Chamomile How To Sow, Grow and Harvest!
Chamomile tea is one of those great relaxing teas that we can enjoy in our gardens any time. But did you know how easy it is to grow and harvest too?
Sowing chamomile couldn’t be easier, simply sprinkle thinly over prepared, moist soil, press the seeds firmly and leave in a warm spot. Keep it moist but not water logged and a week later germination should have occurred. Move to a sunny place and then thin out when large enough to handle. Harvest the flowers when they have bloomed.
There is a spot more to it than that and I hope to share with you some of the benefits of growing your own chamomile. It is a hardy perennial so should serve you for years to come with the right amount of love and care.
How To Sow Chamomile
Chamomile is part of the daisy family. The two main varieties we grow in the UK are German Chamomile (Chamomilla recutita) and Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile). The German variety has been used more commonly for flowers for tea.
These varieties are both suitable for growing in pots as ornamental flowers and I promise you that even the biggest beginner can grow chamomile. You can even try sowing directly where they are to grow.
If sowing directly where they are to grow you may need a cloche or some sort of protection from the birds eating the seeds before they can take root. Also be aware that fresh soil can be a bit of a winning combination for your neighbours cat, so think about how they can dig and move your seeds to different places after their deed is done. They will need to be kept warm for germination to occur, so it is often easier to start indoors under glass then transplant at a later time.
If you are a beginner to gardening I will just explain what we mean when we say ‘prepared soil’. If you are making your own planters for the windowsill you can do this without any specialist equipment. Just use a clean plastic tub with holes put into the bottom.
Like all seeds the tiny little chamomile seeds will rot if they are water logged.
TOP TIP – To stop your seeds being washed away you can fill your pot with peat free compost and water before you put the seeds on top.
Then you will need to very gently and with dry hands, sprinkle the seeds evenly over the top of the compost tray. If you don’t have fully dry hands the microscopic seeds will attach themselves to your hands and it becomes a bit of a nuisance to get them off!
Firm them in and put under cover in a warm spot. You will need to make sure that you do this at the right time of year for frosts to be finished. In around 6 weeks these tender seedlings will be ready to go outside so make sure that we are not going to be in the height of frost season!
We have leave ours in the polytunnel and will give it two weeks of spritzing or misting with fine sprays of water. Do this rather then using a watering can!
Just be aware for later in the season that these seeds are so light and delicate. This indicates that the flowers will become self seeding. Not ideal and you want to keep on top of that!
TOP TIP- Sow in May to guarantee that the seedlings will not go out in the colder nights.
Between 7-14 days is all the time that the seeds will need to grow their first leaves. These are not their true leaves, so do not try to thin them out from these delicate little leaves.
Wait another 4 weeks roughly for their true leaves. These are the ones that look just like the parent plant. In this case feathery and delicate still. But also tasty as a side note! But not yet, wait until the plant is bigger and more mature.
How To Grow And Care For Chamomile
Around 6 weeks after you planted the seeds you will be ready to handle the young seedlings. Thin them out by holding on to the true leaves and using a butter knife, just gently lever them out. Protect the roots at all costs and then put them to their final home.
Perfect in containers as they are sort of flimsy and delicate but big on the flower front. This means you get a lot of bang for your buck and they will happily fill any available space.
By putting them into pots you can move them around the patio or balcony as you wish, creating a focal point or filling any gaps.
You can also plant them into other beds with different plants. Chamomile is a known companion plant and is known for deterring pests.
Chamomile is prone to growing and stretching out and can tend towards being leggy. To keep the hardy perennial more in a chunky filled out shape, prune it throughout the year. Avoid over pruning during flowering season as you could lose flowers.
You may want to grow a chamomile lawn, and let’s face it those of us who remember BBC adaptations seem to be quite tempted! You will need to grow Chamaemelum nobile ‘Treneague’ for a chamomile lawn as it is a non flowering variety. I love the idea of a flower lawn, but it is not actually practical, which is sad.
You need to prepare your lawn area by making sure it is weed free. Level off the area by using a rake and a sieve to remove any larger stones. Plant the seedlings out to around 10cm apart in all directions. We use rows and then offset the next row, and so on. This will allow you to get a fuller lawn. Keep it weed free during the first few months as grass will try to invade.
Your chamomile lawn will serve you well over the years as it does not need mowing and will be virtually maintenance free. So perfect for smaller gardens and ones which will not need watering! Chamomile loves a bit of drought and is not afraid to grow in those conditions.
Possible Problems And Pests Preventing Perfection With Your Plants
Over watering or under watering are always a problem. Now in some situations chamomile could be considered a weed as it is drought resistant. Which means that it can go for periods in dry soil. So a bit better to be dry than water logged.
That said a plant that has been subjected to neglect and it has been in drought conditions for some time can then become weaker to attack from the other bugs!
Your aphids and mealybugs can be devastating to a younger plant. We like to go for natural alternatives in all things and love working with the biodiversity of our garden. So try and use chamomile in an organic way to attract more ladybugs to the garden.
Ladybugs love to eat aphids and will really increase the biodiversity in your garden!
Water logged roots will kill off any healthy plant, but chamomile is particularly susceptible to it. Always keep your potted plants in pots with feet, to raise the root base away from sitting in water.
Chamomile as a companion plant
Chamomile plants have natural anti-bacterial and anti-fungal qualities. So this means we can look at those plants that are prone to fungal infestations and plant close to them. Not only this but cold tea can be used to spray the younger seedlings of the same crops.
In your vegetable garden crops like, onions, brussels sprouts, cabbage and especially tomatoes and cucumbers will benefit from having chamomile growing around them.
Be careful when trimming back your chamomile to leave plenty to die back and feed into the ground as they are nutrient rich and those properties will be fed back into the soil. They are known to release calcium, potassium and magnesium into the soil.
How To Harvest Chamomile
Harvest the flowers when they are still in bloom, give the pollinators a chance to do their little waggle dances but make sure to take fresh flowers that are just about to fade.
This means that you are working with nature to protect the future of your garden.
Now you can add the flowers fresh to your teapot infuser or you can dry the flowers for a later infusion.
Drying and storing the flowers could not be easier and we think come July time in the UK it will take about one to two weeks to air dry. If you do have a dehydrator all the better and it should be around 3 hours all in. But keep an eye on it as hydration levels may vary in the flowers depending on rainfall and watering habits.
If air drying simply lay the flowers out over a sheet of cheese cloth on a cooling rack. Leave out of direct sunlight and try to avoid a dusty place too.
Then you can store them in an old glass jar, or mason jar.
Using Chamomile In Your Tea
Nice and simple you will just pop a handful of flowers into the teapot infuser and let the hot water steep the flowers for around 5 minutes, depending on the strength you like.
When we talk about strength it seems strange as this is a gentle flowery, apple like taste. To give it more intensity you can add more flowers and leave for longer.
TOP TIP – For those of you trying to cut back on your caffeine, you may also like to try taking a few of the feathery leaves and sort of rolling them up to put into the infuser. They will be incredibly bitter but this is my best way to recreate the bitterness of tea as we know it.
Then mix around with the taste profiles by adding local honey. If you are a few years into your growing journey and keep the bees yourself, then the chances are that your garden has added to the mix!
Why Do We Use Chamomile
A great way to stay hydrated with a wonderful taste. That seems to be massively overlooked but I wanted to just highlight that!!!
The active ingredient in chamomile seems to be the flavonoids. These are chemicals found in many plants and are a sort of nutrient that can help to combat certain ailments. It is an area ripe for more research, however a lot of the research seems to support the use of chamomile, the actual doses are unclear. So by using as a tea or even as bitters it is unclear as to how effective they will be without a more modern approach being considered as well.
It tends to be used most commonly in our modern world to help aid relaxation. This can be very useful and from my point of view, taking time in your garden to watch the bees feeding on the flowers, with a nice warm cup of tea in my hands is worth every ounce of effort to make it happen.
What Is The History
Traditionally chamomile preparations have been used to treat a range of ailments, including but not limited to the list below.
- Arthritis type inflammations
- eczema, acne and other skin irritations
- anxiety and sleeplessness
Chamomile was not always used as a tea though. It was even applied directly to the skin as a extract.
Imagine a few months from now, you are sat in the sunshine, watching the bees move from one flower to another. Sipping the tea you have made from the two minutes of effort it took to harvest the flowers. Life is pretty good and you have helped to contribute to the wildlife in your part of this world.
Nothing could be more relaxing and you should feel very proud of your achievements.
We bought our German Chamomile from a specialist supplier via Amazon and could not be happier with them.
Why not try growing an entire herb garden for your tea drinking pleasure? We love growing Mint and I hope you will see that it is equally as easy!
I hope you can see that there is very little skill required and potentially a lot of benefit in growing chamomile. So good luck and let us know how you get on!
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