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English/Roman Chamomile

English/Roman Chamomile

How could I fail to mark her from that hour?
      The light step, the meek grace, the watchful love
      With which she went about her mother's house,
      Feeding, sustaining, cheering that old parent,
     Reft of her husband, and twelve other children,
      And having only this ewe lamb of love
     To lie in her bosom, were to me divine.
      Up lightly rose she, ere the lark arose
      O'er the wide frosty meadows of the spring,
      To do her careful work. The summer eve
    Shone sweetly on her, as she sate and knit
      By her old mother on the lowly bed
      Of chamomile, or neighbouring woodland seat,
      Loving the green society of trees.
Aird, Thomas, 1802-1876: A MOTHER'S BLESSING:

Anthemis nobilis---Description---The true or Common Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis) is a low-growing plant, creeping or trailing, its tufts of leaves and flowers a foot high. The root is perennial, jointed and fibrous, the stems, hairy and freely branching, are covered with leaves which are divided into thread-like segments, the fineness of which gives the whole plant a feathery appearance. The blooms appear in the later days of summer, from the end of July to September, and are borne solitary on long, erect stalks, drooping when in bud. With their outer fringe of white ray-florets and yellow centres, they are remarkably like the daisy. There are some eighteen white rays arranged round a conical centre, botanically known as the receptacle, on which the yellow, tubular florets are placed- the centre of the daisy is, however, considerably flatter than that of the Chamomile.
All the Chamomiles have a tiny, chaffy scale between each two florets, which is very minute and has to be carefully looked for but which all the same is a vital characteristic of the genus Anthemis. The distinction between A. nobilis and other species of Anthemis is the shape of these scales, which in A. nobilis are short and blunt. The fruit is small and dry, and as it forms, the hill of the receptacle gets more and more conical.
The whole plant is downy and greyishgreen in colour. It prefers dry commons and sandy soil, and is found wild in Cornwall, Surrey, and many other parts of England.
Small flies are the chief insect-visitors to the flowers.

Turner says:
'It hath floures wonderfully shynynge yellow and resemblynge the appell of an eye . . . the herbe may be called in English, golden floure. It will restore a man to hys color shortly yf a man after the longe use of the bathe drynke of it after he is come forthe oute of the bathe. This herbe is scarce in Germany but in England it is so plenteous that it groweth not only in gardynes but also VIII mile above London, it groweth in the wylde felde, in Rychmonde grene, in Brantfurde grene.... Thys herbe was consecrated by the wyse men of Egypt unto the Sonne and was rekened to be the only remedy of all agues.'

The dried flowers of A. nobilis are used for blond dyeing, and a variety of Chamomile known as Lemon Chamomile yields a very fine essential oil.

A History of the 'Noble' Chamomile - Anthemis nobilis - From The English Chamomile Company

Ancient History (all references to therapeutic and medicinal uses in this article are for historic and cultural interest only and not meant as a guide to treatment for disease)
The history of Chamomile dates back at least to the time of the Ancient Egyptians, when it was dedicated to their Gods for being a cure for the 'Ague' (What we would now probably describe as Acute Fever) but it is impossible to believe that this ancient and 'noble' herb had not already been known and appreciated for thousands of years before that by many cultures.
Greece and Spain
The word 'Chamomile' as we know it now in English comes from the Greek Chamomaela or 'Ground Apple'. Pliny describes the plant as having the aroma of ' apples or quinces'. In Spain it has been known for centuries as Mantazilla or 'Little Apple' and is used for flavouring the light sherry which bears its name.
Chamomile was known to the Romans and used for incense and in beverages. Ironically, the name 'Roman Chamomile' by which it is sometimes known, does not stem from this time, but from a rather arbitary naming of the herb in the 19th century by a plant collector who happened to find some growing in the Colleseum in Rome!
The Middle Ages
In the Middle Ages it was used as a 'strewing' herb to improve the atmosphere at gatherings and festivals, and to the Anglo Saxons it was one of the 'Nine Sacred Herbs' and known as 'Maythen'. In these times it was also used widely in Beer Making as a bittering ingredient, and it was not until hops took over that function in beer-making that it ceased to be used for this purpose.
The Monastaries
It was the monks during the middle ages who became the main custodians of herbal knowledge in Europe collecting and translating ancient works on herbal remedies and developing their own. It was at this time that the 'double headed' variety of Anthemis nobilis 'Flora Pleno' is first mentioned, as a milder and less bitter source for tinctures and tisanes and was cultivated in monastery gardens. Flora Pleno is a 'Sport' or mutation of the usual Anthemis nobilis, and will occur naturally about once in 10,000 in plants raised from seed. This variety is sterile (does not set seed) and all new plants are cuttings or 'clones' from these rare variations.
Similarly, the variety 'Trenague' , which has no flowers at all, was discovered during cultivation, and has since been propagated for use as an aromatic lawn. The monks also noticed the plant's property of being beneficial when planted near ailing or sick plants, often aiding a full recovery. This has given Anthemis nobilis the reputation of being 'The Plant's Physician', and studies are currently underway to investigate the causes of this interesting 'virtue'.
The Alchemists
At this time too, probably originating in the East and soon spreading into Western Europe as part of the development of Alchemy, the techniques of distillation were applied to plant materials as part of the Alchemist's ongoing investigations into the nature of matter. It was from this era that the idea of 'Essences' developed and the name 'Essential Oil' was applied to the oils derived from aromatic plants by distillation. Since the days of the Alchemist, the method of extacting essential oil from aromatic herbs has remained in principle,exactly the same process.
The 'Herbals'
Ironically, it was during the first information revolution - the invention of the printing press in the 17th century - and the increasingly wide availability of books that, the confusion over the precise identity of 'Chamomile' began. The spread of 'Herbals', one frequently copied from another or pieced together from other earlier herbals (Copyright is arelatively modern invention!) caused simple errors to be given the authority of print.
Thus it is that particular authors would refer to one or other of the 'Chamomiles' (Anthemis nobilis or Matricaria recutica respectively) as the 'True' chamomile and the other, if mentioned at all, as an inferior or 'Wild' variety. Often, indeed, it was simply whatever Chamomile was grown and used in the authors's locallity that was given the name 'True'.
In modern times more widely read authors have tended to hedge their bets and describe both varieties as being similar in properties and more or less interchangeable - this is simply not the case.

Compost; Dye; Ground cover; Hair; Liquid feed; Repellent; Strewing.
An infusion of the flowers is used as a hair shampoo, especially for fair hair[14, 20, 168]. It is also used as a liquid feed and general plant tonic[14], effective against a number of plant diseases[18, 20, 201]. It has fungicidal properties and its use is said to prevent damping off in seedlings[238].

The flowers are an ingredient of 'QR' herbal compost activator[32]. This is a dried and powdered mixture of several herbs that can be added to a compost heap in order to speed up bacterial activity and thus shorten the time needed to make the compost[K].

The whole plant was formerly used as a strewing herb[4, 168]. The whole plant is insect repellent both when growing and when dried[14, 20].

An essential oil from the whole plant is used as a flavouring and in perfumery[46].

Yellow to gold dyes are obtained from the flowers[168].

The plant makes a very good ground cover[197] and can also be used as an edging plant[200]. It does tend to become bare in patches[208].

Anthemis nobilis (Chamameleum nobile - English or Roman Chamomile) like all essential oils, is a complex mixture of hundreds of volatile organic compounds. Some are derived directly from the source plant material relatively unchanged, some, such as chamazulene, artefacts of the distillation process. That said, with careful distillation and crop handling, English Chamomile, which is a rather 'delicate' oil - prone to damage or degradation from improper handling - can have an aroma reassuringly similar to the scent of the growing plant. The principal constituents are Angelates and Tiglates with some Pinene. Each oil will vary but given below is a typical GC analysis :

n-amyl-butyrate 13.3%
amyl-angelates 10.4%
butyl-angelate 9.6%
alpha -pinene8.8%
butyl-tiglate 6.8%
pino-carvone 4.9%
other 29.9% (any single component less than 1%)
The essential oil of Roman chamomile consists chiefly of chamazulene, angelic acid, tiglic acid, and several sesquiterpene lactones (1.4-34, 14.1-10). Other constituents of Roman chamomile include anthemic acid, athesterol, anthemene, resin and tannin (14.1-35). The essential oil of German chamomile contains chamazulene, -bisabolol, -bisabololaxides A and B, spathulenol cis-En-yn-dicycloether and farnesene (1.7-121, 2.3-74). Other constituents of German chamomile include a volatile oil, anthemic acid, antheminidine, tannin, matricarin, and apigenin (11.1-136, 14.1-35).

The aroma of English Chamomile is complex and difficult to define in a few words.
Fresh, woody, sweet, floral, pinous, tea -like,soapy, peaches, prunes...have all been used at one time or another to describe the aroma and they are all true!
The Oil is a natural product, and will change with time and with the precise location and details of distillation and the cicumstances of testing. Oils produced in England whose relatively northerly location and maritime climate give a particularly long summer day length and variable climate are particlarly 'complex' and interesting.
Freshly distilled, the oil can exhibit a slightly sharp overtone in the aroma as do many other essential oils. This is sometimes called the 'Still Odour'. As the oil is kept, the aroma mellows, and it is a matter of personal preference whether the fresher, sharper notes or more mature and rounded ones are the most pleasant or even 'characteristic'. In this respect English Chamomile is best understood as a natural product whose variety, subtle variation and changes over time and in different contexts need to be appreciated - rather like a fine wine.
It is worth noting that it is the presence of the iso-amyl esters of angelic and tiglic acids that make English Chamomile one of the few essential oils oils to exhibit a non -citrus fruity 'note' for use in perfumery.


Young, Andrew, 1885-1971.:  In the Fallow Field [from Selected Poems (1998), Carcanet]

        I went down on my hands and knees
          Looking for trees,
          Twin leaves that, sprung from seeds,
          Were now too big
         For stems much thinner than a twig.
         These soon with chamomile and clover
         And other fallow weeds
         Would be turned over;
          And I was thinking how
       It was a pity someone should not know
        That a great forest fell before the plough.
The White Blackbird (1935)
Young, Andrew, 1885-1971.:  In the Fallow Field [from Selected Poems (1998), Carcanet