Chamomile is a unique European herb that forms a pretty flower with benefits. Chamomile is used for herbal remedies, beverages, and skin care products. There are two types of common chamomile: German and Roman. Both types boast fragrant, daisy-like flowers with white petals surrounding a yellow center.
The two types of chamomile grow quickly (reaching full bloom within about 10 weeks) and are best planted in the spring via seed. Roman chamomile is often used as a ground cover or creeping plant to soften the edges of a stone wall or walkway, while its German counterpart is more commonly used for making tea.
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|Common Name||Chamomile, German chamomile, Roman chamomile, Barnyard daisy|
|Botanical Names||Matricaria recutita, Chamaemelum nobile|
|Plant Type||Annual, perennial|
|Mature Size||8–24 in. tall, 8–12 in. wide|
|Hardiness Zones||2-9 (USDA)|
German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) is an annual plant; however, it usually comes back every year since it self-seeds so readily. You may think it's a perennial, just like Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile), which returns yearly.
Both are easy to care for in a garden and require very few extras to thrive. German chamomile produces more abundant flowers, while Roman chamomile takes the medal for more fragrant blooms. Chamomile isn't typically great as a bedding plant—it tends to be too floppy and insignificant when paired with more formal and imposing plants. However, it can be used for underplanting in an herb or vegetable garden, to soften rock wall edges, and is a good candidate for containers.
Indoors, chamomile grows best in a south- or west-facing window that gets at least four to six hours of bright sunlight. The soil should be kept moist but not overly wet.
Both Roman and German chamomile grow well in either full sun or partial shade. The plants will flower best in full sun, but in hot climates, a bit of partial shade is a better choice (especially during the hot afternoon hours) to avoid burning the delicate blooms. More sun typically leads to faster growth, but this plant grows rapidly by nature.
Both versions of chamomile will flower best if grown in rich, organic soil. They can survive in poorer mixtures, but it will often cause their stems to be floppier. Chamomile is not particular about its soil pH, preferring a neutral range of between 5.6 to 7.5.
Water young chamomile plants about an inch per week. As they age and become established, the plants are drought tolerant. It's best to allow plants to dry out between moderate waterings. However, in extremely hot climates, chamomile will appreciate a bit more moisture.
Temperature and Humidity
Chamomile is capable of thriving in any summer weather under 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It prefers a moderate temperature range between 60 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Because it's drought-tolerant, it doesn't thrive in excessively humid areas.
Chamomile does not need fertilizer; it grows quickly without any particular need for feeding.
How to Harvest Chamomile for Tea
To harvest chamomile flowers for tea, gather them when they are fully open. Pull off the flowers with one hand while holding the stem just underneath the flower with the other. Leave the stems on the plant to encourage new buds to form.
When making tea, the flowers can be used fresh or dried. To dry the flower, lay them on a tray and place the tray in a dry spot for seven to 10 days. Once dried, store the flowers and leaves in a cool, dark environment in an air-tight container (or frozen). If the tea tastes bitter, only make tea from the flower heads (don't use the leaves or stems).
To harvest seeds for the next growing season, wait until the German chamomile flowers dry up on the stem and clip them. Shake the seeds loose and store them in a cool, dry place. Use them within three to four years.
Types of Chamomile
There are about 25 species in the chamomile genus Matricaria, including German chamomile and wild chamomile (Matricaria discoidea). Roman chamomile or common chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) belongs to a different genus but is almost identical to German chamomile. Unlike German chamomile, Roman chamomile is a perennial. Some popular varieties of German chamomile are:
- ‘Bodegold’: Aromatic variety with large flowers
- ‘Gosal‘: Higher levels of bisabolol contained in its essential oil
- ‘Zloty Lan’: Contains blue-colored chamazulene in its essential oil
If plants get leggy or spindly midseason, cut the stems down about 4 inches from the soil line using sterilized pruners. You can also trim the stem after the first harvest of flowers. Trimming encourages new growth and more flower production. Harvest fresh flowers as they bloom for use in tea or deadhead faded flowers to encourage new buds.
Propagation methods differ depending on the chamomile type—Roman or German. It's easiest to propagate Roman chamomile by division. German chamomile best reproduces by seed. Both should be propagated in the early spring after the threat of frost is gone. Dividing Roman chamomile is a good way to keep this rapidly spreading plant from overgrowth.
Here's how to propagate Roman chamomile by division:
- You'll need pruners or a spade, potting soil, and at least a 6-inch deep container (if not planting inground).
- Roman chamomile spreads out via runners, so cut off a section of the plant with its roots intact. Dig it up and use clippers to separate it from the parent plant.
- For a larger clump, use a spade to slice through the soil and roots. Lift out the section and transplant it by placing the plant and its roots in a soil-filled pot or a spot in the ground with a prepared hole. The plant should sit at the soil level. Fill in areas around the plant with soil.
- Keep the soil moist until new growth emerges.
How to Grow Chamomile From Seed
German chamomile spreads easily by self-seeding. Start seeds indoors about six weeks before the last expected frost. Chamomile seeds need light to germinate, so scatter them and press them firmly onto the soil, but do not cover the seeds with soil. Water regularly, and they should germinate in seven to 14 days. You can also direct-seed chamomile outdoors, though you’ll get better germination if you do this in the fall and let the seed stratify over winter for a spring crop.
Potting and Repotting Chamomile
Chamomile can grow in any container that is at least 6 inches deep. It requires ample drainage holes, using well-draining, pre-moistened potting soil enriched with fertilizer. If you're transplanting, dig under and around the plant's roots. The best time to transplant chamomile is when the plant is only 2 to 3 inches tall. Older seedlings do not transplant well. Also, do not transplant the plant in the active flowering phase.
Chamomile may survive frost but will not survive freezing. Move potted German chamomile plants indoors in winter to keep them alive in colder climates.
Roman chamomile is a perennial down to zone 4 and can remain outside, but it will need wind protection from harsh, drying winds that can kill Roman chamomile. Plant it along a wall for a wind break. If potted, wrap the pot with jute to prevent the soil in the pot from freezing.
Most insects stay clear of chamomile. Chamomile is used as a cucumber pest deterrent. However, aphids and thrips can sometimes be a problem. Both can be washed off the plant or treated with insecticidal soap.
How to Get Chamomile to Bloom
Chamomile blooms are small with yellow centers and white petals; they look like miniature daisies. The flowers have a sweet, herbaceous aroma, and bloom in the spring and summer. The best way to get your chamomile to bloom is by providing it direct, full sun—it may not bloom if it's shaded. Other than that, this plant is super-easy: no deadheading or fertilizer needed. Although, deadheading encourages new blooms.
Common Problems With Chamomile
Chamomile is an easy-to-grow herb, both inside and out, and experiences very few problems. But occasionally, it needs a little TLC.
Brown Spots on the Leaves
This can be a sign of several fungal plant diseases, like botrytis blight. It's remedied by treating your plant with some fungicidal oil.
Leaves Turn Brown and Fall Off
If this happens to your chamomile, it may be getting too much water. Cut back on the water and see if this makes a difference.
Are all parts of the chamomile plant edible?
The leaves and flowers of the chamomile plant are edible in fresh or dried form. The stem is not aromatic and is not palatable.
What does chamomile tea taste like?
Some say it tastes similar to apples, which makes sense because the word chamomile comes from the Greek "kamai-melon," which is loosely translated as "ground apple."
Can chamomile grow indoors?
Yes. Grown in pots, both types of chamomile will grow indoors. It's a fragrant addition to your home.