Soule Garden: Charming chamomile - The Explorer: El Sol

Soule Garden: Charming chamomile

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Posted: Wednesday, October 19, 2011 3:00 am

For a charming plant that produces cheerful daisy-like flowers all winter long, and, to top it off is useful and animal resistant, try growing some chamomile. 

The herb known to most Americans as chamomile (manzanilla in Spanish) comes from two different species of plants. German chamomile comes from an annual plant (Matricaria rectita), while Roman chamomile comes from perennial plant (Chamaemelum nobile).

They both have many of the same plant compounds in them, and work much the same way; the difference is in how you grow them. Note that the French “chamomile” is a related plant (Achillea millefolium) but with different compounds, actions and growing requirements. In English, that species is known as yarrow.

People have used chamomile in one form or another to treat just about every sort of affliction, from hemorrhoids to hay fever, sleeplessness to sores, and tummy aches to tooth aches. In almost every case chamomile is used as a tea (infusion) to either drink or bathe tissues.

For toothaches, folks used chamomile wrapped in muslin and placed on the afflicted tooth. On a literary note, Peter Rabbit’s mom gave him a cup of chamomile tea after his adventures, to soothe his stomach and calm his nerves. 

German chamomile can be grown very easily in the cooler months of winter, while the Roman chamomile is best planted in spring. Both need six to eight hours of sunlight per day.

Like many herbs, they do best in well drained soil. Thus if you have caliche soils, consider growing them in pots with a cactus soil mix. The German chamomile will die in the heat, so replant some next year.

Harvest chamomile flowers and dry before use. This allows some of the more bitter tasting compounds to evaporate. The active ingredients are predominately in the oils and are not lost by drying.

Chamomile is “green” to grow in our area, even though it uses more water than native plants. First, we do have to enjoy our yards, and with chamomile at least you are growing a useful flower.

Chamomile can also reduce your carbon footprint by reducing the need to import the herb. Furthermore, growing chamomile can help reduce your reliance on manufactured drugs. 

Headache? Take a cup of chamomile tea and lay down for a half-hour rest. Far better for the environment than aspirin. Just remember that moderation is key in this and all herbs.

German chamomile is available in a number of area nurseries at this time of year, although rarely in the “big box” stores. We all need to support our local businesses. They know what grows here and how to help you grow it.

Dr. Soule will include chamomile as she discusses and signs her latest book, Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today (Tierra del Sol Press, $14.95) on Saturday, Oct. 29, at Rillito Nursery, 6303 N. La Cholla Blvd. in Northwest Tucson. The presentation will start at 10:30 a.m., so come early for a good seat.

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