Nicola from Mountains Herbs dropped off some beautiful perennial herb plants last week, including roman chamomile, Chamaemelum nobile.
I've only ever grown German chamomile, Matricaria chamomilla, an annual plant, which I routinely broadcast in my garden in mid winter in order to have a harvest of bushy leaves and flowers for tea in Spring. Perennial chamomile, known as roman or English chamomile, has the same medicinal qualities, but the plant behaves very differently: it grows low to the ground and creeps, creating a beautiful soft lawn, which is covered with apple-scented daisies in Spring, perfect for daisy chains, and for tea.
It is a perfect, medicinal lawn and/or ground cover in a food forest. It lives very happily in a shady spot and doesn't mind being trampled on a little. You will have to make sure it gets shade and moisture in the summer months as it prefers the cooler months of the year.
This plant is a perfect example of one element performing different functions in your garden. As a permaculturalist, this is an integral part of choosing plants for my garden. How many functions will it perform in my system? What roles will it play within the broader community of plants in my garden? Chamomile is a ground cover, protecting the soil, providing a surface to play and rest on and providing medicine.
Here is our naturopath Sarah Mann's recipe for a chamomile compress:
Roman Chamomile wrap for painful cramps in the tummy or for earaches
Before you make your compress, have your sore friend lay on a warm bed or quiet spot where they won’t be interrupted. Give your friend a hot water bottle, put warm socks on their feet and place a heavy wool blanket over them and let them rest here for 10 mins while you prepared your chamomile compress. A warm eye pillow would also be a welcome addition.
Collect a handful of flowers and a handful of leaves from your roman chamomile plant. Lay these in a 30cm by 30cm piece of cheese cloth or layered muslin and fold to form a nice flat strip. Lay this in a bowl and cover the centre with boiling water. Let the centre of the compress sit here for 3-5 minutes. While the compress is soaking, warm up a hand towel by a heater or fire. You will use this to cover the compress on your friend. Lift the compress out of the water, fold it and squeeze out all the moisture from the cloth so there are no drips, being very careful not to burn your hands. The compress should have a penetrating heat but not burn. Cool a little if necessary.
For a tummy compress - lift off your friends wool blanket and pull up their top, place the compress over the belly pressing gently onto the tummy over the sore area. Cover the compress with your dry warmed hand towel then cover with the wool blanket and pop the hot water bottle ontop. Leave the compress on for 10-15 minutes and let the person rest. When you’re ready to remove the compress, take it off gently and quickly replace the persons top, hot water bottle and warm blanket over their tummy. Let your friend rest in warmth for another 5 mins.
For ear aches - Have your friend lay down as above and place a dry warm bath towel flat under their head. Lay the warm compress over their sore ear, spreading over the sensitive glandular area behind the ear and jaw line also. Cover the compress with your dry and warmed hand towel and keep there for 5 minutes allowing your friend to rest.