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Chamomile and Lavender: Fragrance and Health in Your Organic Herb Garden

Posted by ChrisM on Thu, 2009/06/04 - 1:54pm in

Two valuable additions to any organic garden are chamomile and lavender. These popular herbs are not just delightfully fragrant additions to your garden but both have healing properties useful for a number of common ailments. The healing qualities of organic herbs are being rediscovered as superior to many of the remedies bottled in drug stores and it is easy to understand why. They are without the unfortunate side effects of chemically manufactured pills and many are easy to grow in your own garden, no matter how small it may be. Chamomile and lavender are among the top of that list.  

                                  The Gifts of Chamomile

Besides being wonderfully aromatic with a subtle apple-honey fragrance and flavor, chamomile has great benefits as a medicinal or healing herb. It has sedative, anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic properties and is very safe to use even for young children. It has properties that make it valuable for treating many common ailments. It is even used in hair, body and bath products.

Chamomile is most often used as a relaxing tea, often taken at bedtime to promote restful, sound sleep. Taken after meals, it helps promote digestion. To make the tea, simply pour a cup of hot (not boiling) water over about a teaspoon of dried chamomile flowers, or about 5 fresh flower heads.

Steep for 6 - 7 minutes, strain and drink. To encourage any reticent children to drink it, add some natural honey.

Chamomile - relaxing and healthy organic tonicOther common symptoms that respond well to chamomile's healing properties include:
Stomach and menstrual cramps,
Stress and nervousness.

It is helpful and can be used for babies suffering from colic or teething pain. It can be combined with other herbs to enhance or complement the medicinal properties.

Dried chamomile flowers can be ground and mixed with a little spring water to create a paste to treat toothaches and inflamed skin from burns, injury, rashes or infections. For sunburn or to ease hemorrhoid or cystitis pain, prepare a chamomile bath by placing a handful of flowers in a linen bag dropped into the bath.

Using a chamomile infusion (tea) as an after-shampoo rinse adds highlights to blond hair and is useful in cleansing and brightening the complexion.

Growing Chamomile

Chamomile is easy to grow even in less than perfect conditions. It often grows wild and can even be used as ground cover.
There are two primary varieties: Roman Chamomile, a 4-12 inch perennial, and German Chamomile, a 2-3 foot annual, used most for medicinal purposes.
Frequent replanting is unnecessary since both varieties re-seed themselves. The herb grows well in either full sun or partial shade and enjoys moist, well drained soil.

botanical illustration of the parts of chamomileSeeds may be scattered directly onto the garden soil in the fall, with seed viability increasing by freezing and thawing. If you'd prefer to start with plants, or seedlings you have started from seed in small containers, place them in your garden 6” apart after the last frost. Since this herb likes to spread out, it doesn't do well in containers.

Chamomile enhances the growth of any companion plants.
It is a flying insect repellent and companion crop yields are increased.
Planted with peppermint, the peppermint oil is intensified.

Harvest when the flower petals are at their peak on a clear morning before full sun for full fragrance from the blossoms. Snip the opened flower heads carefully with scissors before spreading on paper in a cool, airy place to dry, removing as much green plant material as you can. They can be stored in an airtight jar once they have become desiccated and papery.

                                     The Delights of Lavender

Used for centuries, even by ancient Romans, for its remarkable fragrance, Lavender is also an effective herbal remedy for a number of common ailments. Often used in aromatherapy as a calmative, it also has antimicrobial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory and anti-depressant properties.

Commercial Lavender essential oil is not recommended to take internally due to its concentration, but lavender flowers used in an infusion (tea) is useful in treating:
Nervousness and
Loss of appetite.

It's also a lovely breath freshener.

To make a lavender infusion, pour 1 cup of hot (not boiling) water over about a teaspoon of lavender flowers. Allow to steep for 5 - 7 minutes, strain and drink. It can be used in combination with other herbs, like chamomile, to enhance or compliment the medicinal properties.

Inhaling the essential oil works as well to induce relaxation and sleep. It also eases symptoms of depression and reduces headache pain. Few people have a home still needed to distill the essential oil, but the lavender essence can be extracted for effective use through infusion (above) that can be used in a warm bath or just inhaled deeply from a cup. It can also be done through maceration, which means soaking the lavender petals in good-quality oil such as jojoba.  After a month, you then strain and press the flowers to extract the essential oils. Like this, it is lovely if added to bath water to give yourself a stress-relieving soak. Alternatively, you can use it for soothing massage oil. Massaging small quantities into the forehead and temple provide a natural relief from headaches.

Lavender infusion used as a hair rinse will help to reduce dandruff. The dried flowers can be used in potpourris and sachets, placed into drawers to repel moths and freshen clothing. If placed in dream pillows, lavender is especially useful for babies and children to help get them to sleep naturally – that deeper rest itself having further curative effects.

Growing Lavender

lavender in full bloomLavender is a semi-hardy perennial that enjoys full sun and well-drained soil fed with simple compost. Planted among your vegetables, lavender will help them stay healthy and be more flavorful. Thyme is also a good companion plant since lavender and thyme assist in each other's growth.

Seeds can be germinated in the spring in about 15 days in seed trays, keeping the soil moist until the seedlings are established.  Once the root system is well established, transplant into your garden 12” apart. Lavender can be grown in large clay or terra cotta pots with full sun outdoors.

Harvest the lavender immediately after it blooms and before the last flower on the spike has opened, though avoid taking more than 1/3 of the top growth in a single cutting. Hang upside down in bundles in an airy, shady place. The entire spikes can be stored or the flowers can be removed to store in airtight containers.

Here is a short video about growing Lavender

We are publishing a mini-series of 6 articles on organic herbs - their healing and culinary qualities. For example, just adding them to your food will be like imbibing in the most natural of benficial supplements. These articles are presented in conjunction with Julian Pollock (of this site) and myself, Chris Molnar of Go Organic Gardening. We are keen to encourage the use of home grown organic herbs as health tonics and fresh, natural immune boosters, whilst also exploring their enchanting culinary qualities.

Read the Entire Series

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