Spotlight on Camomile
Origins | Description | Qualities | History | Cultivation | Harvesting
Camomile Tea - A Poemby Katherine Mansfield.
Outside the sky is light with stars;
How little I thought, a year ago,
Light as feathers the witches fly,
We might be fifty, we might be five,
Our shutters are shut, the fire is low,
Latin name - Anthemis nobilis
Origins - Camomile is indigenous to England and western Europe. It is often found in dry fields and around gardens.
Description - Camomile a member of the daisy family. It is a low-growing, trailing perennial ( at least the root system is perennial). It ranges from 10 to 30 cm (4 to 12 inches) in height. It has finely divided, parsley-like leaves with creeping, many-branched, hairy stems, and a fibrous root. It produces small, daisy-like white flowers with yellow centers. It has a light aroma and tastes of apple.
Attributed medicinal qualities - Camomile is on the FDA list of GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) ingredients, and is viewed as a very beneficial and benign herb.
In traditional folk medicine, it has been widely used as a sedative and tonic. Camomile has also been used to treat depression, stress, teething and colic, it is said to calm the digestive system, settle nervous indigestion and gastritis, relieve headaches, menstruation, disorders of the kidney, liver and the bladder, hay fever, insomnia, hiccups, stomach cramps, vomiting, appetite loss, spastic pain, arthritis. It has been used as an anti-inflammatory agent, inhalant for asthma treatment.
In modern medicine,it is used in antiseptic lotions and to flavor pharmaceutical products. Chamomile is also used commercially in a number of personal care products including cosmetics, hair color, mouthwash, and sunscreen. It's also used in shampoos and conditioners to bring out the highlights in blonde hair, and as a moisturiser for dry hair.
History - Camomile has been accepted as an herbal remedy for stress and restlessness since the time of ancient Egypt. It was actually worshiped by ancient Egyptians and dedicated to their sun God Ra because of its gold centered disk and because it was well known for its power to cure chills and fevers. It was also prescribed by many a Greek doctor and is well known as one of the most sacred herbs of the ancient manuscript, Lacnunga.
The English name camomile comes from the Greek word meaning ground apple. Ayurvedic physicians in India used it for the treatment of digestive upsets, cramps and fever. In 16th century Europe, it was used to treat insomnia, neuralgia, back pain and rheumatism and was often used as a lawn instead of grass and was used as a strewing herb and to scent herb seats in medieval gardens.
Before the invention of refrigeration, meat was immersed in a camomile infusion to prevent spoilage.
Cultivation - Camomile is a hardy perennial. It can be grown from seed, which should be sown in the garden in spring. Sow seeds shallowly to a depth of 6 mm (¼ inch) or less. It does best in well-drained soil and should be planted in light shade and kept moist and free of weeds. The seedlings usually appear in 5 to 10 days. You can also propagate it easily by separating the runners and replanting them. The camomiles bloom in midsummer. It can be used as a 'companion plant' to help keep neighbouring plants free of disease and pests.
Harvesting, preparation and storage - Harvest the flowers for drying and for fresh use when they are fully open and at their best, do not delay in harvesting as the flowers lose their flavor once they start to discolour. To dry, snip the flowers off with scissors, then rinse and pat dry. Place the flower heads on a rack or mesh screen and set to dry in a warm location. When the flower heads are completely dry, store them in jars in the dark. Harvest the fresh leaves as needed.
Culinary Uses - Strew a few camomile flowers over a tossed green salad, and season cream sauces, butter, and sour cream by adding small sprigs. Camomile is used commercially to flavour alcoholic beverages, such as Benedictine and vermouth, and confectionery, ice cream, breads and cakes, desserts, and chewing gum. It makes an excellent herbal tea.
Magical Uses - for luck in gambling, for prosperity; to aid meditation. You can burn camomile as an incense to aid meditation. You can also burn it at night before bedtime to induce sleep and ward off nightmares. Scatter it around your property for use in protection against lightening strikes. Wear camomile oil or place the flowers in your wallet to attract money.
Other Uses - to lighten, cleans, and condition hair, and as a rinse for dandruff; as a skin cleanser; and as an insect repellent.
Michael Eyquen de Montaigne: 'How the Doctor's brow should smile, Crown'd with wreaths of camomile.'
John Parkinson: 'Camomill is put to divers and sundry uses, both for pleasure and profit, both for the sick and the sound, in bathing to comfort and strengthen the sound and to ease the pain of the diseased.'
William Shakespeare: 'Though the camomile, the more it is trodden upon, the faster it grows; yet youth, the more it is wasted, the sooner it wears.'
Turner: 'It hath floures wonderfully shynynge yellow and resemblynge the appell of an eye . . . the herbe may be called in English, golden floure. It will restore a man to hys color shortly yf a man after the longe use of the bathe drynke of it after he is come forthe oute of the bathe. This herbe is scarce in Germany but in England it is so plenteous that it groweth not only in gardynes but also VIII mile above London, it groweth in the wylde felde, in Rychmonde grene, in Brantfurde grene.... Thys herbe was consecrated by the wyse men of Egypt unto the Sonne and was rekened to be the only remedy of all agues.'