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Chamomile

( Originally Published 1933 )



Compositae

Perennial

There seem to be three plants which are called chamomile : the German chamomile, Matricaria chamomilla, the Roman chamomile, Anthemis nobilis, which comes with a single crown of white ray florets, and another which has a double row.

Anthemis nobilis as we grow it from seed has a single wheel of white ray florets around a circle of yellow disk flowers. The double-wheeled variety does not come from seed and was not procurable in the United States. Anthemis nobilis is native to the south and west of Europe, and in the United States has escaped a little into the wild. The whole plant is pleasantly scented and forms flat mats of leaves which, with their many divisions, look like a kind of moss.

Root. The roots are small and soft.

Stem. The stems creep along the ground, rooting as they go, and from the mats the flower stems rise about twelve to fourteen inches high bearing daisy-like blossoms. The authorities say there should be hairs along the stems, but to the naked eye none were visible either in my own plants or in the herbarium specimens.

Leaf. The leaves are slightly gray-green, compounded and much cut, and look like wiry little ferns.

Flower. The sparse white ray florets, with chaffy scales between, encircle the yellow disk ones. The whole apartment house (for the compositae always remind me of apartment houses, so many flowers being tucked into so small a space), measures about three-quarters of an inch across. As the flowers age, the yellow center rises up into a little mound.

Seed. The seed is an achene; that is, a small, closed fruit. It is obtusely three-angled, says Bailey, and has no pappus ; that is, thistledown.

HISTORY AND LEGEND

The plant has been cultivated for centuries in Europe and was introduced into Germany from Spain at the close of the Middle Ages. In old gardens, seats made of raised earth, more like little mounds, were covered with the mossy-looking chamomile. Bacon suggested it as a covering for paths in his famous "Essay on Gardens," and we find his idea a good one. There is an old belief that if chamomile is dispersed about the garden it will keep the plants healthy.

USE

Medicine. Chamomile tea, made by pouring boiling water over the dried yellow disk flowers and steeping them for a little while, is said to be good for the complexion, to have tonic properties, and to be strengthening for a weak stomach. It is the plants with single rays which should be used for this and not the ones with the double rays. In France and Germany this tea is given for indigestion, and in Germany blond girls rinse their hair with chamomile tea, and in almost every beauty parlor in the United States chamomile rinses are given to soften the hair after a shampoo.

CULTURE

Chamomile seems to like a sunny, dry situation.

The plants of the single-rayed flowers can be grown from seed and from bits of the rooting stems. Sown indoors in February at Foxden, it was transplanted to the garden in April, and flowered late in August. I have sown it out-of-doors with success, too.



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