Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Calm Down this Holiday Season with Chamomile

Guest blog entry by Dr. Irwin Richman

What can be more calming than a nice cup of chamomile tea?  The apple-scented tea is made from two different chamomiles:  either German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), or Roman or garden chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile).

Chamomile is easy to grow from seed and it reseeds itself.  Roman, or garden, chamomile often naturalizes in lawns, especially in England as, along with English daisies (Bellis), it can survive close trimming.

They have attractive daisy flowers, hence their membership in the Asteraceae family of ray flowers, along with sunflowers and Black-eyed Susans.  Both of these tea making plants are close relatives of the unlovely plant with a beautiful family name, "Ambrosia." Ambrosia psilostachya is a rag weed scourge of hay fever sufferers.  If you have hay fever, chamomile tea might give you a kick you're not seeking.

In the middle ages, a popular garden feature was a turf seat, and earthen sculpture covered in grass which was close cropped.  As a variant, these turf seats could be covered in herbs which could be closely cropped and chamomile was favored because it emits a nice aroma when sat upon.  Another favored herb for this purpose was creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum).  While few, if any turf seats were built in America, more are known to have survived, but creeping thyme is still used in old PA German cemeteries where it is planted atop graves so that visitors will have fragrant visits.

Another chamomile is dyer's chamomile (Anthemis tinctoria), a widely naturalized perennial herb with hairy, divided leaves and yellow flowers that is Eurasian in origin.  Not medicinal, like German & Roman chamomile, it was used, as the name suggests, as a yellow to orange dyestuff.  Some folks grow it in their gardens for its blossom.  I remember it as a boy growing in the cow pastures during my Catskill Mountain childhood.

All of this & more are in the new book currently being written by Irwin Richman & Michael Emery, Of Ray Flowers & Roses, due in 2019. You can also read about chamomile and other heirlooms in the book, Heritage Gardens, Heirloom Seeds, also written by Richman & Emery.