Cozy Up with Chamomile: Growing and Harvesting a Classic

The first time I was introduced to chamomile flowers, I was floored.

Close up of German chamomile growing in a cottage herb garden.

I walked into the raised garden beds of a property where I would be working and was delighted by the array of ground cover flowers, prolifically growing vegetables, and leafy herbs. Out of the two dozen or so plants that were growing, one stood above all of the others.

A line of beautiful white flowers, two feet tall and smelling like sweet apples, grew between the onions and the cabbage. The soft foliage complemented the starspray flowers that bent over the cabbage heads with a dopey and relaxed abandon.

This was the flower for me, I remarked as I crushed the oils from the flower petals between my fingers and savored the smell that lingered. Imagine my joy when I learned that these were chamomile flowers, my favorite tea! I was enthralled and began my journey growing this delightful herb and flower.

Cozy up with cup of chamomile tea, harvested from your own garden. We'll teach you how! Read more now, or Pin It for later: https://gardenerspath.com/plants/flowers/grow-chamomile/

You’ll find helpful information below about growing and harvesting this dandy flower, mostly what I’ve learned and a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way. And of course, there will be that delightful delve into the history of chamomile and its use around the world.

If you have it in the cupboard, now’s the time to heat up a cup of tea with a spoonful of honey!

Historical Cultivation and Use

Commonly known as pinhead, scented mayweed, and (my personal favorite) babuna, the latin name for this delightful flower is Matricaria chamomilla, translating to “water of youth.” It’s a plant native to central and southern Europe, although it has spread far and wide around the globe.

It was used in ancient Greece, Egypt, and Rome as an herbal remedy for ailments ranging from hay fever to menstrual disorders, inflammation, insomnia, muscle spasms, gastrointestinal pain, and rheumatic pain.

Grow classic chamomile. | GardenersPath.com

More popularly, the dried and crushed flowers and leaves have been used to brew a relaxing tea, reputedly with the benefit of aiding a deep sleep and calming stomach pain. It is grown in huge volumes in modern-day Hungary, where the plant is typically exported to Germany for processing.

Varieties of Chamomile

It’s easy to confuse different types of aster with Matricaria chamomilla, but they are very different plants.

Although a variety of plants hang onto the coattails of the chamomile name, there are two true species that we’ll be examining today, German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) and Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile).

German

An annual plant that grows well in USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9, M. chamomilla is the plant of choice for those interested in tall-growing flowers. This variety of scented mayweed is often cultivated for its essential oils, and the aromatic flowers that go into that teabag you’re hopefully enjoying while reading this.

It reaches about two feet in height and, although an annual, is an aggressive self-seeder – so much so that you might confuse it for a perennial!

Want to grow your own chamomile? Try our tips: https://gardenerspath.com/plants/flowers/grow-chamomile/

The quality of light and temperature provided are more important than the state of the soil. This is partly due to the nature of the roots of chamomile – they are shallow and just barely grip onto the top soil. That also makes M. chamomilla more sensitive to water conditions during the initial stages of growth when the plant is establishing itself.

Once it has taken root in your garden, this mayweed is drought tolerant. It typically prefers to receive about one inch of rain a week. If you don’t have one, pick up a rain gauge so you can measure that free watering from ol’ Mother Nature, so your own hose and sprinkler may be used effectively only a supplement.

M. chamomilla can be tricky to understand. Although it will grow in almost any soil condition, it will become top-heavy and floppy if the soil is too poor. If your plant ends up leaning over like a sailor sick at sea, you can stake it up with bamboo stakes and garden twine.

Roman

Unlike its German cousin, the Roman variety C. nobile is a low-growing perennial. It spreads via rhizome and will eagerly take control of a small area if left to its own devices. This is an ideal plant to use as a permanent ground cover.

Chamomile makes a beautiful addition to the garden, and a soothing herbal tea. Grow your own with our advice: https://gardenerspath.com/plants/flowers/grow-chamomile/

Although its flowers and leaves are suitable for harvest, the plant is typically grown instead for its benefits as a ground cover. It works very well as an accent plant in containers, or as an effective living mulch to minimize weed growth in between planted rows of vegetables.

If used as an actual ground cover, it can tolerate light foot traffic. It produces fewer blooms than the German variety, but has potential uses beyond what its tall-growing cousin provides.

All varieties, however, share a few traits in common.

Light Conditions, Companion Plants, and Soil Quality

They prefer full sun but will tolerate partial sun conditions. Babuna will not fare well when temperatures are above 100 degrees fahrenheit (who does?!), and all varieties will compliment certain plants in your garden.

Plant M. chamomilla next to onions, cabbage, and mint as companion plants. Both the upright German and low-growing Roman types act as effective ground covers to minimize the development of weeds; as an added bonus, it’s a ground cover that offers tasty flowers!

Chamomile growing in a rock garden. | GardenersPath.com
Chamomile will grow just about anywhere.

All varieties do well in containers because ideal planter conditions are so close to perfect conditions: well-drained soil that is regularly watered. The low-growing Roman acts well as an accent plant while the German variety is best put into a large container where it can spread out and grow freely.

The naturally strong scent of chamomile offers resistance to many insects, and that benefit is extended to other plants growing near it.

Fertilization and Seed Propagation

If growing from seed, prepare for a fun time. It’s important to note right off the bat that transplants work far more efficiently than directly sown seeds.

Learn how to sprout chamomile at home and grow it for tea with our guide. | GardenersPath.com

Growing your chamomile seeds indoors prior to popping them into the ground is the most effective, trusted method for growth.

Start seeds 6 to 8 weeks before the expected final frost date; I always shoot for that middle ground and start seeds at 7 weeks. The seeds require light and warmth to germinate at their fullest potential, so simply pop them on top of a seed starting medium. There is no need to cover the seeds with any of the growing medium.

Jiffy Natural & Organic Seed Starter Mix, available on Amazon

Like most seeds, it’s ideal to plant a small group in each cell of a seed tray. When the seedlings reach a height of 1 to 2 inches, cut back the weakest plants so that the strongest seedling alone remains in the cell.

Chamomile specifically enjoys being placed in a sunny window, but will grow under grow lights; make sure to give the seedlings no more than 16 hours of light a day. They require a full 8 hours of “rest” from light.

Use fluorescent lights, because incandescent lighting can be too intense for young seedlings. If you place your seeds in natural light (like I do), make sure to rotate them every few days so they do not grow too far in one direction.

Fertilize seedlings when they are about 3 months old, but only use half of the recommended amount that your preferred fertilizer suggests on the label. One of the reasons I love chamomile is that it is a plant that seems to thrive on neglect. That predilection for being left alone means it has little need for fertilizer.

Roman Chamomile | GardenersPath.com

Roman Chamomile Seeds

If you’re going to grow your chamomile from seed, it’s always best to buy from a reputable vendor. You can find Roman chamomile available from True Leaf Market in 1/4-ounce, 1-ounce, and 4-ounce packages. And bags of German chamomile seeds in 500 milligram, 1 ounce, 4 ounce, and 1 pound sizes are available from True Leaf as well.

German Chamomile | GardenersPath.com

German Chamomile Seeds

Once transplanted, chamomile still doesn’t need much of a boost in the fertilizer department. It responds best to a springtime treatment and intermittent feeding during the growing season. Fertilizers higher in nitrogen are more beneficial; chamomile’s weak root system has little use for phosphorus in its development.

Pests and Other Problems

Although M. chamomilla is relatively carefree and tough, it attracts pests and suffers from diseases like any other plant. However, as with most plant diseases and pests, proper care and attention to watering minimizes any of these potential headaches you could encounter.

Right off the bat, if you have an allergy to ragweed or chrysanthemums, it is important to note that you could also be sensitive to chamomile.

 Discourage aphids and other pests on your chamomile. | GardenersPath.com
Aphids can chomp down on chamomile.

Powdery mildew is the most common problem with scented mayweed, but it is a concern only when the weather is hot and damp for prolonged periods of time. Aphids, thrips, and mealybugs can bother M. chamomilla as well, but the plant is generally pest and problem free.

It can even be processed and turned into an effective spray to aid your other garden plants. Make a batch of tea at triple or quadruple strength, allow it to steep overnight, and use it the next day as an herbicide and aid against mildew.

Harvesting and Herbal Tea

Ah, the long awaited feature on the best part of growing chamomile.

As noted above, the German variety of scented mayweed is more suitable for harvesting for tea. The leaves tend to be more bitter, so stick to the flowers for tea. You can simply pluck off the flower heads when you’re ready for them.

Dried chamomile flowers. | GardenersPath.com

The ideal time to harvest is when the flower petals begin to curl downward, instead of growing out straight as they ordinarily do. Although I’ve always allowed my flower heads to dry before using them in a tea, fresh flowers work as well. You will just need more of them.

If you’re drying the flower heads, separate them and arrange with some breathing room in between on a piece of cheesecloth or a mesh surface. It’s important to store your harvest in a cool, dry place for about a week for it to dry out. I tried using a dehydrator once, and while it worked, I felt like the end product was less than desirable.

When you’re making a cup of tea, you want to measure out two tablespoons of dried flowers per eight-ounce cup. If you are using fresh flowers, double that measurement and use four tablespoons of fresh flowers per eight-ounce cup.

Simply add the flowers into the water and allow it to steep for about 5 minutes, then pour the tea over a sieve to separate the flowers from the liquid.

Chamomile Tea | GardenersPath.com

You can adjust the strength of the tea by really cramming those flower heads in there for a stronger flavor, or by adding just a few if you want a milder taste. Consider adding a sprig of mint or a spoonful of honey to modify the taste to your liking.

I’m usually not a big tea drinker, but I love chamomile tea. Part of that allure is because of the personal touches I like to add. Try adding a dash of cinnamon to your tea for a punchy flavor.

When contending with a cough and sore throat, try adding four ounces of lemon juice to four ounces of chamomile tea with a tablespoon of honey. That’ll soothe your sore throat, and it tastes pretty dang good!

The tea is beneficial for relieving the pain of an upset stomach, to relieve stress, and to get a better rest. (Gardening is excellent for stress relief as well!) After the liquid has cooled, you can apply unsweetened tea directly to irritated areas of your skin.

Although I’ve never used it for this purpose, you can even rinse your hair with unsweetened tea to bring a nice shine to those locks of yours. Simply brew the tea and strain it through your hair.

Let It Go Wild

One of the hidden benefits to growing M. chamomilla is watching that flower go wild. It’s a vigorous and lively-looking plant that seems to exude measures of happiness and sunshine, even on a cloudy day. It has found its place in many of my plantings, usually tucked away as a complement to wildflowers such as aster, rudbeckia, and soldago.

Plant chamomile in your garden to attract bees and other pollinators. | GardenersPath.com

It seems like everybody is a winner with this lovely white flower, be it the annual German or perennial Roman. Pollinators are enamored with it and the classic yellow-and-white color combination fits just about anywhere. Best of all, it’s easy to grow and freely offers copious amounts of soon-to-be tea.

Have you grown chamomile too, or do you still have questions about it? Give us a shout in the comments, and share your story!


Don’t forget to Pin It!

A collage of photos showing different views of the white flowers of chamomile in bloom.

Product photos via Ferry Morse/Jiffy, and True Leaf Market. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.

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About Matt Suwak

Matt Suwak was reared by the bear and the bobcat and the coyote of rural Pennsylvania. This upbringing keeps him permanently affixed to the outdoors where most of his personal time is invested in gardening, bird watching, and hiking. He presently resides in Philadelphia and works under the sun as a landscaper and gardener, and by moonlight as a writer. An incessant questioning of “Why?” affords him countless opportunities to ponder the (in)significance of the great and the small. He considers folksy adages priceless treasures and is fueled almost entirely by beer and hot sauce.

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Simran Ahuja
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Simran Ahuja

Chamomile indeed is a beautiful flower. The yellow pollen and white petals are just so amazing. It is one of my favorites, and usually grows easily if it is cared for. Thank you for sharing the knowledge – indeed, great to learn about and I will pass it on too.

Green Fingered Blogger
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Green Fingered Blogger

Hi Matt, great article. I grow C. Nobile in my garden in Wales. I always liked the idea of a chamomile lawn so I bought 3 tiny plants, planted them and now I have a little patch 3 ft across of beautiful scented ground cover in a small part of the garden. I’ve even used it to make tea. At the time I didn’t realise it was the flowers that were used so I just poured bolied water on a handful of leaves and it was lovely. Glad to read someone else enjoys growing it too!

Milovan Kitanović
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Milovan Kitanović

How many harvests per year is Roman chamomile, 1 or 2? I have a small plantation of 13 acres of Roman chamomile, and this year I had 1000 kg of green and 1 liter of essential oil.

Glassartiste
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Glassartiste

Thank you very much for your writing of this article. I will begin my chamomile garden planting both the Roman and German varieties. Can’t wait to see them growing in my gardens! Gracias, Matt.

Rachel
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Rachel

This is a really great post! Thank you for sharing this. I planted chamomile last year and this year it came back on its own. I was ecstatic! 🌼

SpokaneRose
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SpokaneRose

If you live in a cold winter zone, I have had great success in zone 6 growing German camomile from seed using the winter sown method. Take a large, deep lettuce or spinach container. Punch three or four holes in the lid and bottom. Put at least two inches of potting soil in the container. Dampen the soil, but not to the point of soggy. Lightly sow seeds on top. Put the lid on. Put it outside in the shade. Don’t worry about snow or ice. When the light is right the seedlings will emerge. Put it in the light… Read more »

Pat Latchford
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Pat Latchford

I am planning to grow a chamomile lawn in my garden in Spain. However; I know little about gardening and plants. Can you give me advise about what time of year to plant and anything else I should know
Regards, Patricia