Growing Chamomile in the Garden
What are your favorite teas to drink? Growing up I loved chamomile and mint tea. Nowadays I’ve added earl grey, masala chai, and green teas to my repertoire. In fact, there seems to be a tea for every mood and every time of day. In our own gardens, it’s possible to grow many types of herbs to create our own teas—and this is how I got started growing chamomile in the garden.
Related article: Cold Hardy Annual Herbs
Growing German Chamomile (matricari recutita)
Mmmm soothing chamomile tea! What if I told you that you could plant chamomile once in your garden and never need to plant it again? This cute little flower is a prolific self seeder, which gets no complaints from me. My personal journey growing chamomile in the garden started several years ago when I wanted to start growing my own chamomile for tea. Not knowing where to start, I purchased a packet of seeds that explicitly stated “for soothing tea.” Over time, it has become one of my favorite flowers for many reasons—-not just for tea!
The specific variety I’m talking about today is German Chamomile, matricaria recutita)! If you’ve ever walked into the tea aisle of the grocery store, you might have seen a box of tea with pictures of small, white, daisy-looking flowers labeled “chamomile.” Today, I’m going to share how I grow this delicious flower in my garden to make my own tea, attract pollinators, infuse into oil, and create fun culinary flavors! Hopefully you are already growing chamomile or are maybe inspired to start growing your own chamomile in the garden.
Types of Chamomile
There are different types of chamomile you can grow in the garden, mainly Roman or German. While German chamomile is an annual flower, Roman chamomile is a low-growing perennial habit plant. They have different uses. Since I’m not an herbalist, doctor, or expert I encourage you to do your own research but also, I won’t be talking about any type I haven’t grown myself. Therefore, this whole post I’ll be referring to German chamomile, also known by the scientific name matricari recutita. You can purchase the same seeds I did from Botanical Interests (HERE) to start growing chamomile in your garden. Chamomile flowers smell like apples, honey, and maybe pineapple-y in some circumstances. Even if you don’t plan on using your chamomile flowers for tea, they are incredible for attracting beneficial insects and I often rub a flower between my fingers to release their dreamy aroma as I peruse the garden!
Disclaimer: as with any herb or edible crop in the garden that you plan to consume, chamomile should be researched ahead of time for possible allergies, pregnancy safety, and even pharmaceutical contraindications.
Growing Chamomile From Seed
Remember my blog post on Self-Sowing Flowers? Well, chamomile is one of those flowers that will self seed all over your garden. Honestly, can you complain about that though? Chamomile smells good, attracts pollinators, and looks gorgeous! Here in Southern California, I like to grow chamomile as a cold hardy annual, sowing my seeds in late Fall or early Spring. The idea is that they need some warmth in the weather to germinate, but also don’t love scorching the hot summers here. Essentially, by starting your seeds in late Fall the plants can establish during the colder months and “spring” to life for an early bloom once temperatures warm. I highly recommend you start growing chamomile in the garden from seed rather than buying starts from a nursery.
Chamomile is easily direct sown. Simply disperse the seed on moist soil, gently press them in or rake them slightly, and keep moist until it germinates.
You can also start chamomile in seed cells if you’d like. Generally, online information says chamomile does not transplant well, but I’ve started the seeds in cells before and transplanted them just fine. In fact, I’ve always gone by the idea that direct sowing versus transplanting in the garden is more of a decision based on indidividal circumstances rather than generalized rules. You can read more about my feelings on this topic HERE. Just know, once you start growing chamomile in the garden, you can let it self seed so you won’t really need to go through this process again. Fun, right?!
Related Article: 5 Herbs to NOT Start From Seed
Conditions for Growing German Chamomile
Who doesn’t love plants that perform well in less-than-ideal conditions? Chamomile might look fragile, but it’s a surprisingly aggressive plant! In fact, I have self-seeded chamomile that is growing in my decomposed granite path. This is one plant that doesn’t need an extremely fertile soil to perform well (although I’ve had it growing in nutrient-rich raised bed soil at one point and it was more robust than its counterparts).
In my garden (zone 10b in Orange County, California), chamomile grows well in full sun, but also partial sun. I find that the chamomile patches in full sun with fertile soil get the best flowers, but they expire quicker in the hot temperatures as Summer arrives. I’d recommend trying different areas in your garden to see how it performs and take note of your own microclimates!
How to Dry Your Homegrown Chamomile
Chamomile flowers in their dried form are extremely versatile, and so this is how I choose to process them throughout the growing season. Drying your homegrown chamomile is as easy as picking off the individual flowers and drying them in a dehydrator. You can also use an air dryer that keeps the chamomile from blowing away (like this one), or do a small amount on a paper towel indoors. In order for your flowers to dry properly, spread them out so they are not touching each other on the dehydrator tray or however you choose to dry them. Honestly, the most important thing is to make sure your chamomile is completely dry. BONE dry. So dry, that if you squish it between your fingers, it crumbles into dust. Always remember, when drying any herbs, that moisture will cause your herbs to spoil or mold in storage—-and you’ll have to trash them.
Once you pick all your chamomile flowers and dry them completely, store them in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. We have an indoor closet in our guest bedroom that I have transformed into a mini pantry for my dried herbs and infusions.
Here’s a tangent, but I promise it’s going somewhere….did you know I have YouTube channel? Back when I first started the blog, there was a time when I wasn’t sure if I wanted videos to go with my blogposts or if video format was for me. Sometimes, it was helpful to post a video (like when I was trying to share how I braid garlic) but, more often than not, I was not comfortable on camera! Anyway, that long abandoned YouTube channel actually has a chamomile video on it—-about growing chamomile in the garden and harvesting the flowers—so I’ll leave a link to that HERE. To this day, I don’t know what to do with the channel, but maybe I’ll find inspiration to shape it into something great someday?
Let’s make homegrown chamomile tea
Now it’s time to talk about the best part of growing chamomile in your garden….using it!
Ready for some chamomile tea! I’ve got a tea infuser that I’m obsessed with from Yoassi. Having a tea infuser makes it very easy to remove your dried flowers from your tea after steeping. To make chamomile tea, you can simply take about a tablespoon of dried flowers, and let them steep in approximately 8 ounces of hot water for a few minutes. If you leave your chamomile tea for too long, the flavor can be bitter. Once your tea is steeped, remove the dried flowers, and you can choose to add a little honey to your cup or just drink it plain!
Other ways I use Chamomile Flowers
Another way to use your homegrown chamomile flowers is to infuse them into culinary creations! I haven’t done too much of this, but I do make an insanely good chamomile ice cream from fresh flowers and shared the recipe here. Chamomile ice cream starts off with a chamomile infused milk and is honestly one of my favorite treats in Summer!
If you’re a fan of fresh flower bouquets, cut your chamomile for arrangements! It’s a pretty filler flower in bouquets, or simply keep a mason jar of it in the kitchen. It’s such a sweet little flower!
Last but not least, have you made an infused oil before? Just a beginner here, but I have made calendula infused oil before to create homemade garden salves, body butter (check out my recipe HERE), and lotion bars. Homegrown chamomile can also be used for the same kinds of purposes! Recently, I made a dried chamomile and calendula infused oil (pictured below) that I plan to make into a salve for my hands or a face oil. While I don’t have tutorials for those specifically, it’s something fun I’ll share as I experiment with it more. Remember, always do your own research!
Growing chamomile for beneficial insects
Did you know that ladybugs are specifically attracted to feathery foliage? Plants like yarrow, chamomile, cosmos, fennel, and dill all bring so many ladybugs to my garden! So, even if you don’t plan to use your chamomile for anything else, growing chamomile in the garden is just another way to increase the biodiversity and attract lovely insects like lady bugs!
Leaving you with some wisdom
Earlier this week, I was peeking at the progress of the Winter garden—-specifically an area under our tangerine tree that I’ve planted out with chamomile seedlings, chocolate cosmos, parsley, culinary nigella, and edible chrysanthemum (shungiku). It was such pleasure to see a ladybug on the chamomile and also be reminded that Winter gardening in Southern California can still be such delight! But also, I realized a huge mistake I made. Essentially, all the plants I put in this one raised bed share similar looking foliage. As things are growing, I’m finding it super difficult to differentiate between the parsley and anemone flower foliage. Furthermore, the culinary nigella leaves are feathery like the dill and the chamomile and overall…..this is a potential disaster! I could only imagine asking Sam to grab some parsley from the garden and ending up with something that is non-edible. Yikes!!! So, just a little bit of gardening wisdom: maybe don’t plant crops that share similar foliage together. Even for me, it can be difficult to discern the difference, especially at night!
That’s all for this first post of 2023. Have a great week friends! Check out my Fall & Winter Gardening Guide for a list of crops you can grow now and 5 Flowers You Can Grow Through Winter for more gardening inspiration.