Chamomile is a traditional medicinal herb native to western Europe, India, and western Asia. It has become abundant in the United States, where it has escaped cultivation to grow freely in pastures, cornfields, roadsides, and other sunny, well-drained areas. The generic name, chamomile, is derived from the Greek, khamai, meaning "on the ground," and melon, meaning "apple." The official medicinal chamomile is the German chamomile Matricaria recutita. Chamomile was revered as one of nine sacred herbs by the ancient Saxons. The Egyptians valued the herb as a cure for malaria and dedicated chamommile to their sun god, Ra. Two species of this sweet-scented plant, Roman chamomile and German chamomile, have been called the true chamomile because of their similar appearance and medicinal uses.
Roman chamomile Chamaemelum nobile is a member of the Asteraceae, or daisy family. It is a hardy, lowgrowing, perennial. Because of the creeping roots and compact, mat-like growth of this species it is sometimes called lawn chamomile. Roman chamomile releases a pleasant, apple scent when walked upon. It was used as a strewing herb during the middle ages to scent the floors and passageways in the home and to deter insects. The Spanish call the herb manzanilla, or "little apple." This fragrant evergreen is a garden favorite. It is also called the physician herb because of its beneficial effect on other herbs as a companion in the garden. Blossoms grow singly on long stalks attached to the erect, branching, hairy stems. The tiny, daisy-like flowers, blooming May to September, have a small yellow solid cone surrounded by white rays. The leaves are twice divided and have a feathery appearance. They are light green, and somewhat shiny.
German chamomile Matricaria recutita, or Chamomilla recutita is a hardy, self-seeding annual herb. It has long been cultivated in Germany to maximize its medicinal properties. The hollow, bright gold cone of the blossom is ringed with numerous white rays. The herb has also been called scented mayweed, and Balder's eyelashes, after Balder, the Norse God of Light. German chamomile is also a sprawling member of the Asteraceae family, as it closely resembles the Roman chamomile.
Dyer's chamomile Anthemis tinctora, also known as yellow chamomile, or golden marquerite, is valued for its use primarily as a dye plant. This native of southern and central Europe is also found in Britain and North America, where it grows wild in many places. It closely resembles the other species, but does not have the medicinal properties of Roman and German chamomile. This species may be biennial or perennial. Both the disk and the rays of the blossom are golden yellow, yielding a distinctive dye that varies from a bright yellow to a more brownish-yellow tint. The type of mordant used influences the color produced. Dyer's chamomile is hardy and can grow to three feet, spreading out as wide as it is high. The branched stems are erect and woolly, with leaves that can grow to three inches long.
Clare Hanrahan, Rebecca J. Frey PhD, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,