Chamomile is a valuable medicinal herb with myriad health benefits. However, to make the most of its benefits, there are a few things to keep in mind when harvesting chamomile.
If you grow German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) in your garden, you can enjoy the beautiful, fresh daisy-like flowers just a few months after sowing. To use them for medicinal purposes, wait until the flowers are in full bloom before harvesting. This article provides information on how best to harvest, dry and preserve chamomile. We will also cover what to look out for when gathering chamomile in the wild.
How to harvest chamomile
Paying close attention to the development stages of chamomile is a great visual guide for knowing when to harvest. When about two thirds of the little yellow tubular flowers at the centre of the flowerhead have blossomed, the chamomile flowers are ready to be harvested. From the time the entire flowerbud starts to open, it takes three to five days to reach this stage of development.
When can you harvest chamomile? The harvest time and the flowering time for chamomile overlap − these are between June and September. It is not only the flowering that determines when you should harvest chamomile, the time of day and the weather also play a role. Chamomile flowers are best harvested around midday on a sunny day. This is when the flowers are most open and the essential oil content is at its highest.
Simply harvest the flowers by cutting them off at the stem just below the flowerhead. Take care to hold the chamomile flowers as gently as possible – handle them as little as possible during harvesting and never wash them afterwards. Any unnecessary stress to the flowers will have a negative effect on the valuable ingredients that make chamomile so beneficial.
Since there are different varieties of chamomile and possibilities of confusion, some things need to be taken into account when harvesting outside your own garden. If you want to harvest chamomile in the wild, make sure the herb has the following characteristics:
- Clearly arching flower base with many small, yellow tubular flowers
- A cross-section that shows the flower base is hollow on the inside
- A plant growing up to 50 cm tall
- The characteristic chamomile smell produced when any part of the plant is crushed
If all these characteristics are present, you can be sure that it is German chamomile. When planting chamomile in your own garden, there is usually no danger of confusion. It can also be grown without much difficulty.
Drying and storing chamomile
For storage, it is important to dry the chamomile in a way that best preserves the herb’s beneficial ingredients. To achieve this, dry the flowers of the German chamomile straight after harvesting in a dry, dark room at temperatures of 21 to 27 °C. With these conditions, the drying time is about two weeks. For those who want to speed up the drying process (for example, in the oven), it is recommended to use a low temperature − around 30 °C. Drying out the chamomile at higher temperatures can degrade the medicinal substances of the chamomile. If using an oven, it is important to allow the moisture to escape and to prevent it from getting too hot − a wooden spoon to prop open the oven door should do the trick. Dried gently and correctly, the chamomile flowers can be stored in an airtight container for up to a year without losing effectiveness.
Quick guide: how to dry chamomile flowers
- Straight after after harvesting, dry the chamomile flowers
- Spread them out on newspaper to dry
- A dark dry room at 21 to 27 °C is ideal
- To dry them quicker, use an oven at its lowest temperature (~30 °C)
- Use a wooden spoon to prop open the oven door, allowing heat and moisture to escape
- Store dried chamomile flowers in an airtight container
You can also freeze chamomile to preserve it. This is quicker than drying, but frozen flowers are less suitable for making tea. Frozen, the flowers will keep for up to six months.
Why is chamomile so good for your health? Check out our article on the effects and uses of chamomile.