This member of the Asteraceae family (Aster plants) has long been cherished as a valuable medicinal plant. You’ll find lots of chamomile products on the market today.
Even so, it’s best to grow your own chamomile. It is so easy to grow, and when you produce it yourself you know, it is natural and pure.
Often called a medicinal species “star,” chamomile is traded on the international market, especially in India.
Commercially grown plants and commercially produced products are often not pure and organic. They may be adulterated by use of pesticides or other undesirable substances.
Very often, commercially sold chamomile products contain other herbs similar to chamomile but are not chamomile. The benefits derived from the use of the genuine article are many and varied.
Since this plant is so easy to grow and harvest, there is no reason to rely on commercially produced products. In this article, we explain the difference between Roman and German chamomile and share information on growing and caring for these lovely, useful plants. Read on to learn more.
What’s The Difference Between German & Roman Chamomile?
Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) and German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) are not related, yet are very similar plants.
They are both apple-scented, have pretty, white daisy-like flowers and can be used to make tea, potpourri and a number of other natural products.
Roman Chamomile Seeds Can Be Sown In The Garden
Roman chamomile is tough and does well when sown directly into the garden or landscape after the last frost. If you purchase commercial seed, the recommended planting time for your area will be shown on the back of the package.
If you harvest seed from existing plants, talk with local gardeners to determine the best time to sow Roman Chamomile seed in your garden.
Follow these steps:
Prepare: Choose a sunny, slightly elevated setting. Before sowing the seed, prepare the ground well. Remove unwanted plants, weeds rocks, and grass roots.
Till the soil to a depth of six or eight inches and use a rake to level it before sowing the seed. Work in a generous amount of organic matter to nourish your plants and improve soil drainage and aeration.
Sow: Once your chamomile bed is prepared, sow your seeds over the surface and cover them with about a quarter of an inch of soil. Lightly firm the soil to help hold the seeds in place.
Water: Keep the soil evenly moist, and the seedlings will sprout and emerge in two or three weeks.
Thin: Allow the seedlings to grow freely until they have a minimum of two pairs of leaves, then thin them to a distance of about one foot apart. Naturally, it is best to remove the smaller, weaker plants and keep the strongest.
German chamomile is used primarily as an ingredient in natural medicines, homemade personal care products, and delicious, soothing tea blends. German chamomile has a milder, pleasant scent, and both the flowers and leaves can be used to make teas and other natural potions and notions.
At one or two feet high, the German variety is taller. It spreads sporadically, so it doesn’t make a good ground cover, but it is a nice addition to any herb or flower garden.
Although this plant is very delicate looking, it’s wise to keep in mind that it is indeed a wildflower. As such, it is quite rugged and has enthusiastic growth habits.
German chamomile is a self-seeding annual. If left to its own devices, it can easily become invasive.
How to Grow German Chamomile From Seeds
Initially, you should start your German chamomile seeds early, indoors. Begin six or eight weeks before your anticipated springtime outdoor planting date.
It’s best to have well-started plants to place outdoors in containers or in your garden once all danger of frost has passed. When German chamomile becomes established, it will reseed itself year-after-year.
Follow these directions to successfully sow German chamomile seed indoors.
Sow the seed: You’ll need peat pots or coco coir pots or other small, sterile pots for seed starting. Use sterile seed starting mix for best results. Fill the pots with the mixture and sow the seeds about a quarter of an inch deep.
Add water and light: Moisten the soil and keep it lightly moist and consistently at 70 degrees Fahrenheit to give your seeds a good start. Bright, indirect light is best at this stage. Your seeds should sprout and begin to grow within two or three weeks.
When the seedlings appear, move them to a sunny windowsill or increase their lighting with a grow light or fluorescent lighting. Artificial lights should be set three or four inches above the seedlings. Be sure to move them up as the plants grow. Do not use incandescent as it is too hot.
The seedlings need bright, direct light for about sixteen hours daily. They also need darkness for about eight hours a day, so if you are using artificial lighting, you may wish to set a timer. Leaving the light on continuously is not advised.
Fertilize lightly: Your seed starting mix should provide all the nourishment your seedlings need at the outset. Once they have been growing for three or four weeks, you can feed a light “starter solution” by mixing up a half-strength dose of water-soluble houseplant food.
Repot if necessary: If the starter pots are very small, it may be necessary to transplant your seedlings once before transitioning them to the outdoors. Keep them in three or four-inch pots until transplanting time.
Harden off: Don’t transplant chamomile into the garden until the plants have a minimum of two sets of true leaves. Transition your seedlings gradually from indoors to outdoors. They will need time to “harden off” so that they can tolerate outdoor conditions.
You can begin by giving them a few hours a day in a sheltered outdoor area on nice days. When you know the freezing weather has passed, move the young plants to a temporary sheltered outdoor space to become acclimated.
Transplant: When transplanting chamomile to the garden dig holes just big enough to hold the root ball easily. The roots should have enough space to grow, but too much space encourages root growth and may discourage leaf and stem growth.
As with all plants, remove your seedlings from their pots carefully. If the plants are root-bound, massage the roots to stimulate root growth and help your plants become established.
Position your seedlings so that the top surface of the root ball is even with the surrounding soil level. Fill in the transplant hole with loose soil and then tamp it down gently. Keep filling until the soil level is even.
Right after planting, give your transplants a good watering. Allow the water to soak in and then press the soil down gently once more to eliminate air pockets. This ensures good root contact with the soil.
Is Chamomile A Good Container Plant?
It is easy to grow either type of chamomile in containers, and both are fine container plants. Your choice will depend on the results you want. If you want an upright plant go with German chamomile. If you want a cascading plant, Roman is best.
For either one, be sure to use a light soil mixture. A succulent mix is ideal as it allows good air circulation and excellent drainage. Alternately, you can mix regular potting soil with perlite and/or coco coir to create a well-drained soil mixture.
It’s best to plant chamomile in a terracotta pot for better aeration and drainage. Check the soil frequently. It should not be allowed to dry out completely; however, you must also guard against over-watering as this causes root rot.
4 Tips For Growing Chamomile
#1 – Mulch: Hamper weed growth and help the soil retain moisture by surrounding your plants with a good layer of organic mulch.
Shredded leaves and/or aged bark are good choices as mulch in an herb garden. When placing your mulch, be sure to leave a little space around your plants’ stems. If the mulch stays in contact with the stems, it can promote rot.
#2 – Water carefully: Check the soil every few days to determine whether you need to water. Once established, chamomile is quite drought resistant. Water as you would most wildflowers by delivering water at a slow trickle, through a soaker hose or using a drip watering system.
These plants do best with occasional, deep watering at ground level. If you use a sprinkler system, be sure to water early in the morning so that the plants will have all day to dry out before dark. This helps prevent fungal infection and other diseases.
#3 – Set it and forget it! Once established, you will probably not need to plant new plants. German chamomile reseeds itself very enthusiastically, and Roman chamomile spreads to form a thick, attractive ground cover.
#4 – Use a marker: Chamomile is a wildflower, and in its early stages it is easy to mistake it for a weed. Be sure to mark your plants clearly to avoid undoing all your hard work!
How To Harvest Chamomile
You can harvest leaves at any time. Harvest flowers when they have opened fully and the petals start arching back. Blossoms and leaves may be used immediately or dried for later use.
Trim off whole stems and hang them or spread them on a fine screen or cheesecloth to dry. Don’t place the drying herb in a sunny location. Instead, choose a shady area that has good air circulation.
If you do not like the taste of the leaves, you may want to harvest only the blossoms. Spread them out on cheesecloth for drying.
Once the herbs have thoroughly dried, transfer them to a clean, dry glass jar with a tightly fitting lid. Store it in a cool, dry, dark place.
Basic Chamomile Tea Recipe
Whether you use German or Roman chamomile, tea made from this comforting herb can help soothe inflammation, settle upset tummies and promote good sleep.
Typically, use a heaping tablespoon of dried flowers or mixed flowers and leaves to make an eight-ounce cup of tea. Add the herb to freshly boiled water, cover and allow the brew to steep for 5-10 minutes. Strain into a cup and enjoy with honey and/or lemon if desired.
The tea can also be used as a hair rinse. Fresh, natural, chamomile tea makes an especially nice finishing rinse for blonde hair as it imparts a golden glow.
Allow the tea to cool and apply it topically as a treatment for mild skin irritations.
A cold brewed chamomile flower tea can be used to water or mist ailing plants. To make this tea, just soak the flowers overnight in cool water. Strain out the herb and use the tea to mist and/or water your plants.
Chamomile Diseases & Pests
Because chamomile is a wildflower, it tends to resist pests and disease as long as it is kept in ideal conditions. A sunny setting and proper care should keep plants pest and disease free.
In less than perfect settings chamomile is subject to fungal infection and infestation by pests various opportunistic garden pests.
Keep It Light & Airy
A fungus is the main malady that affects chamomile, and prevention is far preferable to cure. To prevent the development of most fungal infections:
- Plant in light, sandy soil, and water the right amount.
- Thin your plants early on and keep them well trimmed so that air can circulate through the stems and leaves.
- Avoid letting mulch touch plant stems.
- Use pea gravel as a mulch instead of organic matter such as leaves and bark which may harbor mold spores.
- Mist your plants with chamomile tea to prevent mold problems.
- Keep all of your pots and containers and gardening equipment scrupulously clean.
- Make a bleach solution using one part chlorine bleach to nine parts water. Use this to wipe down your gardening tools after use and to wash used pots and containers.
4 Fungus Problems That Affect Chamomile
Botrytis begins as brownish/yellow splotches spattered over the leaves and stems. This happens when the leaves stay wet for an extended period. The dampness causes mature leaves and stems to begin rotting.
If left untreated, the brown spots will turn gray and take on a fuzzy appearance. This is fungus. If your plants get to this point, you must handle them with care because the fungus spores will spread when you examine or trim the plants.
To deal with this problem, you must carefully remove plant debris and infected plants. Place plastic bags over the plants carefully and then pull them up by the roots. Having the bags in place helps prevent the spread of mold spores.
Damping off is another problem that is caused by excessive moisture and humidity. It strikes seedlings which may seem to be fine one day, but they wilt and die the next. This typically happens during wet spells when the temperature is at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit. High nitrogen levels in wet soil make this problem worse.
Powdery mildew is a fungus that manifests as a white powder scattered over the surface of the plants’ leaves. If allowed to prosper, it will cause your plants to weaken and die because the mildew blocks sun exposure. Prevention is the same as for other fungal and dampness related problems.
Root & Crown Rot
Root & Crown Rot is a symptom of several different types of plant diseases. Watch for dry, yellowed leaves. If allowed to progress, entire branches may turn brown and die off.
This problem is most often caused by excessive watering, and especially by allowing the plant to stand in water.
If root & crown rot strikes potted chamomile, repot the plant as soon as possible.
Remove as much of the old soil from the plant’s roots as you can. Repot the plant in a clean pot with just lightly moist, fresh soil. Prune away any affected parts of the plant and its roots.
3 Chamomile Pest Problems
Insect infestation is rare on healthy chamomile, but there are a few pests that will take advantage of a compromised plant.
Aphids are tiny little bugs that congregate in groups on the undersides and stems of a wide variety of plants. They may be green, peach-colored, black or red. You can prevent having them infest your plants by following the care instructions we have shared so far.
If you see these tiny pests and the sweet, sticky residue (aka: honeydew) they leave behind, try giving your plants a good blast with the hose early in the morning. This knocks the pests off and washes away the honeydew, which attracts ants. If the problem continues, try an insecticidal soap or neem oil solutions to discourage them further
Mealybugs are tiny, wingless insects, that excrete sweet, ant-attracting honeydew. Unlike aphids, mealy-bugs have hard, waxy white shells. The bugs cluster together on leaves and stems to present a soft, cottony appearance.
They are a little more stubborn than aphids. To remove them with water, you’ll need to run the water over the affected stems and leaves and rub the aphids away with your fingertips. Insecticidal soap or a neem oil insecticide solution may also be effective against them.
Scale insects are quite similar to mealybugs, but if you can catch them in their larval phase you can kill them off with a cotton ball soaked in isopropyl alcohol. Otherwise, treat them as you would mealybugs.
With heavy infestation of young plants, you may find it better to simply remove the infested plants rather than trying to eradicate the pests.
Spider mites are actually tiny spiders but unlike most spiders, they do not eat insects. Instead, they suck the juices and chlorophyll out of plants and inject a toxin that causes white spots on the leaves. You are most likely to see spider mites during times of drought as they seek the moisture from your plants. [source]
If you see a fine layer of webbing over your plants and what appears to be a sprinkling of pepper, you know you have spider mites. If left unchecked, they will cause the leaves to dry out and turn splotchy and yellow.
Keep your plants well watered to prevent infestation. If you do see spider mites, knock them off with a strong spray of water every couple of days and keep your plants properly watered to prevent their return. For very stubborn spider mite infestations, you may need to use a miticide product.
Enlist Natural Aide!
Keeping a healthy population of predatory wasps, lacewings and ladybugs in your garden help keep these and many other tiny creepy-crawlies at bay. [source]
Sometimes leaves turn brown and drop because the plant is hungry or needs more room to grow. If you are doing everything right and your plants are still not happy, try providing a half dose of a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer at watering time.
Being root-bound can also cause this problem. In potted plants, check to see if the roots are crowded. If so, repot to a larger container or transplant the plant into the ground. Carefully trim and massage the roots to help them spread and gather nutrients more efficiently.
Tip: Fertilizer with a slightly higher amount of nitrogen has a positive effect on chamomile’s levels of essential oil production. [source]
Chamomile Is Good For You And Your Garden!
There are many good reasons for adding chamomile to your health and personal care routine, and your garden will also appreciate the addition of this cheery little herb. All plants benefit from the proximity of chamomile.
Both varieties stimulate their neighbors to produce more essential oil and maintain a higher level of health. Cruciferous veggies, onions or mint planted in combination with chamomile grow more abundantly and taste better.