What is Chamomile?
Chamomile tea gives people who drink it a sense of calm and well being. As a herb, camomile has been used in cosmetics to aromatherapy to beverages, dating back thousands of years, first found during ancient Egyptian times. The white flowering plant comes from the Asteraceae family of plants, which also includes sunflowers, Echinacea and marigold.
Famously, Peter Rabbit’s mother used Camomile, sending the naughty bunny to bed with a cup of chamomile tea when he returns home after escaping from Mr. McGregor’s garden.
Our selection of Chamomile Herbal Tea from Tea2 is likely one of the most calming you will sip. Camomile is naturally caffeine-free and flaunts refreshing sweet notes with herbal and fruit notes. Camomile brews into a light golden colour.
How Chamomile Grows
Both German chamomiles, Matricaria chamomilla, and Roman chamomile, Chamaemelum nobile, are varieties of chamomile cultivated and used for herbal tea and other herbal applications. German chamomile thrives in Europe and temperate parts of Asia and is extensively cultivated in Eastern Europe. German chamomile is also known as wild chamomile; it is so wild that it grows like a roadside weed in some areas. Roman chamomile, on the other hand, thrives in Central Europe and North America.
Perhaps as a nod to its ancient origins, much of the commercially available chamomile originates in Egypt. But both chamomile varieties are known to be cultivated in other temperate climates around the world, including India, South America, South Africa and Australia. Depending on where you live, starter plants can usually be found at garden stores for back yard or container herb gardening.
The amount of chamomile imported into the UK each year is between 350,000 and 750,000 Lbs, with an estimated 90% of it used for herbal tea
Chamomile flowers bloom into little white flowers with yellow centres and looks like miniature daisies. The chamomile flowers sit atop long thin stems that shoot up anywhere from 6 to 24 inches from the plant’s base.
The German chamomile flowers give off a strong, herbal and sometimes pungent scent. While the Roman chamomile flowers are described as having a sweeter, almost fruity scent.
The plant’s flowers and buds are usually what are harvested and dried for chamomile tea. Chamomile flowers are harvested as the flowers open. In Egypt, the flowers are generally by hand or with a tool called a chamomile rake; the flowers bloom over several months and are picked every seven to ten days. By contrast, in Eastern Europe, harvesting machines harvest a field of chamomile flowers just two or three times over the growing season.
Steeped in History
The term chamomile comes from the Greek word “chamomaela” or “ground apple” to describe its refreshing, apple-like scent. In Spain, chamomile has been known for centuries as “mantazilla” or “little apple” for the same reason.
Whether used for its fragrance, its relaxing properties or its flavour profile, chamomile’s history spans many cultures and continents.
Ancient Egyptians dedicated chamomile to their Gods because they believed it to help cure “the fever”. The Spanish used chamomile as a flavouring agent in sherry making. The Romans sipped chamomile as a healing beverage and used it as incense. English brewers used chamomile flowers throughout the Middle Ages as a bittering agent in beer making. In fact, the bitter hops flowers we associate with beer making today eventually replaced chamomile as a key beer flavouring ingredient. Monks during the Middle Ages cultivated the plant not only for beer but also for use in traditional herbal remedies. They even noticed that planting chamomile near other species of ailing plants would aid in the ailing plant’s recovery. It was later discovered that the plant’s apple-like smell repels insects and other plant pests, which protects the chamomile as well as its neighbour plants.
How It’s Used
Chamomile is still used in similar ways as in the days of old. It is still used in beer and wine making today. It’s one of the key ingredients used in flavouring a traditional wheat beer. And the Spanish still flavour their famously traditional Mazanilla sherry with chamomile. The next time you sip either of these libations, pay close attention and you’ll likely pick up on the floral, apple-like chamomile notes.
Chamomile is also being explored in many culinary applications, from ice creams to soup bases to French macarons. Its sweet and lightly herbal notes make it a sophisticated and unique flavour to add to desserts as well as savoury treats.
Sources : The History of Chamomile via The English Chamomile Company
Herbal Medicine by Dian Dincin Buchman, Ph.D., 1996
Introduction to Chamomile via Mountain Rose Herbs
Chamomile: An Overview via National Centre for Biotechnology Information