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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Foraging Wild Chamomile

When I open my front door, I see a sea of green, at the moment, interspersed with yellow flowers. If I look a little more carefully, I can see little white and yellow flowers hidden among all the yellow. Those little flowers that everyone around me sees every day but doesn't pay attention to, because "it's just a weed". And yet... I would assume most people in my area have those very same flowers dried up and packaged in their cupboards to be used for tea.

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Chamomile.



Most commonly associated with its relaxing and calming attributes, chamomile is most often made into tea and other drinks. However, you can use the flowers in many other recipes- either broken up into salads, thrown in other dishes, or seeped in liquid and that liquid used to make things like vinaigrettes, cookies, cakes, etc... You can even make rice pudding with chamomile, and chamomile ice cream!

I get my biggest kick out of foraging items that most people buy in the store, and I'll admit, chamomile is one of those things.

Because I'm probably one of the few people in the world that isn't absolutely in love with chamomile... To be honest, I'm not much of a tea drinker in general... But if I would drink tea, I'd more likely choose rosehip and hibiscus tea, as opposed to chamomile.

But since chamomile is right outside my front door, I knew I just had to pick some. Just to say that I did.

And now that I picked it, I'm going to do some more experimenting with it. Maybe a cold chamomile drink. Or chamomile popsicles. Or chamomile pudding!

After I already decided to write this post, I was told that chamomile greens actually are edible- I've never tried them before... Can't wait to try it out!

So... how do you identify chamomile?

Well, there is more than one type of chamomile, but the two most common types are German/Hungarian chamomile (matricaria chamomilla/recutita) and Roman/English chamomile (chamaemelum nobile), and they both grow all over the world, in wide, open spaces. The ones near me mainly are the German chamomile, so that is what is pictured and I'll be describing. I don't know of any poisonous look alikes to chamomile...

So, chamomile.

Daisy like flowers, usually an inch wide or less. White petals on the outside, and a yellow cone-like raised center, comprised of many tiny flowers.


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When German chamomile plants haven't yet flowered, I sometimes mistake it for wild fennel at first glance, since its leaves look like very fine hairs, the same way wild fennel fronds do...  That's probably why another name of this family is dogfennel. The coloring for chamomile is different from fennel fronds- chamomile leaves are a more light green usually, and fennel fronds are darker, and a bit shinier. But the biggest difference really is the smell. Fennel smells extremely strongly of anise/fennel, and chamomile smells appley or chamomiley...
Other species of chamomile have wider leaves, more parsley shaped.


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German chamomile usually has low plants, up a foot high, but usually no more than 7 or 8 inches tall. Other species can grow taller.

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Medicinally chamomile has many uses. It can be used internally- via tea or tincture- externally- via salve- or as a vapor to treat the following: 
Lower back pain, rheumatic problems and rashes.
Hemorrhoids and wounds, skin ulcers, burns, skin rashes, burns, eczema.
Treat eye infections and inflammation.
As a vapor, be used to alleviate cold symptoms or asthma.
Relieve restlessness, teething problems, and colic in children.
As an anti-histamine for allergies.
Digestive aid, treating gastritis and ulcerative colitis, diverticular disease, irritable bowel problems and various gastrointestinal complaint, as well as reduce inflammation and facilitate bowel movement
As a relaxer and stress reliever- can have a similar effect as anti-anxiety medication. It works as an anti nausea, helps with heartburn, and stress related stomach issues.
Can help with insomnia via its mild sedative properties as well as muscle relaxing effect.
Reduce menstrual cramps.

There are mixed reports on whether or not it is safe to drink chamomile tea while pregnant, so keep that in mind.

I picked a bunch of chamomile flower heads with my kids this morning, and dried them to use for tea. It was very simple. I just put them in my oven on the lowest setting for about 3-5 hours, with the door propped open, and when they were fully dry, removed them.

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And now, on to my chamomile kitchen experimenting!

Are you a fan of chamomile tea? Have you ever used chamomile for anything other than tea? If so, what?
Do you have chamomile growing near you? Ever see this flower? Ever foraged it?

10 comments:

  1. Great post Penny! I always enjoy your foraging posts since I am starting to identify the edible weeds around my neighborhood. Hope you can get around to writing about latana - I always seen those bushes around, berries picked clean by birds!

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    1. Thank you! Glad you liked it! Not sure I'd write about lantana since i never forage it on a large scale, more like "trail nibble" as they call it, but maybe at some point.

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  2. can you make essential oils from them?

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    1. Supposedly you can, but i think you need special equipment to make essential oils. I've looked into it but havent had success...

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  3. Just a suggestion: It might help to include a quarter or a ruler in your photos of foraged greens, so that readers can have an idea of the relative size of the plant. When I looked for purslane in my area it was a long time before I realized it was as small as it was.

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  4. I can't stand chamomile as tea. That said, it is similar to Chinese chrysanthemum in taste. I've used the whole plant in stirfry. Happy experimenting.

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    1. I'll have to try it out in stir fry! Thanks!

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  5. people in my country (especially the older generations) have a long tradition in drinking plant teas (=infusions) from foraged or shop-bought plants. we do have special stores that sell dried plants and/or other things like that, and plant teas are quite cheap. the top four plants are linden, chamomille, mint and st john's wort, but literally you can find a plethora of dried herbs in these shops here. as i child (until now) i must have drank the equivalent of a small lake of plant-based teas :)) but chamomille and linden are my favorites. and i just love the smell of pure chamomille tea.

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  6. best to dry chamomile WITHOUT heat. it is a very delicate flower and the volatile oils are super sensitive to heat (sunlight, oven, etc) once picked. screens or wicker baskets are a better idea. yes, takes longer but you keep the medicine in that way.

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