Chamomile Flowers, German
Flavorful, comforting, gentle, traditional chamomile tea is made with German chamomile flowers. A versatile herb, chamomile is also an ingredient in shampoos and conditioners for light colored hair, in skin care creams and lotions, and in relaxing bath blends.
Matricaria recutita L.
Botanical Family: Asteraceae
Common name: German chamomile
Synonyms: Hungarian chamomile, true chamomile, manzanilla (Spanish), Matricaria chamomilla, Chamomilla recutita, wild chamomile
The Plant: German chamomile, a native of Europe and western Asia, is an annual that reseeds prolifically. This no doubt contributed to its current distribution across Europe, Asia, North and South America, and even Australia.
Chamomile grows best in well-drained soil in a sunny location. The two- to three-foot tall plant has feathery leaves, and the flowers are daisy-like, with white petals and yellow centers.
In hot climates such as Egypt (where a good percentage of the world’s chamomile is produced), it's a winter crop. In eastern Europe, another major chamomile-production area, chamomile is a summer crop.
Chamomile flowers are harvested as the flowers open, generally by hand or, in Egypt, with a tool called a chamomile rake. The flowers bloom over a several months and are picked every seven to ten days. In Eastern Europe, there are chamomile harvesting machines, and a field is harvested just two or three times.
The flowers must be taken to the drying area soon after picking or they start to heat up and ferment. They are dried in the shade or in commercial dryers.
Constituents of Note: The essential oil, present at 0.3 to 1.9%, is the most important constituent in chamomile and is valued in aromatherapy oil. Key constituents of the oil include chamazulene, alpha-bisabolol, bisabolol oxides A and B and bisabolene. The chamazulene develops during steam distillation, giving the essential oil its characteristic blue color, but it is not present in flowers.
German chamomile flowers also contain flavonoids (apigenin, apigetrin, querciten), coumarins, proazulenes, triterpene alcohols, sterols, sesquiterpenes, plant acids and tannins.
Quality: German chamomile flowers have a strong, aromatic, mildly sweet aroma and a fruit-floral, slightly bitter flavor.
The flowers have large, yellow, cone-shaped, hollow centers. The cream- or ivory-colored petals are attached around the rim of the yellow cone and hang down from it after drying. Many become detached in handling.
Regulatory Status: GRAS (Title 21 182.10 and 182.20) as a spice, natural flavoring, and seasoning, Dietary Supplement
Did you know? In the children’s story Peter Rabbit, Peter’s mother gives him chamomile tea (after a proper scolding) before sending him to bed after his return from Mr. McGregor’s farm. No doubt the chamomile tea helped to soothe both Peter's nerves (after his harrowing escape) and his tummy (after feasting on the farmer's produce).
Directions: To make chamomile tea, pour one cup of boiling water over one teaspoon of chamomile flowers, cover, and let steep for five minutes, then strain. Many people like a little honey added to chamomile tea, as it brings out the natural sweetness of the flowers.
Because of the popularity of the tea, chamomile is one of the most widely available tea herbs and is found packaged in convenient tea-bag form. When purchasing chamomile in teabags, always make sure they contain only flowers, as chamomile leaves are sometimes added as inexpensive filler. (Or even better, make your own. We have fill-your-own teabags
as well as an array of convenient infusers.
Suggested Uses: Chamomile is sometimes called "the children’s tea" because it's so gentle, because the taste is tolerated by most children (a bit of honey in the tea doesn’t hurt), and because its attributes mesh nicely with many of the woes of childhood. It makes a nice tea for a fussy child (or adult), and it helps to soothe the tummy and to reduce restlessness at bedtime.
A glass of iced chamomile tea with a little peppermint is a refreshing summer beverage. Hot, it makes a strengthening winter tea.
Chamomile is also used in shampoos and hair rinses (to bring out blonde highlights), in various skin preparations -- such as washes, creams, compresses and salves -- and in relaxing or skin-soothing bath blends.
Roman chamomile or German chamomile, which to choose? Your location may dictate the botanical most often used: Roman chamomile is preferred in the United Kingdom and eastern Europe, while German chamomile is preferred in western and southern Europe and the United States.
For many purposes, the two are used interchangeably, but differences in constituents dictate a preference in certain situations. Roman chamomile is preferred as an aromatic bitter and is more mentally relaxing, while German chamomile is more soothing to the tummy and is preferred in treatments for the skin.
German chamomile is by far the more popular of the two and is usually the chamomile used when a species is not specified.
Caution/Safety: The Botanical Safety Handbook* classifies German chamomile as:
Class: 1 Herbs which can be safely consumed when used appropriately
Per the German Commission E Monograph** for German chamomile flowers, there are no known contraindications, side effects or drug interactions.
*Michael McGuffin, ed., American Herbal Products Association's Botanical Safety Handbook, (New York: CRC Press, 1997)
**Mark Blumenthal, ed., The Complete German Commission E Monographs, (Austin TX: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998
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Origins: Our organic German chamomile is from Eastern Europe, and our non-organic and Fair Trade chamomile flowers are cultivated in Egypt.