Chamomile has a mind of her own and usually chooses to grow outside the garden bed.

Chamomile has a mind of her own and usually chooses to grow outside the garden bed.

April’s Herb of the month is Chamomile – specifically, German Chamomile, the annual variety, also known as Hungarian Chamomile – (see below for complete discussion of the name.)  April is a month of beginnings, and Chamomile is one the best herbs to get to know if you’re new to herbs.  It is one of the most versatile of all herbs and can be quite powerful, but is also very gentle.  It is known as a “cradle to grave” herb.

Internal Uses:  Chamomile tea was given to Peter Rabbit after his harrowing experience in Mr. McGregor’s garden.  It’s been used for centuries to calm restless babies as well as adults.  Chamomile is one of the best-known, best-selling herbs for treating anxiety, insomnia and stress as well as stress-related illnesses including irritable bowel syndrome. indigestion and stomach ulcers.  The small daisy-like flowers have a high calcium content which is good for the nervous system.  They have a soft, but powerful tranquilizing effect.

External Uses: Chamomile is an anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antiseptic.  It is used to treat all manor of skin ailments from itching to wounds.  It is used as a bath for sunburn and windburn.  A compress can be used for puffy eyes; a rinse for gum irritation and mouth sores.  Cosmetically, a rinse makes highlights in blonde hair and a steam is used as a skin-softening facial.

History and Folklore:  Chamomile has been known primarily as an herb for women, hence the botanical name matricaria, meaning “for women.”  It has a long history of use, all the way back to 5000 BC when the Egyptians offered it to their sun gods.  The name “chamomile” comes from Greek, meaning “ground apple”, because of it’s apple-like scent.  Chamomile was used as a strewing herb, a medieval form of air fresheners.

Chamomile was associated with humility which comes from the saying “the more you walk on chamomile the better it grows.”   It was also once thought to bring good luck and wealth.

What’s In A Name:  Chamomile can be confusing because of the many names it has; not just the folk names, but the botanical ones as well.  Below is a good explanation of the way plants are named and why Chamomile has so many names.  It was borrowed from Mother Earth Living:

Every few years, botanists from all over the world convene at an International Botanical Congress to establish or revise the rules that govern the naming of plants. Botanists voluntarily follow the published results, known as International Code of Botanical Nomenclature, in an attempt to make plant names universal and unambiguous. According to the Code, the first valid publication of a name for a particular plant has “priority” over other names. However, when current rules of the Code are applied at a given time by taxonomists, a plant name may change, and chamomile is a case in point.

The starting point of modern botanical nomenclature is Linnaeus’s Species Plantarum (1753). In it, Linnaeus named two entities, Matricaria chamomilla and M. recutita. Both names have been applied to the plant known today as German chamomile, but for more than 200 years, the plant was officially referred to as M. chamomilla. Then, in 1972, a European researcher decided that the plant deserved a genus of its own, and he renamed it Chamomilla recutita. But seven years later, an English botanist reinterpreted the Code and concluded that the correct name for the plant should in fact be M. recutita. Today, any of these three names may be used in reference to German chamomile in catalogs and other botanical literature.”

Growing Chamomile:  Easy!  The seeds are very, very small so be prepared to thin quite a bit.  Just sow the seeds in a well-prepared bed and firm into the soil as early as you would plant peas.  The seedlings can stand a frost.  They will emerge and start a slow growth, then have a growth spurt to produce a lovely little rosette with long spike of flowers.  The plants can get about 2 feet tall and like a little support to keep upright.  They will self-seed if not harvested, but usually not where you want them to grow 🙂

More to Come in April…. Recipes and More Pics

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