Q. How do I grow Chamomile, and can it be used as a lawn?
Chamomile (sometimes spelled camomile) is a medicinal herb of the Asteraceae family with many uses. There are two kinds of chamomile and their nomenclature can be confusing.
Roman chamomile (sometimes referred to as English chamomile for the chamomile lawns planted in Elizabethan England) is Chamaemelum nobile but is also inacurately refered to as Anthemis nobilis. This mat-forming perennial has a spreading habit and the brilliant, green, finely-cut, leaves grow about four inches high. Its flowers, with a daisy-like, yellow cone surrounded by white rays, are about 1 inch across and grow singly atop ten inch stems. There is also a double, cream colored chamomile, Chamaemelum nobile ‘Flore Pleno’. A flowerless variety ‘Treneague’ is usually grown as a lawn or ground cover.
Roman chamomile can be started from seeds, cuttings or by root division. It does best in a cool climate and does not tolerate hot, dry weather. It prefers full sun but will also tolerate some shade. A rich soil will produce lush leaf growth but no flowers. Roman chamomile self-sows profusely and needs to be contained by pruning.
To grow a chamomile lawn, you will need a spot where the ground rarely freezes. A sunny location is best but they will also grow in dappled shade. First clear the area of any weeds. If using ‘Treneague’, plant young plants about 4 - 8 inches apart. Keep the soil moist and do not walk on the plot for at least 10 weeks. Roman chamomile can also be started from seed. The lawn will require minimal care. Occasional weeding may be necessary and the plot can be mowed or sheared.
German chamomile is also of the Asteraceae family but a seperate genus. Called Matricaria recutita, this species is an annual and is the chamomile that is typically used to make chamomile tea. The plant can be distinguished from Roman chamomile by having multiple flowers atop divided stems (a corymb). They can also be told apart by the flower recepticle which is solid in the Roman form and hollow in the German form. The daisy-like flower heads are rather similar in the two chamomiles.
German chamomile seeds can be sown directly in the soil in early spring. Do not bury them as they need light to germinate. Young seedlings (1 or 2 inches) may be transplanted, but older ones cannot. Grow in full sun in well-drained but moist soil. The plants will flower as early as June in warmer climates and will continue to flower periodically until fall.
Either chamomile can also be grown indoors. Sow seeds on the surface of the soil in small seed starters or in a large pot (at least 12 inches) with good drainage. Place the pots in a warm location (about 70°F) and the seeds will germinate in about two weeks, Chamomile can be started at any time of the year. Keep the plants in a south-facing window or a location that get at least 4 hours of sun a day, The soil should be kept moist but not too wet. After two or three months the flowers will be ready to harvest.
Courtesy of the NYBG Plant Information Service