By Molly Day
All the Dirt on Gardening
There are over 100 varieties of anthemis, and, although gardeners may be unaware of them, they probably have them growing someplace. The tiny, wild variety hugs the ground in the summer and the tall, perennial varieties grow into shrubs. Commonly, they are called chamomile.
Though some are perennials (return from roots) and others are annuals (planted from seed) they are easily started from seed or cuttings. They are rarely bothered by disease but are often covered with pollinating insects.
The name chamomile comes from Greek words chamos and milos, meaning a low-growing shrub that smells like apples. The varieties used as medicine are English (Anthemis nobilis) and German (Matricaria chamomilla, also called M. recutita ). Dried anthemis flowers are used for tea, potpourri, flower arrangements, shampoo, cosmetics, etc.
Anthemis tinctoria, golden chamomile, is often packaged in seed collections for wildflower gardens, pollinator beds and bee-friendly gardening projects. It is native in Arkansas, Missouri, Colorado, Virginia and north to Canada.
Golden chamomile varies in height in our garden. Tucked under a red-tip photinia shrub, it grows 2 feet tall but on the edge of the vegetable garden in full sun it is over 3 feet tall. Golden chamomile can be cut back hard after summertime flowering to encourage fresh growth and more flowers.
The anthemis that have a yellow center and white ray-petals include A. punctate cupaniana. They are commonly called golden marguerite or ox-eye chamomile.
Perennial Anthemis kelwayi, Marguerite daisy, with clear, mid-yellow flowers, is grown by crafters for dried flower arranging.
Most chamomiles have grey-green stems and leaves but sauce hollandaise or Dyer’s chamomile, has pale creamy-white flowers and dark green foliage.
Annual European anthemis cotula is called the stinking chamomile. Its other, somewhat amusing names include dog - or- hog’s-fennel, dog-finkle, dog-daisy, pig-sty-daisy, Mayweed, and stinkende Hundskamille.
German or blue chamomile tea is often used medicinally as a sleep aid and chamomile flowers are used in products used to treat anxiety, sleeplessness, headaches, teething, swelling and other common conditions.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine in the National Institutes of Health (www.nlm.nih.gov) does not support the medicinal uses of Roman and German chamomile.
Gardeners call Roman chamomile the plant’s physician though because when it is planted next to an ailing plant, the plant rebounds. Roman chamomile is said to have been carried by Roman soldiers to give them courage and a clear mind.
Until 1830 when lawnmowers were invented, the landed classes grew Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile or Anthemis nobilis) lawns that were weeded by hand or by sheep. The most famous chamomile lawn is at Buckingham Palace where it has been in place since 1910.
Roman chamomile is a perennial, creeping variety that grows to 3-inches tall, spreading by runners to form a soft mat that can take some foot traffic.
Victorians also grew it on stone benches where it would release its fragrant oils when they sat down. There is a photo of one of those chamomile-covered stone benches at www.camomilelawns.co.uk.
The not-so-sweet scent of anthemis plants makes them deer and rabbit resistant.
These happy plants are members of the daisy and sunflower family and are easy to start as well as easy to grow. The roots of perennials can be divided and stem cuttings root in soil. Seeds can be planted in the fall or spring, indoors or out. The seeds are small and are not covered with soil but rather placed on a damp surface and pressed into place.
Remove the spent flowers if you want to minimize their spread in your garden. When the volunteer plants come up in the spring, they are easily transplanted to other beds or shared with gardening friends who would enjoy a steady summer blooming flower.