Long ago chamomile was grown a/l round herb gardens in the belief that it would keep other plants growing near free from disease, and it was known as the ‘Plant’s Physician.’
The wild German chamomile, matricaria chamomilla, is a delightfully fragrant herb which grows in profusion by gravel pits and on waste lands. It will thrive anywhere if it is left undisturbed and can self-sow freely. Chamomile is an annual herb and can grow up to about 2ft (61 cm) high. The stems are branched with delicate, fern-like leaves. The little flowers are white and rather like a daisy, but have a domed yellow centre or receptacle. This receptacle is hollow and is a distinguishing feature of the German chamomile. When the flower is in full bloom the petals grow downwards, showing the domed receptacle very clearly, so there need be no mistake when gathering wild chamomile flowers. The sweetly-scented herb blooms from June to September.
Chamomile is a very easy annual to grow and once established will readily self-seed, coming up in the same place year after year. Sow the seeds during May in their flowering position in dry sandy soil, choosing a sunny spot. When large enough, thin out the seedlings to a hand’s width apart. The thinned seedlings can be planted out too, though they will suffer a check and produce their flowers towards the end of the season.
The flowers are the only part of the plant which is used in the home. Picking them is a laborious task but is well worthwhile. Not all the flowers are ready to be picked at once, so a daily cutting of those that are ready has to be done. Dry and store in the usual way.
Chamomile tea is a well-known herbal drink which is good for settling the stomach, especially after a heavy meal. For a sluggish digestion, flatulence and other digestive complaints chamomile tea is more effective if taken before a meal. Sachets of dried chamomile can be bought ready for tea-making from health food shops but the tea can be made equally well from home-grown chamomile and is most delicious.
* To make chamomile tea: Pour ½ cup of boiling water over 2 teaspoons of dried flowers. Leave to infuse for 5—10 minutes before straining. Add honey to sweeten and drink the tea warm. Take last thing at night to calm the system and promote sleep.
Chamomile is a remedy for migraines, influenza and fevers, as it helps to increase perspiration. A strong cold infusion can be drunk, a small glassful at a time.
* To make a stronger infusion: Pour / cup of boiling water over 2 heaped tablespoons of fresh or dried flowers. Leave to infuse for about an hour, then strain. Add honey and lemon juice if preferred.
* For skin infections such as eczema: Use an infusion made with 2 handfuls dried flowers and I cup of distilled water. Bring slowly to the boil, then remove from the heat and leave it to in fuse for 20 minutes. Strain and add this infusion to the bath water or use as a compress over the affected part, renewing it frequently until the itching is relieved.
Chamomile oil is a valuable remedy for attacks of cramp, for rheumaticky pains and for loss of voice.
* To make chamomile oil: Pour 2 cups of olive or sunflower oil into a wide-necked screwtop jar and add 3—4 handfuls of freshly picked chamomile flowers. Push the flowers well down into the oil, cover with a piece of muslin or cheesecloth and stand the jar on a sunny windowsill for 3 days. Remove the lid and stand the jar in a saucepan half-filled with water. Bring the water to the boil and let it simmer for 2—3 hours, stirring the oil every now and then and pressing the flowers well down. Do not let the oil boil. Strain the oil through a piece of fine muslin or cheesecloth into screwtop bottles, and store in a cool place. Use the oil as a hot friction rub for cramp and mild rheumatic pains. For loss of voice use the warm oil as a compress; dip a piece of lint in the oil, gently squeeze out the excess and wrap it round the throat.
Chamomile is a cosmetic herb widely known for its soothing, softening properties.
* To make a sunburn lotion: Take a small handful of flowers and simmer them gently in ½ cup of milk for 5—10 minutes. Strain and bathe the affected part until relief is obtained.
For skin which feels rough and coarse, bathe the face night and morning with chamomile lotion.
* To make chamomile lotion: Add / large handful of the herb to / ½ cups of distilled water in an enamel saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for /0 minutes. Leave to cool, and strain into screwtop bottles. Store in a cool place or in the refrigerator. The same lotion is good for sensitive skins and will help to keep the hands smooth and soft if the lotion is used every time the hands are washed.
For tired eyes and puffy eyelids the lotion, made as above and used in the form of a compress, will refresh the eyes and reduce the puffiness. Add chamomile lotion to the bath water to soothe the nerves and to soften the skin.
A chamomile facial steam is an effective treatment for blackheads.
* To make a facial steam: Place a handful of chamomile flowers in a bowl and cover them with boiling water. Cover both head and bowl in a towel and steam the face for about /0 minutes. Wipe down the face with clean cotton wool pads or balls and close the pores by splashing with distilled water.
Treat tired and weary feet to a warm and fragrant chamomile footbath.
* To make a chamomile footbath: t’4ix together 2 parts each of chamomile and marjoram and / part each of rosemary and thyme. Make up a decoction using 2 tablespoons of the herb mixture with 5 cups of water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Strain the decoction into the footbath and when cool enough immerse the feet for /5—20 minutes. Dry the feet carefully afterwards.
* Chamomile flowers add colour and fragrance to potpourris and make a soothing herb pillow. Add a few drops of chamomile oil to dried chamomile flowers for a herb pillow to prevent the flowers crackling and to give a longer-lasting fragrance.
GOLDEN HAIR RINSE
Chamomile is a mild bleach and gives blonde hair a golden sheen. Pour 2 cups of boiling water over 2 handfuls of chamomile and leave to infuse for 30 minutes. Shampoo and rinse as normal then pour the chamomile rinse over several times. If possible use while still warm.