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German chamomile (Matricaria recutita, family Asteraceae), is a highly aromatic annual herb. It has both a flavour and a scent reminiscent of apples, although slightly bitter. It is in the same family as marigolds, daisies and dandelions. Native to Europe and Western Asia,, it has escaped many a garden where settlers have roamed and can be found growing wild in many parts of the world.
German chamomile has culinary, medicinal and cultivation uses. In terms of its medical value, it has a role in calming the user, and can also relieve muscle spasms, stomachaches and can be used in poultices for skin conditions.
The alternative spelling of camomile is correct as well, although the version using an "h" is more commonly found in texts and books.
Different kinds of chamomile
German chamomile is the more popular chamomile. There are other forms of chamomile too, namely the Roman, noble or English, chamomiles (Chamaemelum nobile). German chamomile grows upright, while Roman chamomile creeps and spreads.
To tell the difference between German and Roman chamomile when checking dried flowers, cut a dried flower down the middle. Check inside. If the inside is hollow, it is German chamomile. If the inside is solid, it is Roman chamomile. Of course, test a few to be certain that there are no aberrations.
Different names by which German chamomile is known include: Chamomile, Hungarian chamomile, Matricaris, blue chamomile, sweet false chamomile.
Both types of chamomile are grown around the world as a large production concern, serving the herbal tea, essential oil, potpourri, medicinal and related needs.
German chamomile grows to a height of around 90cm. It has leaves that are somewhat long and narrow. They are not as feathery as those found on Roman chamomile.
The flowers of German chamomile resemble small daisies. The petals are white in colour, and the flower has a yellow centre. The plant flowers during the warmer months.
It can be found growing in the countryside, often along fence lines and roadsides and is a herb garden favourite.
Growing German chamomile
Decide between growing from seed or purchasing seedlings and planting direct into the garden.
If planting by seed, sow indoors in seedling mix. Keep the sowing shallow. Transplant the seedlings into the garden when they're large enough to handle safely. Keep them moist while they establish themselves.
Plant in sandy or sandy-loam soil that drains well, with a pH range of 4.8 to 8.3. Keep the plants moist but not saturated. Once the plant is established, provided there is regular rainfall, this should be sufficient for it to continue growing well.
For flowers, ensure that the German chamomile gets long summer days with full sunshine. The more heat there is, the better the oil production.
Hand weed until the plant is well established. Using a tool may harm the delicate German chamomile.
Chamomile grows well near cabbages, onions and wheat. It may repel some plant pests.
Uses of German chamomile
Use with sweet dishes, to counteract the slight bitterness present in the plant.
Chamomile tea is well known, and is used to help relax person and to encourage sleep.  To make the tea:
- Place 2 to 3 teaspoons of dried German chamomile into a cup or mug.
- Pour in 1 cup of boiling water.
- Set aside to steep for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Drink as required. A recommended dosage is 3 to 4 times a day, in between meals.
Add German chamomile flowers to milk or cream that is then used to make custard, ice cream or creamy sauces for desserts. Leftover chamomile tea can be used to soak dried fruits in, prior to baking.
Add dried German chamomile flowers to biscuits or cookies that are butter-heavy, such as shortbread. The flowers can also be added to scones.
If you have grass, daisy or plant allergies, you may be allergic to German chamomile.