Chamomile: From Seed to Tea
A while back I got all excited going through the heirloom seed section of the local garden centre. I found all sorts of herbs and vegetables. One thing I never expected to see was Chamomile. In fact, I just assumed that it was something that was far removed from my paltry abilities to grow. Anyway, it ended up in my basket somehow, so I left it in my box full of seeds to wait for the right time.
The right time presented itself some nine or ten months later. Our driveway was pretty much a wasteland of weeds and rocks. Over the course of a couple of months, I got stuck into it – turned it over a few times and hand picked all the weeds out. I then put a few lavender plants in, still not really knowing what to do with all that fresh dirt. Going through my seed box, I chanced on the Chamomile seeds and thought, “Why not?”
Opening the packet, I discovered the seeds are extraordinarily small. So small, in fact, I was never going to be able to sow them in rows at all. In the end, I just scattered the seeds around, then raked over them and watered. A few more watering efforts became job done and see what happens.
A couple of months later, there was a small sea of Chamomile plants, completely covered in flowers. Even the dog wasn’t going near it – I must remember that!
Chamomile is known best for its calmative qualities. Believe it, or not, Chamomile is one of a very few herbal remedies that has been scientifically studied. Those studies prove that it is effective against anxiety. There are almost no side effects whatsoever to drinking the tea, although, as with most things, it is possible to have too much. The oil found in the Chamomile flower is responsible for its effects.
As a plant in your garden, Chamomile is also extremely beneficial. As you can see from the pictures, insects love this plant. I felt a pang of guilt as I was harvesting, because there were plenty of bees gathering nectar!
Other plants do well in the presence of Chamomile as well. Because it is so attractive to bees and other pollinating insects, planting it in the proximity of other plants will encourage those insects to pollinate your other plants.
Harvesting Chamomile is very simple, although time consuming. The plants are literally covered in flowers. There is really no other way to harvest them, than to pick each flower, especially as you don’t want the stems. The easiest way, I found, was to rake your fingers from below the flowers, then pull. The stem will snap naturally with a satisfying pop.
Try not to pull off the immature flowers. You may want to have another go in a few weeks, or leave them for the bees to pollinate and let them go to seed. Chamomile is an annual, so once it’s finished, that’s it.
Please note: if you crush the flower at any stage, it will release the oils. While it smells wonderful at the time, it will render the flower useless, as there will be no essential oils for when you make the tea.
This is a no-brainer. When you buy Chamomile Tea, it’s dried, in bags. All you have to do is dry it.
There are two ways you can dry it: the old fashioned, natural way of laying out in the sun and waiting a few days, or; using an oven. I tried the sun-drying technique, but between young children and a dog, it really wasn’t going to happen. Bring on the oven.
Set your oven to 90°C (200°F). Fit as many flower-heads as you can onto a tray. Leave them in the oven for a good 4–5 hours. Keep testing them with the back of your hand for moisture. Any hotter and your flowers will cook!
Once they’re done, put them in an air-tight, opaque container.
Making the Tea
I know it’s not rocket science, but there are plenty of ways to make tea.
The picture to the left shows the ideal tea-pot: there is a sieve that inserts neatly into the tea pot, meaning there is no need for a strainer when pouring. If you don’t have one of these, then a small muslin bag will do the trick.
Place a good pinch of the dried flowers in the sieve. Be careful with the quantities: as I discovered, homegrown Chamomile is very strong!
Put the sieve/muslin into the tea pot. Pour hot water over the flowers until the pot is full.
Leave the tea to steep for at least five minutes, more if you like it stronger.
The tea is a beautiful, yellow and crystal clear.