil and then add your seeds. Keep the starter mix moist until they germinate. Once your plants are established outdoors, regular watering will encourage more blooms. That said, chamomile is a hardy, drought-tolerant plant and can go without water if necessary.

German chamomile plants will grow to be, on average, 8 to 24 inches high. Fortunately, they attract very few pests. If you grow cucumbers, you'll be happy to know chamomile is used as a cucumber pest deterrent. German chamomile plants typically begin to flower in late spring unless you are pruning them or harvesting leaves right away, in which case bloom growth will be delayed.

Given its unimposing nature, chamomile is a good candidate for underplanting when paired with taller garden plants. Another option is to grow your chamomile plants in containers.

Time for Tea: Harvesting and Storing Chamomile

The secret to making great-tasting chamomile tea is using high-quality, pesticide-free flowers, preferably from your own garden. Under ideal conditions, your plants will bloom a few weeks after transplanting and will continue to produce flowers throughout the summer. To dry chamomile you can snap off individual flowers or cut a group of the stems to form a bouquet that can be dried upside down.

Place individual flowers on a tray and maintain them in a warm, dry area (but not in direct sunlight) until they are crispy. When stored in a sealed glass container, dried chamomile flowers can last up to a year. To make tea, you can use fresh blooms or dried blooms. You'll want to use 2 tablespoons of fresh chamomile flowers or 1 tablespoon of dried blooms for each cup of tea. Feel free to adjust the quantities to suit your personal taste. Below is an easy recipe provided by DIY Herbal Tea:6

Brewing Homemade Chamomile Tea

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons fresh or 1 tablespoon dried chamomile flowers
  • 2 cups filtered water
  • Tea ball or infuser
  • Tea cup
  • Raw honey or stevia (optional)

Procedure

  1. Bring the water to a gentle boil
  2. While the water is boiling, add chamomile flowers to the tea ball and place it in the tea cup
  3. Pour near-boiling water into the cup, cover with a lid or saucer
  4. Steep the tea for about five minutes and remove the tea ball
  5. Add honey or stevia (optional)

Nutrition Facts for Chamomile Tea

Chamomile tea is a caffeine-free, low-calorie drink that will cost you just 2 calories per cup when unsweetened. It's a great choice if you're looking for a nutritious beverage that can be enjoyed cold or hot. Chamomile tea contains healthy amounts of vitamin A, potassium, calcium and folate. The following table provides an overview of its nutritional values:7

Chamomile Tea, Brewed – Nutrition Facts

Serving Size: 1 cup (237 grams)
  Amt. Per
Serving
  % Daily
Value*
Calories 2 Iron 0.2 mg
Total Carbs 0.5 g Potassium 21.3 mg
Vitamin A 47 g    
Folate 2.4 mcg    
Choline 0.9 g    
Calcium 5 g    

*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000-calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Seven Health Benefits of Chamomile

Due to its pleasant taste as a tea and the ready availability of its flowers, chamomile has been praised for millennia for its many health benefits. The presence of numerous antioxidants contributes to chamomile's positive effects on your body. Among its many health benefits, chamomile:8,9,10

Acts as a mild sedative and sleep inducer

Chamomile has long been used to treat insomnia and is highly regarded for its ability to induce daytime calmness and relaxation. Its sedative effects are likely due to the flavonoid apigenin, which binds to benzodiazepine receptors in your brain.

While there is an absence of clinical trials to validate the effects of chamomile on sleep, 10 cardiac patients who drank chamomile tea were reported to have quickly fallen into a deep sleep lasting 90 minutes.11 Authors of a study involving the effects of chamomile extracts on sleep-disturbed rats concluded chamomile extracts exhibit "benzodiazepine-like hypnotic activity."12

Addresses cold symptoms and sinus pain and pressure

Anecdotal studies suggest chamomile can be effective as a natural cold remedy, especially for cold symptoms such as sinus congestion, pain and pressure. Check out the video above for a demonstration on how to use dried chamomile flowers as an herbal steam to clear your sinuses and lungs.

Calms gum inflammation, mouth sores and tooth abscesses

Chamomile has been shown to be effective in the treatment of gum inflammation, mouth sores, and ulcers and tooth abscesses. Some suggest placing a wet chamomile teabag alongside an inflamed tooth may provide pain relief until you are able to be seen by your dentist.

Reduces menstrual cramps and pain

Multiple studies have validated chamomile tea to help reduce the severity of menstrual cramps. A 2010 study13 published in the Iranian Journal of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Infertility indicated that consuming chamomile tea for a month appears to reduce menstrual pain and cramps, as well as the anxiety and distress that often accompany it.

The study authors said: "[C]hamomile tea [is] an effective therapy in relieving the pain originated from primary dysmenorrhea and its consequent psycho-social problems."

Relieves gastrointestinal complaints and bowel problems

Though most of the evidence is anecdotal, chamomile is believed to help reduce smooth muscle spasms associated with gastrointestinal inflammatory disorders such as Crohn's disease, diverticular disease, gastritis, irritable bowel problems and ulcerative colitis.

Chamomile is particularly helpful in dispelling gas, soothing heartburn and relaxing muscles that move food through your intestines. It also inhibits Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium linked to stomach ulcers.

Soothes burns and other skin irritations

Although somewhat less effective than hydrocortisone cream, chamomile has been shown to be effective in relieving minor burns and sunburn, as well as soothing skin conditions such as chickenpox, diaper rash, eczema and psoriasis.

Treats eye infections and inflammation

Due to its calming and soothing properties, chamomile has been shown to reduce eye irritation and redness.14 Add two chamomile teabags to 3 cups of boiling water. Allow to steep until the tea has cooled, then discard the teabags. Dip a clean washcloth into the cooled tea and apply to your eye as a compress for 15 minutes, three to four times a day.

Chamomile Shown to Reduce Your Risk of Thyroid Cancer

A 2015 study15 published in the European Journal of Public Health linked the consumption of chamomile tea to a lower risk of benign thyroid diseases and thyroid cancer. In fact, the more tea consumed, the lower the cancer risk. Specifically, those who drank chamomile tea two to six times a week had a 70-percent lower risk of developing thyroid abnormalities, while those who drank the tea regularly for 30 years achieved an 80 percent lower risk.

Despite the protective role of black and green teas with respect to diseases like cancer, the study authors noted there have been only a few studies regarding tea and thyroid disease. They stated, "Our findings suggest, for the first time, that drinking herbal teas, especially chamomile, protects from thyroid cancer, as well as other benign thyroid diseases."16

Chamomile's anticancer effects very likely result from naturally occurring flavonoids such as apigenin. Found not only in chamomile, but also in celery and parsley, as well as other vegetables, fruits and herbs, apigenin has been shown to slow cancer growth and shrink cancerous tumors in animal studies. In a 2012 study17 in which mice implanted with the cells of a fast-growing human breast cancer were treated with apigenin, cancer growth slowed and tumors shrank.

The Best Ways to Use Chamomile

If you've long known about chamomile tea but never considered using this versatile herb for anything but tea, you may be interested to learn of its other potential uses for adults, which include:18,19

Bath: Add 1/4 pound of dried flowers or five to 10 drops of chamomile essential oil to bathwater to soothe cuts, eczema, hemorrhoids or insect bites

Capsules: Consume 300 to 400 milligrams three times per day, as directed by your physician

Cream: Apply cream containing 3 to 10 percent chamomile to treat dry, flaky skin, as well as eczema and psoriasis

Gargle or mouthwash: Gargle with cooled chamomile tea as often as desired or make a mouthwash by adding 10 to 15 drops of German chamomile liquid extract to about 3 ounces of warm water, and use up to three times a day

Inhalation: Calm a cough by adding a few drops of chamomile essential oil to a pot of hot water and breathing in the steam

Poultice: Mix powdered chamomile with water to make a paste and then apply it to inflamed skin

Tincture: Take 1 teaspoon up to three times daily to calm frayed nerves, ease menstrual cramps, improve sleep and relieve headaches

Side Effects Associated With Chamomile Tea

While chamomile is generally well tolerated, you should avoid it if you have an allergy to ragweed or any other member of the daisy family of plants such as chrysanthemum or marigold. Also avoid chamomile if you are pregnant, or if you are taking anticoagulants or sedative medications.20

Prior to using chamomile essential oil, do a skin test on your arm before applying it to your whole body. As with most other essential oils, it is best to use chamomile with a carrier oil such as coconut oil or olive oil. In whatever way you decide to use this lovely, hardy herb, you won't regret growing chamomile.