Nothing says coziness and comfort quite like a cup of chamomile tea. Chamomile tea is a natural sleep aid, a great pollinator plant, and a delight for the eye. The cheery, daisy-like flowers of chamomile add as much in beauty as in function to the garden. Gardeners tending this low-growing plant need only learn how to harvest chamomile in order to enjoy a steaming cup of homegrown nutrient-packed tea.
Chamomile has a strong pleasing scent that can attract anyone to this tiny and powerful plant. Its warm and almost fruity scent is a delight to humans, but the bain of garden pests. Growing chamomile near crops that are prone to get chomped on like members of the brassica family is a huge boon. Their scent repels insects while delighting the gardener. Planting chamomile near enough to these plants so that their stems can rub up against them and release fragrant essential oils is sometimes called companion planting. Nightshades like potatoes or peppers really enjoy being close to your chamomile plants!
Chamomile has long been used in the home medicine cabinet and as a food. Herb practitioners use it to treat inflammation, insomnia, rheumatic pain, insomnia, and an upset stomach. The essential oils in this herb may also boost immunity. Its widespread use is due in part to the ease with which you can grow and harvest the flowers and make chamomile tea. Some people even put the flowers into salves for small wounds or bug bites.
All About Chamomile
A drought-resistant member of the daisy family, this is a hearty plant to have in the home garden. Chamomile flowers do best in cooler temperatures, so plan accordingly for how hot your region becomes in the summer. Chamomile is one of the few herbs that can actually suffer from too much water, so err on the side of too little water if possible, or place with other low water plants in the garden.
There are two common types of chamomile that you’re most likely to come across. The most common is Chamaemelum nobile, sometimes called Roman chamomile or true chamomile, and a low-growing perennial groundcover. Roman chamomile is known for its sweetness relative to other types. While this type is most common in the home garden, Roman chamomile is not what is most commonly used as dry chamomile flowers in commercial teas.
The type of flowers used to make tea is most often Matricaria chamomilla, an annual that is slightly taller and is widely used in commercial tea production. This is sometimes called German chamomile. Matricaria recutita is a synonymous botanical name for this species.
When deciding which type of flowers are best for you, first determine what growing zone your garden is in. A long winter isn’t the best for the perennial. Conversely, too much rain may make it difficult to grow chamomile outdoors in tropical regions. In rain-heavy environments, growing in a raised bed may help as you can easily optimize your growing space for excellent drainage.
Chamomile can have a negative interaction with some medications, so be mindful of what you drink if you are taking medication.
When Should I Harvest Chamomile?
There comes a day of bittersweet happiness, and that is when it’s time to harvest chamomile flowers. The cheerful chamomile flowers leave their beautiful home in the garden and begin their journey towards becoming a cup of tea. Thankfully, the bittersweet feeling doesn’t linger as new flowers will open up quickly!
Chamomile, like most other herbs, is best harvested in the morning before the day’s heat sets in. Excess moisture can damage your harvest, so be sure to harvest in a dry environment after the morning dew has dried and when there isn’t any rain on the horizon.
You’ll know that it is time to harvest your chamomile flowers when the petals on your blossom have finished opening and lay flat or slightly tilted against the center of the flowers. The nutrient and essential oil content of your flowers are at their peak right as the petals begin to push downwards from the center of the flower.
Daily or weekly harvests (depending on the size of your plants) are possible, especially with the German chamomile Matricaria chamomilla. It’s possible to also pick your flowers on a daily basis if you’re interested in having a cup of chamomile tea picked fresh from the garden… just be sure to double the number of buds you use, as fresh chamomile is not as potent as dry chamomile flowers. When you grow chamomile, you’ll find that this herb continuously produces flowers to enjoy throughout the summer.
Pick all the chamomile flowers that are ready as this plant quickly dries and begins self-seeding and will spread around the entire garden. The tiny seeds of the chamomile plant can easily be picked up by the wind and transported to small nooks and crannies all over. While some may find this an added bonus, it can become invasive in the wrong natural environment. Keep an eye out for the chamomile flowers before they begin to dry out.
Try planting chamomile in your garden as soon as the last chance of frost is gone. Depending on your growing zone, you’ll be able to get multiple harvests from the same plant or the same patch of chamomile flowers. You can look forward to multiple harvests from the same plant from late summer through early fall.
How To Harvest Chamomile
Harvesting chamomile is pretty easy and is a great activity to do with small children. They love popping the small flower heads off the chamomile stems and dropping them into a harvest basket!
Harvesting chamomile is easy. Simply snip off the top of the bloom, or gently place your fingers underneath the bloom and pull upwards, snapping off the flower head while holding onto the stem of the plant. You want to make sure you don’t lift the whole chamomile plant out by its roots!
After picking off the daisy-like flower head, it can also be a good idea to cut back some of the bloom-free stems to help encourage further growth. Don’t forget, you can get multiple harvests of chamomile throughout the entire summer.
Growing chamomile for tea blends is super easy. With each round of harvesting, you can try a different one! Summer is a great time to harvest chamomile flowers, not just because dried chamomile flowers make great tea, but all the other tea herbs to dry them with for tea recipes are also in bloom (think rose petals, lavender, mint, and echinacea).
While it may not be necessary for everyone, try washing your chamomile before you start the drying process. This may depend on several factors. Have you applied anything to the flower that you would not want to eat? Do you see any insects or bug damage on your harvest? Be sure your harvest is clean before you start to dry chamomile flowers, as there’s no going back once the process is started.
How To Dry Chamomile
After harvesting, there are several ways you can lay out your harvest to dry. Most people choose to air dry their blossoms for 2 weeks. If air-drying on a flat surface, lay your fresh blossoms out flat after snipping them off their stems with clean scissors. The tips of the petals will begin to curl first with the center of the bloom taking much longer to dry. Try to keep the blossoms from lying on top of one another, you want to give them room to breathe.
Alternatively, you can tie them in bundles without snipping them one by one. However, if drying in bundles and hanging from the ceiling or storeroom, do be mindful of seeds, leaves, and petals falling from your plants. As the chamomile plants dry, they don’t necessarily stick together. They’ve evolved to scatter their seed in the wind and will take every opportunity to drop seeds in your kitchen or pantry.
For home gardeners without the space or inclination to air dry chamomile flowers, you can also dry your chamomile flower harvest in a dehydrator. Simply lay out flowers with no bloom touching any other, and set at the lowest setting for between 1-4 hours. Check your chamomile every thirty minutes to see if they’re done. The conditions the plants are in when picked will impact their time in the dehydrator. Just remember when using a dehydrator that the lowest heat setting will provide the best flavor later. Too much heat can cause the essential oil in your herbs to lose its potency.
Drying chamomile involves a week’s worth of sunshine and some open flat space up off the ground. There are many different methods used in drying chamomile, but they all involve the same two principles – heat and airflow.
After you remove your Roman or German chamomile flowers from your plants, gently place them in a single layer on a baking sheet or mesh screen in a cool dry place and allow them to sit outside (or inside in warmth) for a week to two weeks. While some people may use a dehydrator and program it to run for a few hours, the most commonly used method is good old sunshine.
In order for the flower heads to dry, they need to have adequate time to dry. While the flower petals themselves will dry relatively quickly, the flower heads contain a good deal of water and need to thoroughly dry before storage to avoid molding your hard work!
Once the flower heads have fully dried, store them in a sealed glass jar or metal container and keep them in a cool dark place. Clay crocks or colorful glass jars are also great places to store your chamomile tea as they protect against sunlight, but you want something that has an airtight seal to prevent moisture from entering. Alternatively, add a moisture packet to help absorb any extra moisture that might be lingering to ensure the harvest is preserved.
Once your flowers have been dried and stored, try using them up within six months for the best flavor and nutrient potency. After the first six months, flavor and nutrients sharply plummet.
How to Make Chamomile Tea
To make one serving of chamomile tea, you’ll need eight ounces of boiling water and 1-2 tbsp of dried chamomile flowers. Let the mixture steep for 5 minutes before straining and adding honey or other sweeteners.
You’ll find after a quick search that each home gardener has their own special recipe when it comes to chamomile tea. Some will add dried echinacea and lavender to their recipe for added flavor and medicinal benefits. Others prefer a cooling recipe such as mint and chamomile. The sky is the limit to the variations you can do!
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How do you harvest chamomile without killing the plant?
A: Simply snip off the heads of the flowers or smaller branches near the top half of the plant. Leave behind enough stems and leaves for the plant to be able to regenerate itself.
Q: What part of chamomile do you harvest?
A: The flower head and petals are harvested and dried to make teas and salves.