There is a patch of Chamomile growing in my adopted city of Bristol; it grows in a park near the M32 motorway.
There is something about this area that makes me forget I’m in the middle of city, the roar of the traffic seems to quieten as I wander through it. Bees dart around checking out every flower. Locals whisk past, blissfully unaware of this little plot of heaven amid the barrenness of progress. It can be frustrating when foraging for chamomile, which is why finding a field full of the stuff is so delightful. The frustration lies in the fact that it is very similar to the far more common scentless mayweed. You’ll spy some from the corner of your eye and head straight for it only to find that far from smelling slightly of apples it will smell of nothing.
Chamomile has long since been a flower that has enchanted and healed mankind. Here in the UK we may have moved away from traditional herbal medicine but chamomile tea has been one of the few herbs that we still enjoy. Often it can be the only herbal tea on the shelf in a supermarket or for sale in a cafe. The popularity of both German and Roman chamomile could be because they are relaxants and have a gentle soothing action, relaxing nerve tension without overdue sedation. This is a bonus when compared to something like valerian which, in high doses, can be so sedative that it can send you to sleep.
German VS Roman
The most commonly used chamomile is Matricaria Chamomilla or German chamomile. As with many plants the botanical name can be an indication of how the plant can be used. In this case the word Matricaria comes from the word ‘mater’ which means ‘mother’ an indication of the plants use in relieving cramping in the uterus.
I like to take a cup of chamomile tea after a heavy meal to help with digestions and as a preventative for indigestion. There is evidence to suggest that it has an even more beneficial use and can help prevent peptic ulcers. In a 2010 study on rats protection for the stomach was evident, but it was dose dependant – the higher the dose the more theraputic value. According to a study lead by the University of Cleveland, chamomile helps to inhibit the bacteria helicobacer pylori a bacteria which, although present in 50% of the world’s population, it is thought to be linked with the development of stomach cancer and peptic ulcers.
It’s not just as tea that chamomile should be enjoyed but in cocktails and beers too. I can remember making a few different barrels of herbal beers for an event in Bristol by far the most popular one was chamomile.
You can use the fresh flower heads in beer – these will start to bloom from early summer. Alternatively, pluck the heads off and dry them on newspaper in a well ventilated room away from direct sunlight and store in an airtight container. Use about 2 teaspoons of fresh chamomile or 1 teaspoon of dried herb towards the end of the boil if you want some chamomile aromatics in your usual brew, it works very well in wheat beers. For a beer that is just chamomile you could try the simple recipe below.
The most commonly used chamomile is Matricaria Chamomilla or German chamomile.
Chamomile ale as a herbal remedy.
13 litres water
40g dried chamomile flowers
1kg liquid malt extract
1 packet Nottingham ale yeast
Sterilise everything. Get a very big pan and bring 7 litres of water to the boil, throw in the chamomile, malt extract and sugar and boil for 30 mins. Stir well to ensure the sugars dissolve. Rehydrate your yeast as per instructions on packet.
After boiling strain the liquid through a jelly bag/muslin cloth into a fermentation vessel/bucket. Top up with cold water that has been boiled then left to cool and bring the total volume up to 13 litres. Wait until your wort is around 18C then add your yeast.
Leave to ferment for a week to ten days, then siphon (leaving the sediment), into a bottling bucket. Add 20g of sugar that has been dissolved in 100ml of water. This will help prime your beer, giving them a bit of head and fizz. Siphon into bottles, seal and leave for at least another week if not two.
Ridiculously simple chamomile syrup
Cocktail syrups are a bit of wheeze by the syrup manufacturers really. They are so easy to make, especially if you use this short cut.
One chamomile tea bag
1 shot of vodka
Boil a kettle and make half a mug of chamomile tea. Mugs average to around 250ml in size and so half a cup will be around 125ml of liquid. Allow the tea 3 mins to infuse before whipping out the bag and stirring in the sugar. Make sure the sugar has full dissolved. Cool, add a shot of vodka and then refrigerate.
The Princess of the Hebrides
If Islay is the Queen of the Hebrides then this perfectly balanced cocktails has to be the Princess. The bitterness of the chamomile is balanced by the sugar.
To make the Sumac lemonade simply infuse three or four drops of freshly picked sumac in cold water overnight. Strain and add a spoonful of honey.
25ml Sumac lemonade
15ml Chamomile Syrup
Add all the ingredients to an ice filled shaker. Give a good vigorous shake and strain into a chilled Cocktail glass. Garnish with a slice of apple.