Native to the Mediterranean region, used by ancient Egyptians, and first recorded in England in 1265, Roman chamomile is cultivated throughout Europe and other temperate areas of the world. Unlike German chamomile (Matricaria recutita), a 2- to 3-foot annual with which it is frequently confused, Roman chamomile is a perennial ground-cover.
The name “chamomile” comes from the Greek chamaimelon, meaning “apple on the ground,” due to the strong applelike scent that emerges when the plant’s foliage is stepped on or crushed. It was used during the Middle Ages as a “strewing herb”—an herb placed on paths to release its pleasant aroma when walked upon.
Common Names: Dog Fennel, English Chamomile, Roman Chamomile
Description: Perennial evergreen groundcover with feathery leaves and daisylike flowers; fresh, applelike scent
Hardiness: To Zone 4
Flowering: Late spring through late summer
Parts Used: Flowers
Range/Habitat: Mediterranean region
Roman chamomile contains a volatile oil that supports the herb’s long-standing use to relieve indigestion and stimulate appetite. Chamomile tea (made from the plant’s flowers) can reduce stomach cramps, gas, colic, and nausea. Taken before bedtime, warm chamomile tea is also very effective for the treatment of insomnia.
Roman chamomile has anti-inflammatory properties. Used externally in a salve or compress, it helps superficial wounds, skin irritations such as eczema, and puffy eyes. In aromatherapy, the essential oil is used to treat inflamed, irritated skin and nervous conditions, such as anxiety.
Caution: Although Roman chamomile is a very safe, time-tested herb, it can provoke an allergic reaction in people sensitive to ragweed or other members of the aster family. Roman chamomile can also cause contact dermatitis in sensitive individuals.
Roman chamomile is an attractive, fragrant alternative to lawn grass for areas that receive light traffic. ‘Treneague’, a nonflowering cultivar, is known as lawn chamomile. Space the plants 6 inches apart and water regularly until the plants form a solid groundcover. Set your lawnmower blades on high to mow.
Essential oil of chamomile is used in perfumes, shampoos, lotions, bath oils, and salves. For a soothing bath, pour boiling water over chamomile flowers and steep them for 30 minutes; strain, cool, and then add the liquid to your bathwater. A chamomile infusion can also be used to add golden highlights to your hair. Roman chamomile flowers make a bright yellow dye.
How to grow it
Roman chamomile grows in almost any type of soil but prefers moist, well-fertilized loam in full sun. Plant seeds or nursery-grown plants in spring or fall. Propagate by division in early spring. Harvest the flowers just as they begin to open. To dry them, spread out the cut blooms on paper towels. Store the dry flowers in a cool, dark location.