A few years ago, I did some research about the benefits of chamomile and since then I have always had this herb in my kitchen.
Despite being a sweet-smelling plant, chamomile is a strong healing plant that can help you get through many bad nights.
My experience in growing chamomile has been especially valuable. This was the first herb I grew for its flowers, so I had to do things a bit differently, especially when it was time for harvesting.
Things were somewhat tricky at first because my initial estimation of the yield was completely wrong, but with a little bit of practice, I could grow an adequate amount of chamomile flowers every time.
Broadly speaking, harvesting chamomile is very simple, and I’m going to discuss in this article all aspects of this process.
The Best Time to Harvest Chamomile
Knowing when to harvest your chamomile is the most important principle in this activity because you need to obtain the most flavorful flowers to enjoy chamomile’s real benefits and taste.
Chamomile’s oil composition differs during different stages of its development. For example, if you harvest chamomile too early, you would most likely get bland flowers that have a very low amount of essential oil, which don’t have the benefits of fully grown chamomile.
In the same manner, overly grown chamomile flowers are dried up and withered, which means they’re decomposing and no longer have the same amount of oil as before.
Ideally, you want to harvest chamomile when the whole bud has bloomed and the petals have taken their straight position. Petals should also grow wide enough to fill all the gaps between each other.
When you find that some of your chamomile flowers have bloomed while others still haven’t, give your plants a few more days, and most of the buds will blossom.
In case the petals start to curl backward, it means you’re running out of time, and you should harvest your chamomile before it’s too late!
Picking chamomile should be done in the middle of the day. In the early morning or late in the evening, moisture (dew) would be covering your flowers, which makes them vulnerable to mold.
Once your chamomile plant is fully established, you can expect to harvest it every two weeks during its growing season.
If you’re growing the plant indoors, you can harvest it year-round as long as you’re serving its needs and regulating its growing conditions properly.
How to Harvest Chamomile
Harvesting chamomile is so easy and can be done in several ways. Traditional pinching by hand is one way of doing it, but there’s a more effective way.
Simply put a group of flowers between two of your fingers, as if you’re using your hand like a rake, and gently pull them off. This minimizes the time it takes for you to harvest the whole plant.
Also, that way you don’t create undesirable cuts in the stem, which may make the plant more vulnerable to diseases.
You can also take off part of the stem with the flowers, which keeps your harvest from falling apart easily. In this case, you should use sharp pruning scissors.
When you harvest your chamomile, inspect the flowers for bugs, and if you find any, shake the flowers gently to get rid of them.
Don’t rinse your harvested flowers. If you want to wash them, you should do that before harvesting by simply rinsing the plant one day before you pluck them off.
The amount of chamomile you’ll have after harvesting largely depends on the species you’re growing.
German chamomile is known to produce the greatest number of flowers during its growing season. On the other hand, Roman chamomile is a slow-growing plant that produces fewer flowers than German chamomile.
That’s why in commercial gardening German chamomile is usually cultivated because of its high productivity.
What to do with Your Harvested Chamomile?
Some of my friends like to prepare their tea from fresh chamomile flowers and mashed apples. Honestly, I am not a fan of apples in tea, so that’s why I prepare my tea from fresh chamomile only.
If your chamomile plants are well grown, after each harvest, you’ll end up with a great number of flowers that you can’t consume in one day. That’s why proper storage is important.
You can keep a certain quantity of your chamomile flowers aside for fresh usage as long as their storage allows you to.
The best way to store fresh herbs is in the fridge. Use a paper towel or Ziploc® bag to contain the flowers and then refrigerate them immediately.
The flowers would start to wilt after a few days, so you should hurry in consuming them.
Another effective way of storing fresh chamomile, which only works with flowers that have part of the stem attached to them, is by immersing them in a glass of water and storing them in the fridge.
Drying is the most popular way of storing chamomile because it doesn’t lose its flavor in the process.
Drying chamomile is an effortless but delicate activity. After all, you don’t want to end up with rotten flowers or tasteless ones.
For that reason, you should follow the tips below. These will enable you to increase chamomile’s shelf life and conserve its oil components.
- Block the Sun
Don’t allow the sun to take its toll on your chamomile flowers. Sunlight can discolor your flowers and reduce their oil composition.
You need to choose a room where direct or even indirect sunlight can’t reach.
- Warm Things Up
Lack of sunlight, however, doesn’t mean lack of warmth. Chamomile flowers need a relatively high temperature to dry properly.
A temperature in the range of 81° to 86°F (around 27° to 30°C) is ideal in this process. People usually use the attic for this reason, but you can choose any other space if the temperature is warm enough.
You also don’t want the temperature much hotter than 88°F (approximately 31°C) because that might ruin the whole yield.
- Low Humidity and Proper Air Circulation
High humidity is the number one enemy of drying herbs. Moisture stimulates fungal growth, particularly mold, to reveal and spread itself.
To prevent your chamomile from catching mold, you need to choose a low-humidity room. If you live in a climate where humidity is often high, you should use a dehumidifier in the space where your flowers are drying.
On the other hand, you also need to make sure the air is circulating properly around your chamomile flowers, which will also prevent moisture from building up in the atmosphere.
If the room isn’t well ventilated, set up a fan on low speed near your flowers.
- Cleanliness Comes First
The area your chamomile flowers are sitting in should be clean to not only prevent mold from spreading but also to make sure they’re still edible at the end of the day.
If you let dust accumulate in your chamomile’s space, it might contamination part of or the whole yield. Don’t underestimate dust. It can be brimming with harmful chemicals.
Make sure to clean the room regularly to prevent dust from surrounding your chamomile. Also, make sure there isn’t a lot of activity going on near your chamomile’s drying space.
Enjoy growing and harvesting your chamomile, and don’t forget to share your questions and thoughts in the comments below!