Tag Archives: small space gardening

Container Grown Chamomile Tea (Matricaria chamomilla in the city)

My Matricaria chamomilla grows on the edge of a pot overlooking a city street.
Container chamomilla
Chamomile is actually a catch-all term for several plants within the Asteraceae family (the aster family). The most common two ‘chamomiles’ in cultivation are Matricaria chamomilla (German chamomile) and Chamaemelum nobile (Roman camomile). Chemically, Matricaria and Chamaemelum are quite different, unsurprising given that they are in different genera, however they both contain chamazulene, an aromatic compound sought after in the essential oils trade[1].

Chamomile has been used medicinally since the time of the Ancient Egyptians, where it was found to help alleviate the pain associated with malarial fevers[2]. While Matricaria chamomilla is currently the most cultivated version of chamomile in the United States[3], the Chamaemelum genus, until recently grouped within the Anthemis genus, has had a long history of significance.

The Anthemis genus

The Anthemis genus. John Hill, “Virtues of British Herbs. With the history, description, and figures of the several kinds”, London, M.DCC.LXX. [1770].

In 1770, John Hill wrote in his book[4] the following about Chamaemelum nobile, then Anthemis nobilis:

All parts of this excellent Plant are full of virtue. The Leaves, given in infusion, cure Colics; and dispel wind from the Stomach; and are excellent against Indigestion.

The Flowers are a fine and noble bitter. Few things are equal to them in strengthening the Stomach, and creating an appetite, as well as assisting digestions. But more than this, they will cure Agues. I have known them do it after the Bark has failed.

He may have given chamomile a little too much credit, but many studies have shown potential medical benefits, as least in non-human trials[5][6][7][8]. Plus, it’s just nice to sit with a fresh cup of homegrown chamomile tea.

Thankfully, chamomile is easy to grow and doesn’t need much space or care. To brew your own herbal infusion, you simply harvest the flowers at their peak and then you can use them fresh or dry. During chamomile ‘season’ (when the flowers are ready), I don’t bother with drying, and just use the flowers fresh.

Matricaria chamomilla flowers

All you need is a few flowers in an infuser or sieve, some boiling water, and a little patience and you’ll have yourself a wonderful pot of homegrown chamomile tea*. You can also steep the chamomile with a few slices of apple for something a little different.

Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp fresh chamomile flowers (rinsed) per 1 cup of boiling water (approximately)
  • Optional: anything else you might want for additional flavour, like apple slices, lemon, peppermint, honey, etc.

Directions

  • Place rinsed chamomile flowers into an infuser and place the infuser into the teapot
  • If you want to add additional flavourings do so
  • Pour boiling water over the infuser into the teapot and cover
  • Let infusion steep five minutes, longer if you’ve used less flowers
  • Take the infuser out, pour and enjoy**

*Other easy “Tea Garden” plants to grow for herbal infusions are peppermint and lavender. If you have the climate, or a nice indoor space, you can grow Camellia sinensis, the plant we harvest actual tea from.
**Make sure you’re medically able to drink chamomile tea first. While it is considered generally safe, there are people who might want to avoid it (WebMD).

References

[1] “German chamomile production”, Department of Agriculture, Forestry, Republic of South Africa, June 2009. Open Access PDF
[2] “RELEVANCE AND USE OF CHAMOMILE (MATRICARIA RECUTITA L.)”, R. Franke, H. Schilcher, 2006, ISHS Acta Horticulturae 749: I International Symposium on Chamomile Research, Development and Production. Pay-wall
[3] “German Chamomile”, Nancy W. Callan, Mal P. Westcott, Susan Wall-MacLane, James B. Miller, Leon Welty and Louise Strang. Montana State University, College of Agriculture. 2000. Open Access
[4] John Hill, “With the History, Description, and Figures, of the Several Kinds; an Account of the Diseases They Will Cure; the Family Methods of Giving Them; and the Management of the Patients in Each Disease”, London, M.DCC.LXX. [1770].
[5] “A Review of the bioactivity and potential health benefits of chamomile tea (Matricaria recutita L.)”, Diane L. McKay, Jeffrey B. Blumberg, Phytotherapy Research, Volume 20, Issue 7, pages 519–530, July 2006. Pay-wall
[6] “Antiproliferative and Apoptotic Effects of Chamomile Extract in Various Human Cancer Cells”, Janmejai K. Srivastava† and Sanjay Gupta, J. Agric. Food Chem., 2007, 55 (23), pp 9470–9478. Pay-wall
[7] “An experimental study of the effects of Matricaria chamomilla extract on cutaneous burn wound healing in albino rats”, Morteza Jarrahi, Natural Product Research: Formerly Natural Product Letters, Volume 22, Issue 5, 2008, pages 422-427. Pay-wall
[8] “Wound healing activity of Matricaria recutita L. extract.”, Nayak BS, Raju SS, Rao AV, J Wound Care. 2007 Jul;16(7):298-302. Pay-wall

Basic care instructions for Matricaria chamomilla

(synonym Matricaria recutita)
Light: Full sun to partial shade
Water: Basic watering needs, water regularly, but don’t keep moist
Soil pH: 5.6-7.5
Hardiness: Annual, preferred temperature range of 7-26 degrees centigrade, although can survive hotter and near freezing temperatures for a period. Grows easily in much of North America.
Flowering Time: Early to mid summer
Seeds can be sowed directly outside before the last frost. Prefers well draining soil with some organic matter, but doesn’t need to be “well fed”.
References: USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services, Dave’s Garden, Purdue Agriculture Department.

As Shakespeare wrote in Henry the IV,

For though the camomile, the more it is trodden on, the faster it grows, yet youth, the more it is wasted, the sooner it wears.

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The ‘Pixie Grape’, a dwarf Pinot Meunier

Pixie Grape, nearly ripe

A new, and interesting, addition to my container grape collection this year was a small one, the newly marketed Pixie Grape. The Pixie, a dwarf version of the Pinot meunier, is a creation of Dr. Peter Cousins that is now being marketed in Canada by Sunrise Greenhouses.

Since it only made its debut in March at Canada Blooms, and the little plants were primed to fruit this year, I can’t say with any certainty how well this grape will do overtime or even what hardiness zone it is. However, while the standard grapes I grow, Flame (zone 4) and Interlaken (zone 5), do well in large containers, they still need space and ample trellising that Pixie doesn’t require. It’s clearly fast fruiting, and, in a six inch pot, has produced a plant .5ft x .5ft x 1.5ft in size with several full bunches of small grapes.

Despite the limited information out there on Pixie, it seems worth trying for those looking for a little viticulture in a small space, likely anywhere from a USDA zone 5 to a 9 (but don’t quote me on this). It also can be grown in greenhouses year round, and given its size, can be easily brought in for the winter.

My poorly trellised Flame and Interlaken grapes on the left and the Pixie Grape on the right. If space is in short supply, the Pixie is the way to go.

Update June 29th, 2012: The first bunch has been picked and they were delicious and sweet.

The first ripe bunch of Pixie grapes.

Basic care instructions

Light: Full sun
Water: Keep moderately moist (but grapes don’t like ‘wet feet’)
Fertilizer: Three times per growing season with a low nitrogen fertilizer, stop mid summer to slow vine growth.
Support: Vines require a small trellis for support
Winter: Keep plants in a cool, protected, location
Pruning: Standard for grapes