There is a patch of Chamomile growing in my adopted city of Bristol; it grows in a park near the M32 motorway.
There is something about this area that makes me forget I’m in the middle of city, the roar of the traffic seems to quieten as I wander through it. Bees dart around checking out every flower. Locals whisk past, blissfully unaware of this little plot of heaven amid the barrenness of progress. It can be frustrating when foraging for chamomile, which is why finding a field full of the stuff is so delightful. The frustration lies in the fact that it is very similar to the far more common scentless mayweed. You’ll spy some from the corner of your eye and head straight for it only to find that far from smelling slightly of apples it will smell of nothing.
Chamomile has long since been a flower that has enchanted and healed mankind. Here in the UK we may have moved away from traditional herbal medicine but chamomile tea has been one of the few herbs that we still enjoy. Often it can be the only herbal tea on the shelf in a supermarket or for sale in a cafe. The popularity of both German and Roman chamomile could be because they are relaxants and have a gentle soothing action, relaxing nerve tension without overdue sedation. This is a bonus when compared to something like valerian which, in high doses, can be so sedative that it can send you to sleep.
German VS Roman
The most commonly used chamomile is Matricaria Chamomilla or German chamomile. As with many plants the botanical name can be an indication of how the plant can be used. In this case the word Matricaria comes from the word ‘mater’ which means ‘mother’ an indication of the plants use in relieving cramping in the uterus.
I like to take a cup of chamomile tea after a heavy meal to help with digestions and as a preventative for indigestion. There is evidence to suggest that it has an even more beneficial use and can help prevent peptic ulcers. In a 2010 study on rats protection for the stomach was evident, but it was dose dependant – the higher the dose the more theraputic value. According to a study lead by the University of Cleveland, chamomile helps to inhibit the bacteria helicobacer pylori a bacteria which, although present in 50% of the world’s population, it is thought to be linked with the development of stomach cancer and peptic ulcers.
It’s not just as tea that chamomile should be enjoyed but in cocktails and beers too. I can remember making a few different barrels of herbal beers for an event in Bristol by far the most popular one was chamomile.
You can use the fresh flower heads in beer – these will start to bloom from early summer. Alternatively, pluck the heads off and dry them on newspaper in a well ventilated room away from direct sunlight and store in an airtight container. Use about 2 teaspoons of fresh chamomile or 1 teaspoon of dried herb towards the end of the boil if you want some chamomile aromatics in your usual brew, it works very well in wheat beers. For a beer that is just chamomile you could try the simple recipe below.