Let’s go back. Way back to when I was a teenager and first started growing herbs. I know what you’re thinking, but I didn’t grow those ‘herbs’! Instead, I took over half the family vegetable garden and planted clumps of parsley, thyme and basil. When my birthday rolled around, I was given a ‘Grow your own Tea Garden’ kit, complete with a gimicky plastic tea pot to start the mint, lemon balm and chamomile seeds. There wasn’t much room in that little tea pot and soon the chamomile had taken over. Eventually those small chamomile seedlings went into the garden and when the plants bloomed about 50 days later – I was thrilled. Up to that point, I had no idea what the flowers would even look like! I immediately picked a small handful of the daisy-like blooms and brewed my first homegrown cup of tea. Heavenly! To this day, I still include chamomile in my veggie garden, but I now opt for German chamomile, which is the most productive variety.
Chamomile is an annual herb, but will reseed quite enthusiastically (not invasively) from year to year. Any unwanted seedlings in my garden are dug up and shared or composted. The plants start blooming in early summer and are popular with many beneficial and pollinating insects – another reason to include this hardworking herb in your garden.
To make a cup of fresh chamomile tea, harvest about 1 tablespoon of flowers, crushing lightly. Add them to a mug and add about a cup or so of boiling water. Steep for 3 to 4 minutes and strain.
To dry the flowers, harvest in early morning once the dew has evaporated. I like to cut the stalks so that they are 6 to 8 inches long, gathering several stalks together into a small bouquet. Secure the stems and hang to dry in an airy location. Allow the flowers to dry completely – this can take up to a week or two, depending on the weather. Remove the flowers from the stems and store in a jar until you are ready to use. You can also dry the individual flower heads on a screen or in a dehydrator.