Nothing says cosiness and comfort like a cup of chamomile tea. Chamomile tea is a natural sleep aid, a great pollinator and a delight to the eye. The cheerful, daisy-like flowers of chamomile add both beauty and function to the garden. Gardeners who tend this low-growing plant just need to learn how to harvest chamomile to enjoy a steaming cup of homemade, nutrient-dense tea.
Chamomile has a strong pleasant scent that can attract anyone to this small and powerful plant. Its warm and almost fruity scent is a pleasure for humans, but the water bath for garden pests. Growing chamomile near plants that, like members of the Brassica family, are prone to being eaten is a great blessing. Their scent repels insects and delights the gardener. Planting chamomile close enough to these plants for their stems to rub against them and release fragrant essential oils is sometimes referred to as companion planting. Nightshade plants such as potatoes or peppers particularly enjoy being close to their chamomile plants!
Chamomile has long been used in medicine cabinets and as a food. Herbal practitioners use it to treat inflammation, insomnia, rheumatic pain, insomnia, and upset stomach. The essential oils in this herb can also boost immunity. Its widespread use is due in part to the ease with which you can grow and harvest the flowers and make chamomile tea. Some people even put the flowers in ointments for small wounds or insect bites.
Everything about chamomile
Learning how to harvest chamomile is easy. Source: Rosa Say
As a drought-resistant member of the sunflower family, this is a hearty plant for the home garden. Chamomile flowers thrive best in cooler temperatures, so plan accordingly how hot your area gets in summer. Chamomile is one of the few herbs that can actually suffer from too much water, so go on the under-watering side if possible or put it in the garden with other low-water plants.
There are two common types of chamomile that you are most likely to come across. The most common is Chamaemelum nobile, sometimes called Roman chamomile or real chamomile, and a low-growing perennial ground cover. Roman chamomile is known for its sweetness when compared to other species. While this species is most common in the home garden, Roman chamomile is not most commonly used as dry chamomile flowers in commercial teas.
The type of flower used to make tea is mostly Matricaria chamomilla, an annual plant that is slightly taller and widely used in commercial tea production. This is sometimes referred to as German chamomile. Matricaria recutita is a synonymous botanical name for this species.
When deciding which type of flower will work best for you, first determine which growth zone your garden will be in. A long winter isn't best for the perennial. Conversely, too much rain can make it difficult to grow chamomile outdoors in tropical regions. In rainy environments, growing in a raised bed can be helpful as you can easily optimize your grow space for excellent drainage.
Chamomile can have an adverse interaction with some medications, so be careful what you drink while on medication.
When should i harvest chamomile?
Chamamelum nobile (Roman chamomile) has characteristic round flowers. Source: HERBCYCLOPEDIA
A day of bittersweet happiness will come, and then it will be time to harvest chamomile flowers. The cheerful chamomile blossoms leave their beautiful home in the garden and make their way to the cup of tea. Fortunately, the bittersweet feeling doesn't last as new flowers open quickly!
Chamomile, like most other herbs, is best picked in the morning, before the heat of the day sets in. Excess moisture can damage your crops, so harvest in a dry environment after the morning dew has dried and there is no rain on the horizon.
You will know that it is time to harvest your chamomile flowers when the petals of your flower have fully opened and are flat or slightly sloped in the center of the flowers. The nutrient and essential oil content of your flowers is at its peak as soon as the petals start pushing down from the center of the flower.
Especially with the German chamomile Matricaria chamomilla, daily or weekly harvests (depending on the size of your plants) are possible. It's also possible to pick your flowers daily if you're interested in having a cup of chamomile tea plucked fresh from the garden … just be sure to double the number of flowers used, as fresh chamomile is not as potent as dry one Chamomile flowers. If you grow chamomile, you will find that this herb produces continuous blooms that you can enjoy all summer long.
Pick any chamomile flowers that are ready as this plant dries quickly and will self-seed and spread throughout the garden. The tiny seeds of the chamomile plant can easily be picked up by the wind and transported everywhere in small nooks and crannies. While some find this an added bonus, it can get invasive in the wrong natural setting. Be on the lookout for the chamomile flowers before they begin to dry out.
Try to plant chamomile in your garden as soon as the last danger of frost has passed. Depending on your growing zone, you can get multiple harvests from the same plant or chamomile flower field. From late summer to early fall, you can look forward to multiple harvests of the same plant.
How to harvest chamomile
German chamomile is a little more open with trailing petals. Source: Rosa Say
Harvesting chamomile is pretty easy and is a great activity for young children. They love to pop the tiny flower heads off the chamomile stalks and toss them into a harvest basket!
Harvesting chamomile is easy. Simply cut off the top of the flower or gently place your fingers under the flower and pull up, breaking off the flower head while holding the stem of the plant. You want to make sure you're not lifting the whole chamomile plant out by the roots!
After plucking the daisy-like flower head, it can also be useful to cut back some of the flower-free stems to encourage further growth. Don't forget, you can get multiple harvests of chamomile throughout the summer.
Growing chamomile for tea blends is super easy. With every harvest round you can try a different one! Summer is a great time to harvest chamomile flowers, not only because dried chamomile flowers make great tea, but any other tea herbs that can be used to dry them for tea recipes (think rose petals, lavender, mint, and echinacea).
Although not everyone needs it, try washing your chamomile before you start drying it. This can depend on several factors. Did you put something on the flower that you don't want to eat? Do you see any insect or insect damage in your harvest? Make sure your crop is clean before you start drying chamomile flowers as there is no going back once the process has started.
How to dry chamomile
Roman chamomile flowers emerge right from the center. Source: Melanie Shaw
After the harvest, there are several ways you can lay out your harvest to dry. Most people choose to air dry their flowers for 2 weeks. If you air dry on a flat surface, lay out your fresh flowers flat after you have clipped them from their stems with clean scissors. The tips of the petals will begin to curl first, with the center of the flower taking much longer to dry. Try not to put the flowers on top of each other, you want to give them room to breathe.
Alternatively, you can tie them in bundles without cutting them individually. However, if you are drying in bundles and hanging from the ceiling or storage room, keep in mind that seeds, leaves, and petals will fall from your plants. Since the chamomile plants dry out, they don't necessarily stick together. They evolved to scatter their seeds in the wind and will take every opportunity to toss seeds in your kitchen or pantry.
For home gardeners without the space or inclination to air dry chamomile flowers, you can also use a dehydrator to dry your chamomile flower crop. Just lay out flowers with no petals touching and set them on the lowest setting for 1-4 hours. Check your chamomile every thirty minutes to see if it's done. The conditions the plants are in when they are picked affect their time in the dehydrator. When using a dehydrator, keep in mind that the lowest heat setting will produce the best flavor later. Too much heat can cause the essential oil in your herbs to lose its effectiveness.
Drying chamomile requires a week of sunshine and an open flat space above the ground. There are many different methods of drying chamomile, but they are all based on the same two principles – heat and airflow.
After you've stripped your Roman or German chamomile flowers from your plants, carefully place them in a single layer in a cool, dry place on a baking sheet or colander and let them sit outside (or inside in the heat) for a week to two weeks . While some people use a dehydrator and program it to run for a few hours, the most common method used is good ol 'sunshine.
In order for the flower heads to dry, they must have sufficient time to dry. While the petals themselves dry relatively quickly, the flower heads contain a lot of water and need to dry thoroughly before storage so as not to mold your hard work!
When the flower heads are completely dry, store them in a sealed jar or metal container and keep them in a cool, dark place. Clay pots, or colorful glass jars, are also great places to keep your chamomile tea as they protect you from sunlight, but you want something that is airtight to keep moisture out. Alternatively, you can add a moisture pack to take in any extra moisture that may be left to ensure the crop is preserved.
Once your flowers have dried and stored, try to use them within six months for the best taste and nutritional strength. After the first six months, the taste and nutrients decrease sharply.
How to make chamomile tea
To make a serving of chamomile tea, you need 250 ml of boiling water and 1-2 tablespoons of dried chamomile flowers. Let the mixture steep for 5 minutes before straining and adding honey or other sweeteners.
After a quick search, you will find that every home gardener has their own special recipe for chamomile tea. Some add dried echinacea and lavender to their recipe for added flavor and medicinal benefits. Others prefer a cooling recipe like mint and chamomile. The sky is the limit to the variations you can do!
frequently asked Questions
Q: How do you harvest chamomile without killing the plant?
A: Simply cut off the heads of the flowers or smaller branches near the top half of the plant. Leave behind enough stems and leaves for the plant to regenerate.
Q: What part of the chamomile do you harvest?
A: The flower head and petals are harvested and dried to make teas and ointments.
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