Apr 022014
 

champostharvest (1280x848)After hours working in the garden it’s great to sit back and relax with a cup of tea. It’s even better if you have grown the tea yourself. One of my favourite teas is chamomile- especially my home grown, home dried tea. It’s much sweeter and less musty than some of the shop bought teas I have tried. And it’s really easy to grow and harvest.

Originally I purchased some German Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) seeds from Diggers club and following the instructions I scattered the seeds over my vegie patch, sprinkled some soil over the top and gently watered them in. The seeds were sown in a sunny spot early in Spring and came up fairly quickly. In the first year I did harvest some flowers, but importantly I let many of the flowers go to seed, and since that first abundant harvest I have self- sown plants cropping up every year. So my only job is to transplant the seedlings. Although, I do like to leave some of the plants where they grow, trusting that they grow in suitable spots. Chamomile is noted as being a beneficial companion to many plants. It is also a great plant for paths and lawns, as it benefits from being walked on!

Transplanting is a simple matter of gently digging in and around the plants, being careful to avoid damaging the roots and transplanting them to a prepared hole. I tend to do this when the plants are small, around 5 cm high but this year my husband even transplanted some of the chamomile that was flowering- and that too transplanted very well. It is a very hardy plant but I do recommend using Seasol – or another gentle fertiliser on all transplants. It really eases their transition.

This Spring I had another abundant harvest, so on a warm morning when the flowers were open wide, and dry I began to harvest the flower heads. While I may have had upwards of 20 plants, I probably only harvested from 6 of the biggest plants. Chamomile is a small plant 50 cm x 20 cm with a showy profusion of flowers. 4-6 plants grown in a sunny spot is enough to make at least 60 cups of tea (using two teaspoons per person, one for the pot and one for you!)

The easiest way to harvesting cham (1177x1280)harvest the heads, is to simply rake your fingers through the flowers and gently tug as you go, pulling off the flower heads. They come off very easily, and it doesn’t matter if you have a few bits of stem. You harvest the whole head. My crops were so abundant it hardly looked as if I had taken any flowers at all. And importantly- harvesting the heads encourages another flush of flowers- giving you the opportunity to take a second batch of flower heads later on. I suggest you do this.

Having collected a whole basket full of heads I simply placed some butchers paper underneath the basket and left it to sit in my laundry for 2 weeks. You can use a specially designed drying rack, or a splatter screen (the kind you use when frying oil!) but I find my shallow cane basket words very well. The laundry has lots of fresh air (with louvered windows for drying clothes) and is fairly light- it’s a north facing laundry- although no direct sunlight was shining on the flower heads. I give them a little shake every couple of days to make sure there is no moisture, and to ensure they are drying evenly. When fully dried I simply store the chamomile in a glass airtight jar. Some people do recommend a caddy, as tea is generally affected by light, heat and humidity.

Chamomile is a very beneficial herb known to be relaxing, carminative (relaxes the stomach and support digestion) and anti- inflammatory. It is also said to be good for skin conditions, and is suitable for children. I brew a teaspoon of dried flower heads per person, with an additional one for the pot. It is best to let it brew for 3-5 minutes to allow the plant to do its magic! So as well as having a pleasant taste and fragrance, chamomile will help you relax and sleep- just what you need after a day in the garden.

Harvesting your own tea is also beneficial to the health of the planet. It comes without any food miles, packaging, and pesticide use. Whereas bought tea is usually transported for many kilometres, often from overseas as there are few local tea producers. Loose leaf tea usually comes packaged in a single box, with an additional sealed packet. Tea bags also come in a box, with an additional sealed package, and then each tea bag has its own seal, the individual teabag, plus a string, a tag, and a staple. That is a whole lot of packaging, which means, more energy and water to produce it, more greenhouse gases and more waste. You might think that waste for tea bags is minimal, but along with the cardboard, and the plastic packaging, there are the tea bags themselves. Many people assume tea bags can be composted but this isn’t necessarily so. Tea bags these days are often made from nylon! Not something you want in the compost.

Whereas with your home grown tea leaves, you know the only energy used is your own, and there is no packaging waste and no food miles. And best of all, when you have finished your pot, you can throw the flowers/leaves directly on the garden or put it in your compost. While some of the nutrients will have been taken up by you, the loose leaf tea will still have many nutritional benefits for you garden. And with chamomile, they are considerable. It is recommended for you compost heap as it sweetens it with calcium and potassium, or throw the leaves around the base of a tired looking tree, and just like you it will be replenished with a good cup of chamomile tea.…

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