What’s the Difference Between English and German Chamomile?

Just about everyone has heard of chamomile, whether they’ve seen the cheerful little plants growing in the garden, or have relaxed with a piping-hot cup of chamomile tea.

A vertical close up of delicate white flowers with yellow centers growing in clusters in the garden. To the center and bottom of the frame is green and white text.

But not everyone knows that there are two species that share the common name chamomile, and they each have different growth habits and uses.

English, or Roman chamomile, Chamaemelum nobile, is a low-growing plant that you’ll often see growing between pavers in cottage gardens or as a ground cover.

The German variety, Matricaria chamomilla (or M. recutita), has an upright growth habit and produces masses of small, white flowers during the summer.

A close up of white and yellow flowers growing in the summer garden on a soft focus background.

Both varieties are members of the aster, or Asteraceae family, however, they belong to different genera.

To learn more about how to add these plants to your landscape, check out our guide to growing chamomile. If you’re short of space, chamomile grows well in containers.

In this article, I’ll explain the difference between the two varieties. Here’s what I’ll cover:

English (Roman) Chamomile

The English variety is a perennial with white flowers and lacy foliage, suitable for gardeners in USDA Hardiness Zones 4-11. It’s native to southern and western Europe, and north Africa.

You’ll also hear it called Roman or garden chamomile.

A close up of Chamaemelum nobile growing as a ground cover in the summer garden.

This evergreen plant grows to a mature height of four to five inches tall. However, it can sometimes grow up to 12 inches tall if it’s planted in an area where it is unable to spread.

Each plant spreads about a foot wide on stems that seem to crawl along the surface of the ground. The plant sends out rhizomes, so an individual plant can turn into a large carpet of ground cover in no time.

It has naturalized in many parts of the Eastern and Midwestern US, as well as California.

German Chamomile

German chamomile is a self-seeding annual plant with small white flowers and lacy foliage. It thrives in Zones 4-9.

A close up of the delicate white flowers of Matricaria chamomilla in the summer garden.

It’s native to central and southern Europe, and is also known as Hungarian or wild chamomile.

This variety grows to a mature height of two to three feet, and has thin, spindle-shaped roots.

M. chamomilla thrives in temperatures between 44 and 79°F, but it can tolerate temperatures as low as 10°F for a short time.

It produces the most abundant and potent oils when the days are long and warm.

It has naturalized in most parts of the US except the South, California, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Nebraska.

Differences

The English variety, C. nobile, produces larger but fewer and less frequent blossoms than the German variety. The leaves are more substantial – both thicker and larger than the delicate fern-like foliage of M. chamomilla.

A close up of a Chamaemelum nobile flower on a soft focus background.
C. nobile flower.

The German variety, on the other hand, is a prolific bloomer and will grow new flowers soon after you pluck them. The cone at the center of the flower is hollow, while C. nobile has a tiny bract between the florets and a solid central cone.

A close up of white and yellow Matricaria chamomilla flowers on a soft focus background.

English chamomile has hairy stems, while those of the German variety are smooth.

Chamos is Greek for “ground” and melos for “apple,” so the word chamomile essentially translates to “ground apple.” This should give you some idea of their scent as well. (No, they don’t smell like potatoes or the French pomme de terre – they smell a lot like apples!)

In fact, both types have delicious apple-like scented flowers, though they don’t smell exactly the same.

The German variety has a scent that is slightly straw-like with hints of apple in comparison to the sweet apple fragrance of C. nobile, the English type.

Best Uses

German chamomile is most commonly grown for its delicate, ornamental white flowers that add interest to the summer garden. The blossoms can be harvested to make into a soothing aromatic tea.

A close up of a small glass jar containing blue essential oil set on a wooden surface with white flowers in the background.

It is sometimes cultivated for its essential oil, which is higher in the active ingredient chamazulene than the Roman variety. Chamazulene is an oil with anti-inflammatory properties, and it is also found in yarrow.

The light blue essential oil is used by herbalists to help alleviate anxiety, as well as the symptoms of some digestive issues and skin conditions.

A close up of Chamaemelum nobile used as a ground cover.

The Roman type is most often grown as a culinary ground cover, and it will tolerate light foot traffic. It can be used as a lawn replacement or to fill in the gaps between pavers, or it may be planted in rock gardens.

The flowers have a sweeter, more pronounced apple flavor and are also suitable for making tea. But they are less abundant than those of the other variety, so your harvest will be smaller.

A close up of a glass cup of herbal tea with white flowers scattered around.

Both types attract a range of beneficial insects such as hoverflies, ladybugs, and honey bees. They are relatively resistant to pests, except for aphids.

According to experts at Penn State Hershey Medical Center, extracts, teas, and ointments made from both species can be used to alleviate anxiety and stomach problems, and they may ease the symptoms of eczema.

The FDA has classified both species as “generally regarded as safe” for internal use.

You Can’t Go Wrong

While they have different recommended uses, you can’t go wrong with either type of chamomile. They each have a place in the garden depending on your goals, and both give you that sweet, heavenly scent.

A close up of the delicate white and yellow flowers of Chamaemelum nobile growing in the summer garden.

I have both growing in my garden because I don’t see any reason to stick with just one variety. I use the Roman type to fill in the pavers around my patio, and the German species is growing all around my garden in containers so I can have fresh tea whenever I want.

Which type are you interested in growing? What are your plans for using your chamomile harvest? I’d love to hear all about it.

If you’re interested in growing other medicinal herbs, visit the following guides next:

© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock. With additional writing and editing by Clare Groom and Allison Sidhu.

The staff at Gardener’s Path are not medical professionals and this article should not be construed as medical advice intended to assess, diagnose, prescribe, or promise cure. Gardener’s Path and Ask the Experts, LLC assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet or using plant-based remedies or supplements for health and wellness.

About Kristine Lofgren

Kristine Lofgren is a writer, photographer, reader, and gardening lover from outside Portland, Oregon. She was raised in the Utah desert, and made her way to the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two dogs in 2018. Her passion is focused these days on growing ornamental edibles, and foraging for food in the urban and suburban landscape.

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Blanche Douma
Blanche Douma (@guest_8395)
5 months ago

This article is maddeningly confusing. At the beginning, it says that Chamaemelum nobile is English (or Roman) Chamomile – but at the end, it says “The German variety has a scent that is slightly straw-like with hints of apple in comparison to the sweet apple fragrance of M. chamomillla, the English type.” Perhaps it was a simple mistake, but now I’m totally mixed up because I’m not sure which was correct and which was the mistake ?

Clare Groom
Clare Groom (@clareg)
Admin
Member
Reply to  Blanche Douma
4 months ago

Hi Blanche – whoops! Thank you for catching that, as you correctly point out, it’s supposed to say “the sweet apple fragrance of C. nobile, the English type.” I’ve corrected that, and many thanks for pointing it out.