There are two similar plants that go by the common name chamomile. Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) is a low-growing, fragrant herb that produces daisylike white flowers from early summer through fall. German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is a taller version of Roman chamomile, reaching up to 2 feet tall, which also has white flowers with showy yellow centers. Both plants mix well with herbs in a traditional herb garden or try growing them alongside perennials in a mixed border.
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Low-growing Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) makes a fragrant perennial groundcover. Plant it in a rock garden where it will soften hard edges and slowly spread to cover large swaths of soil. Grow chamomile along a flagstone walkway because it will creep between the stones, blanket the soil, and prevent weeds. It can even be used as an aromatic grass substitute for lawns. It tolerates minimal foot traffic, though, so plant it in areas that are primarily viewed.
Related: Herb Gardening Tips for Beginners
Chamomile Care Must-Knows
Roman chamomile does best in well-drained, sandy soil, full sun to part shade, and cool summer climates. It tolerates a little drought. Grow it from seed and see how it spreads over time via creeping stems that root as they move across the soil. But get ready; if you provide chamomile with optimum growing conditions it can grow aggressively.
German chamomile often reseeds in the garden, so it comes back year after year. German chamomile grows best in well-drained soil and full sun, but it tolerates light shade and poor soil, too. Plant seeds directly in the garden shortly before the last spring frost. For earlier flowers, start seed indoors in small pots about 6 to 8 weeks before the last spring frost.
Two for Tea
Roman chamomile's bright-eyed flowers can be harvested when they are fully open, then dried to make a soothing herbal tea. Historically chamomile tea has been used as a remedy for ailments ranging from minor problems like headaches to major conditions like gastrointestinal disorders. Fresh or dried chamomile flowers also can be used to flavor butter and cream cheese, or as a garnish on fresh fruit or green salads. German chamomile's flowers are the ones most often commercially packaged as herbal tea because they taste sweeter and less bitter than their Roman cousins. For either variety, store the fresh or dried flowers in airtight containers, or freeze the harvested blossoms for future use.
Related: How to Grow Your Own Herbal Tea
In spring and summer, gather leaves to use fresh or to dry for later use. Pick fully open, fresh blossoms early in the day, rinsing and patting dry. To dry flowers, spread blooms on a rack or screen and place in a warm spot. Store dried flowers in airtight jars in the dark. To brew a soothing tea, pour hot (not boiling) water over fresh or dried blooms; steep, strain, and add honey and lemon. Aim for a ratio of 1 cup of hot water to 2-3 teaspoons of flowers. Brew tea from leaves in similar fashion. Women who are pregnant or lactating shouldn't use chamomile.
Related: Fanciful Indoor Herb Gardens
Species of Chamomile
Matricaria recutita is an annual bearing daisy-shape white flowers all summer. It grows 2 feet tall and has a milder flavor than Roman chamomile.