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Calm on the Farm

If you’ve never had chamomile tea, you should give it a try! We drink it warm in the winter and use it to make iced tea in the summer. You might say we are pretty old school down here on the farm. Chamomile has been used for centuries to make teas, as well as healing salves. In ancient Egypt it was prescribed as a cold remedy. It has been used in Europe as early as the 1st century A.D. when Pliney the Elder prescribed it for headaches, kidney and liver disorders and as a topical poultice for skin inflammation. Chamomile continued to be used extensively in the Middle Ages for its medicinal properties. It is documented that in 14th-century Europe gardens it was planted to make teas, salves and oils. In Spain it became a popular flavoring that was added to sherry. I think our ancestors were on to something!

There are two types of chamomile – Roman and German. The Roman chamomile is grown as a perineal (lives from year to year), while German chamomile is an annual and needs to be replanted each year. Although Roman chamomile is more commonly grown for tea, we grow German chamomile. It is sweeter and less bitter and reseeds itself each year which makes it very easy to keep our tea supply going.

Chamomile has powerful antioxidant benefits, regardless of the type. Chrysin is a flavonoid that has been identified in chamomile, and in studies has been found to reduce anxiety and has a mild sedative effect. There are also published studies that demonstrate chamomile reduces inflammation, speeds wound healing and provides antibacterial support. On top of all the health benefits, chamomile tea (with or without a little honey to sweeten it) just tastes good and is a wonderful way to calm down at the end of the day.

As I mentioned, we grow our own chamomile in our garden. We drink so much of the tea, we have an entire bed devoted to the herb. It self-sows, so in the spring we have baby

chamomile plants in the pathways between the beds, hiding in the carrot bed (the delicate feathery-leafed plants look very similar when they are young, and in other surprising places! Scott has a hard time pulling them out of places that I think they don’t belong, so you will see little patches of beautiful white daisy-like chamomile flowers throughout our garden. I really can’t complain because as I brush against the herb, it releases a wonderful scent which helps calm me as I am busy weeding or harvesting vegetables.

Our chamomile is harvested all summer as it continues to put on flowers up until fall. We pick the flowers when the dew has dried. It is important to harvest them when the blooms are fully open and then dry them to store away for brewing later. We used to pick them by making a “comb”

out of our fingers, running our hands through the foliage and plucking the blossoms from their stems. One day I was at an antique shop after we had been picking chamomile and came upon a small wooden box with teeth cut into one end. I’m not sure what its original purpose had been, but it looked to me like it would do a good job helping to harvest our chamomile. I showed the box to Scott and he came home and made one out of scraps of wood in his shop. I have seen some more modern, plastic versions of this type of device, sometimes sold for berry harvesting. You certainly don’t have to have one to pick your flowers, but it does make harvesting a large amount of chamomile go much more quickly!

As soon as our harvest is complete, we put the blossoms in our dehydrator and start the drying process. We put our dehydrator on a table on our deck, right next to the back door. We do this to keep from heating the house up in the summer, but the result is that as you come to our back door you are greeted with the calming scent of chamomile – what a wonderful way to welcome guests into our home!

A little note about our dehydrator…. It is about 30 years old and was purchased for our (then) teenage daughter who saw it advertised on a TV commercial. I don’t think she really cared so much about drying vegetables, but was enamored by the TV celebrities who were pitching the benefits of drying your own food. I think she may have used it once, and when she left for college it started gathering dust in the basement. She didn’t want it when she got married, so we dug it out and started using it. It was so cheap back when we bought it, I didn’t think it would last very long, but here we are 30 years later still chugging along with it!

You can dry your chamomile without a dehydrator, it just takes a little longer. You will need a large tray like a cookie sheet, or a screen will also work. Put a clean tea towel on the cookie sheet (or paper towels if you use them). Spread out the blossoms in a single layer on the towel-lined pan or screen. Either leave them outside on a hot day, or put them inside in a warm, dry, well-ventilated area. If you use the outside method, keep them out of the direct sunlight since it will cause your chamomile to lose both color and flavor.

Once your blossoms have dried thoroughly you can store them in a glass jar. We have so much chamomile that we usually keep two half-gallon pickle jars for use through the winter. You can use any type of jar, just make sure that it is clean and dry before putting in your chamomile to store.

Now it’s time to brew some tea! The rule of thumb for chamomile tea is 1 tablespoon of chamomile per 1 cup of water. You can make as much or little tea as you want using this ratio. We boil the water in a large stainless pan on top of the stove. Once the water is at a full, rolling boil, we put in the chamomile blossoms, turn off the heat and cover the pan. Let it steep at least 10 minutes (sometimes we brew it at night and let it sit on the stove overnight in the pan to cool). Strain the tea into a pitcher, add honey or sweetener if desired, and enjoy! We keep a pitcher of tea in the refrigerator to have on hand, it will keep several days when refrigerated. In the summer we drink it cold out of the refrigerator, in the winter we warm it up. Either way it is delicious!

We just harvested our second batch of chamomile this year, and I wanted to share what an awesome herb it is and to encourage people to grow it at home. It costs next to nothing, you get an amazing crop of blossoms that have a taste so superior to the commercially produced tea at the store, you will wonder why you waited so long to grow your own!

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