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Miles of Chamomile

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jar of chamomile

 A few years ago I planted some German chamomile. I don't remember how many plants. The seeds were minuscule, the plants started out small, I tucked them here and there around the garden as companion plants. The pollinators loved them, I enjoyed their mild apple scent.

Then nature took its course. Those things breed like rabbits! Now I have chamomile ranging all over the garden, popping up places I'm quite sure I never planted it. It's in the shell beans, in the soybeans, in corn, in the paths, flowing like a great white wave. I am still a fan! It's not terribly demanding (pretty obvious, I suppose), it's still loaded with pollinators and smelling good. Plus – it acts as camouflage (pun intended) to protect vulnerable seedlings from the ever hungry bunnies. My bunnies don't tend to be too aggressive (I don't have the garden fenced), but they love soybeans. I haven't been able to raise a crop of soybeans without rabbit protection. I tried Invisible Fence – it worked, but was expensive. I tried cayenne pepper. It worked, until it rained, but it burned the leaves a little. I mulched the plants with catnip and other strong smelling herbs I have growing around the garden. BINGO! Free and easy. I figured if catnip worked, why wouldn't chamomile? So I just let the chamomile and soybeans come up together until the soybeans needed more room to grow, and then I harvested the chamomile. It worked like a charm. I think I may have lost a plant or two when the chamomile was small, but I usually end up thinning anyway so this was not a problem.

Since I had such an abundance of chamomile, it seemed that this was the year I should actually do something with it (beyond enjoying it in the garden). I cleared the plants that needed clearing from the soybean patch (really, this is a soybean bed not an herb bed).

chamomile plants

…and ended up with a box full of plant parts (there are some clary sage blossoms on top of the pile).

chamomile and clary sage

I start clipping off flowerheads. You can use the whole plant, but the flowerheads are the most potent and I have plenty, so the rest will be compost. You want to use the heads that are still firm and not brown or dry (before you start). The others are past their prime.

dehydrating chamomile

Hours later…

chamomile processing

The big, bushy pile of green is the rejects. The five trays were loaded into the dehydrator (BTW, I used the screen inserts for small or sticky foods) and many hours later I ended up with around one pint of dried blossoms. I wasn't sure how long to dry them (this is a first for me), so checked them every so often until they were crumbly dry. I don't see any signs of condensation on the lid of the jar I stored them in, so I am hoping that I dried them adequately. Once things slow down in the garden, I plan to experiment with some salves and such, and of course they can be used for tea. Meanwhile, they'll be kept in a cool, dark place (back of the pantry) and probably soon be joined by another jar as more room in needed in the garden.

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