Beautiful flowers, wonderful fragrance, healing properties and nectar for bees: these are just some of the many reasons why you should grow chamomile in your garden.
German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), also known as scented mayweed or wild chamomile, is a plant with myriad benefits, but still, it is often misjudged as a weed and pulled up. There are many reasons why growing it in your own garden is worthwhile – read on to find out what makes this medicinal plant so special and learn how to care for it properly.
German chamomile: flowers, origin and characteristics
Chamomile (sometimes spelled ‘camomile’) is known and valued around the world, not only for its soothing effect on upset stomachs and other digestive issues, but also as an anti-inflammatory remedy. Originally from southern and eastern Europe, German chamomile is a member of the Asteraceae plant family. It is now commercially cultivated in the Balkans, among other places. When harvested in fields and meadows, however, it is easy to confuse chamomile plants with other, non-beneficial or poisonous plants. German chamomile is characterised by its pleasant smell and its white, yellow-centered flowers and small pinnate leaves. Depending on the variety, it grows anywhere from 15 to 50 cm tall. To grow chamomile successfully in your own garden, you only need to meet a few requirements. However, these are worth noting if you want to enjoy chamomile’s wide range of healing and well-being benefits.
When does German chamomile flower? It flowers between May and October, attracting lots of wild bees.
Is chamomile a weed? German chamomile is often referred to as a weed because it grows naturally, sometimes cropping up in places it was not sown. But we don’t think you should see chamomile as an inconvenience – our native wild herbs are both beautiful to look at. They can be extremely useful too, as a valuable source of food for bees and for medicinal purposes.
Good to know: German chamomile is also an indicator plant. This means that the plant’s growth can tell you something about the location. Among other things, it indicates nitrogen-rich and neutral to slightly acidic soils. On the other hand, Matricaria discoidea, also known as pineappleweed, wild chamomile or rayless mayweed, indicates heavy and compacted substrates.
In addition to these two species of chamomile from the genus Matricaria, there are other plant species that look very similar to chamomile or are also used in a similar way. These include, for example, Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) and yellow chamomile (Anthemis tinctoria). For a better overview, take a look at our detailed article on the different chamomile species and varieties.
German chamomile care
Care for German chamomile varies depending on the location. In poor and sandy soils, for example, it is more important for you to apply water and nutrients than in nutrient-rich, loamy soils.
Watering and fertilising
Depending on the soil conditions, you should ensure that the chamomile gets enough water. If the soil cannot store water well and dries out quickly, water regularly. The substrate should ideally always be evenly moist, but not wet or waterlogged. To improve the soil’s water storage, work in some high-quality potting compost. On top of this, a mulch layer ensures that the soil does not dry out too quickly, helps to insulate plant roots in winter and over time this breaks down, supporting healthy soil life and adding nutrients.
Additional fertilisation is only necessary if the soil is naturally very low in nutrients. In this case, the use of a slow-release fertiliser is recommended. For chamomile, our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food is a good option. It provides the plants with all the essential nutrients for healthy growth and flowering gradually over a period of three months. In August, you can apply another small dose of fertiliser. Our plant food not only supports the healthy growth of the plants, but also an active soil life.
For chamomile in pots, regular fertilising and watering is also necessary. You can tell whether your potted plants need water with the help of the finger test: if the top couple of centimetres of soil feel dry, it is time to water.
Instead of applying fertiliser, a layer of mulch also supplies nutrients to the soil. The organic material slowly rots and is broken down by microorganisms, slowly adding nutrients to the soil. Depending on what kind of mulch material is used, however, nitrogen may need to be added to balance the ratio of carbon to nitrogen.
Common pests and diseases
In cultivation, some pests can threaten the chamomile’s well-being. Some common fungal pathogens culprits are powdery mildew and downy mildew as well as Fusarium, which occurs on the roots and stems. Olibrus aeneus threatens the harvest of chamomile flowers because it eats their flower heads. German chamomile also occasionally suffers from aphid infestations.
Is chamomile winter hardy?
German chamomile is winter hardy to a certain extent. It is an annual plant, which means that it dies after the seeds have ripened. As a rule, it does not need to be overwintered, but new German chamomile plants may sprout from the fallen seeds in autumn or the following spring. When self-seeding or sowing in autumn, leaf rosettes may already form by winter. These are winter-hardy but need some additional protection from frost. You can, for example, spread a mulch layer of leaves over the young plants. If German chamomile is sown in late spring, there is no need for frost protection.
Propagating German chamomile
It is best to propagate German chamomile by seed. The simplest method is self-seeding. Simply leave the seed heads that appear on the plant after flowering, and the chamomile will simply grow back all by itself. If you prefer to take a more targeted approach, collect the ripe seed stalks from the plants and carefully separate out the small chamomile seeds. The seeds can then either be sown directly in the desired location in autumn, or you can dry the seeds and sow them next spring. If sowing in autumn, provide the seedlings with some protection from winter frost, for example with a layer of mulch.
To harvest and store chamomile for medicinal use, you must remove the flowers from the plants before the seeds ripen. In this case, you cannot use these unripe seeds for growing new plants.
Read our article on the healing properties of chamomile to learn more about its uses as a medicinal plant.