By: Darcy Larum, Landscape Designer
Many people enjoy a soothing cup of chamomile tea to forget the stress of the day and get a nice, restful sleep. When purchasing a box of chamomile tea at the grocery store, most consumers are concerned with which brand of tea they prefer, not which type of chamomile the tea bags contain. If you’re so fond of the tea that you decide to grow chamomile in your own garden, you may be surprised to find that there are different types of chamomile seeds and plants available. Continue reading to learn about distinguishing between different chamomile varieties.
Roman vs. German Chamomile
There are two plants that are cultivated and sold commercially as chamomile. The plant considered “true chamomile” is commonly called English or Roman chamomile. Its scientific name is Chamaemelum nobile, although it was once scientifically known as Anthemis nobilis. “False chamomile” usually refers to German chamomile, or Matricaria recutita.
There are a few other plants that may be called chamomile, such as Moroccan chamomile (Anthemis mixta), Cape chamomile (Eriocephalus punctulatus) and Pineappleweed (Matricaria discoidea).
Herbal or cosmetic chamomile products usually contain Roman or German chamomile. Both plants have many similarities and are often confused. Both contain the essential oil chamazulene, although German chamomile contains a higher concentrate. Both herbs have a sweet scent, reminiscent of apples.
Both are used medicinally as a mild tranquilizer or sedative, natural antiseptic, insect repellents, and are anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial. Both plants are listed as safe herbs, and both plants deter garden pests but attract pollinators, making them excellent companions for fruits and vegetables.
Despite all these similarities, there are differences between German and Roman chamomile:
Roman chamomile, also known as English or Russian chamomile, is a low growing perennial groundcover in zones 4-11. It grows in part shade to a height of about 12 inches (30 cm.) and spreads by rooting stems. Roman chamomile has hairy stems, which produce one flower atop each single stem. The flowers have white petals and yellow, slightly rounded discs. The flowers are about .5 to 1.18 inch (15-30 mm.) in diameter. Roman chamomile’s foliage is fine and feathery. It is used as an earth-friendly lawn substitute in England.
German chamomile is an annual which can self-sow profusely. It is a more upright plant at 24 inches (60 cm.) tall and does not spread out like Roman chamomile. German chamomile also has fine fern-like foliage, but its stems branch out, bearing flowers and foliage on these branching stems. German chamomile has white petals which droop down from hollow yellow cones. The flowers are .47 to .9 inch (12-24 mm.) in diameter.
German chamomile is native to Europe and Asia, and is cultivated for commercial use in Hungary, Egypt, France, and Eastern Europe. Roman chamomile native to Western Europe and North Africa. It is mostly grown commercially in Argentina, England, France, Belgium and the United States.
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Read more about Chamomile
Chamomile : Chamomile has small, white daisylike flowers with a yellow center. The flower is the part of the herb that is used. Two different plants carry the common name chamomile. One of them, M. chamomilla, is sometimes referred to as Hungarian, German, or genuine chamomile to distinguish it from C. nobile, Roman or English chamomile. These very popular herbs are used almost interchangeably. However, they do differ.
Both types of chamomile have traditionally been used in tea to treat digestive distress including stomachache, cramps, colitis, and flatulence .
Chamomile has a long-standing reputation as being good for almost anything that might ail a body.
Chamomile preparations are also used topically for red, inflamed skin (such as Rosacea ) and as a mouthwash or gargle. Components of chamomile have antibacterial and antifungal activity.
For the treatment of skin conditions such as Rosacea , steep a cup of strong chamomile tea (3 bags or equivalent loose tea) for 10 minutes and use as a cold compress on the affected areas.
People with colds sometimes breathe in the vapors from a steaming cup of chamomile tea. This pleasantly aromatic steam is believed to help relieve congestion of the nose and lungs.
Millions of children have learned about one of its most widespread uses, treating indigestion due to dietary indiscretion, from Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Another traditional use has been to relieve menstrual cramps. Chamomile infusions are also used to stimulate the appetite and to aid digestion. Chamomile tea is considered a mild sleep aid. It is also used as a gentle treatment for fevers.
The essential oils are not very soluble in water as a result, the dose of active ingredients delivered in the usual cup of chamomile tea is low. However, regular use of chamomile tea over an extended period is believed to have cumulative benefits.
M. chamomilla: German chamomile flowers contain about 0.5 percent of a volatile oil that is light blue. The most important constituents of the oil are bisabolol and related compounds and matricin. Bisabolol has significant antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory activity. Up to half of the oil is chamazulene, formed from matricin during heating. Flavonoids in the flowers, apigenin and luteolin, are also active. In addition, the coumarins herniarin and umbelliferone may also quell inflammation and quiet smooth muscle spasms. No single ingredient has been identified as responsible for the benefits of chamomile. C. nobile: Roman chamomile flowers contain from 0.5 to 2.5 percent essential oil, which does not contain bisabolol. The flavonoid ingredients are similar, though not identical, to those of M. chamomilla.
To make the tea, pour approximately 2/3 cup boiling water over 1 or 2 teaspoons dried chamomile flowers and steep at least five minutes. For digestive problems, drink tea three to four times a day, between meals. There are no limitations on duration of use.
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How to Grow an Aromatic Chamomile Lawn
Are you sick and tired of always having to mow the lawn? Instead, save time, money, and water by converting your grass yard to low-growing chamomile. Chamomile lawns improve the soil and attract pollinators while greatly reducing maintenance. Continue on to learn how to grow chamomile as a lawn alternative.
Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) is typically grown as a perennial, though it likes a warmer climate than I can give it here in Ohio. I’ve had it stay around for some winters—but not the really bitter ones. It is hardy to zone 5 and is a creeper, only growing to about 3 to 4 inches high. The leaves tend to be thicker and more substantial than those of German chamomile, and in my experience, so are the flowers.
This is the flower you want if you are putting together a chamomile “lawn” or wanting to plant in between your patio pavers. Most people that grow Roman chamomile in this way keep it cut short. Sadly, they miss out on all the companion planting benefits of this plant, as it attracts some great pollinators and beneficial insects. The flowers and the leaves of it also smell of apples, but while the essential oil of this plant is useful, it doesn’t contain high levels of azulene, so it’s a clear oil.
Roman chamomile has also been traditionally used for its calming and relaxing properties. It doesn’t bloom as much or as often as the German variety. It’s worth picking for a cup of tea for sure but I’m not sure I’d want to count on it to fill my herb jar.
Get emergency medical help if you have any of these signs of an allergic reaction: hives difficult breathing swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.
Although not all side effects are known, chamomile is thought to be possibly safe when taken for a short period of time.
Stop using chamomile and call your healthcare provider at once if you have:
severe skin irritation (itching, rash, redness, swelling) after applying chamomile to the skin.
Common side effects may include:
This is not a complete list of side effects and others may occur. Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects. You may report side effects to FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088.
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