A Chamomile Love Story

Last year I purchased two lanky German chamomile  (Matricaria recutita) plants.  It was still early in the Spring (call it the early start of an excited grower) and so the plants sat in our summer room for quite a while with other herbs.  A few weeks in I noticed little clear/white bugs all over the stalks.  After some online searching I realized I had aphids on these two beauties.  At the advice of the websites I found, I separated the plants from the others.  I decided to put them on the windowsill above my sink, where they could get plenty of sun and TLC.

The advice I read offered all kinds of solutions to ridding myself of these little aphid bugs, and in the end I decided to just diligently squish each one as I found them.  Since the plants sat at my eye level in an area where I was frequently standing, I was able to pick off these little bugs multiple times a day.  After a week or so they seemed mostly aphid free.  One of the plants was withering badly due to the bug abuse, so I was propping it up on the window for support.  The other seemed strong, and it may sound silly but I thought that maybe keeping them together would aid in some “moral support”.  As my squishing methods worked I waited patiently to see if my weak plant would make it.  Slowly, it did.

In fact, by the time I was ready to transplant these two chamomile plants in our freshly made garden bed they were both strong and aphid free.  I was able to fit them between our cucumbers and tomatoes, as I read chamomile is often known as a plant that aids in the strength of those planted around it.  It is a helpful bed mate.  I waited to see what would come.

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Three stages of drying chamomile

Now I need to be honest, as someone wanting to grow and sell chamomile I have to confess that I have never had a chamomile tisane that I enjoyed.  In fact I found the drink disgusting in most cases.  My husband, on the other hand, has always loved it.  After doing much research on both the known and understood benefits of the tisane, I thought I should attempt it.  Why not grow such a gentle, helpful herb?  (Since this time, I have found even more studies proving it’s worth.)  But when I first tried my own grown and dried chamomile, I actually tolerated it.  It was at that point my belief in quality was fully realized, and it secured the understanding that most of what I have purchased in the past was not up to nutritional or medicinal quality.

So we had a great season with our chamomile, the only hiccup being that our tomatoes grew to such amazing heights that they started to block the sun’s rays.  Our chamomile simply started spreading out the sides of the bed to get sun.  We did miss out on a greater chamomile crop due to this organizational mishap, but our tomatoes were delicious!

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Tightly seated between cucumbers and tomatoes

I left the bed to sit all winter, not pulling any of the plants.  I wanted them to settle, and many insects use these dead or hibernating plant shells during these times.  We had some early warm weather and I decided to go out and pull everything that was dead, in order to get an idea of how the soil was doing.  We pulled everything but let left the soil as it was.  I wondered what would volunteer itself to us this year.  Turns out it would be our chamomile.

On another abnormally warm day I went out to check on our kale growing in another bed and noticed little chamomile plants growing in a few placed.  I was not expecting to be given chamomile this year, as I had already written it down on my list to purchase in May.  But there it was, in March.  I continued to watch it grow through temperature highs and lows.  It held strong, spreading and growing without any care from me.

This week I was able to pick blossoms from the plant.  It has flourished, way ahead of any other herb I have growing (even the native Lemon Balm is behind).  I am quite impressed with this chamomile and decided to give it a good 1/4 of our garden bed to spread its legs.  I still do feel a connection to this plant, the child of the one I so carefully aided on my windowsill last spring.  It is true that the more we put into something, the more we care, the more connected we become.  I hope many will come to enjoy the fruits of this plant this season.

Bee Balm in the Fort

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I had some great conversations this week with new people about herbalism.  One man was from the local ‘The Old Fort’.  He asked me about Bee Balm (Monarda)— which we grew last year and loved! (We actually grew Monarda didyma.)  I encouraged him to use it as a tea, since they were not sure if it was just used as an ‘aromatic herb’ or for cooking.  He told me a story of essential oil distillers from overseas who visited the Fort after attending a work conference at IPFW.  He shared how they were fascinated with the herb since they do not grow it where they are from.  That right there is the beauty of growing North American herbs.  We can continue to pass on herbal knowledge not found in other places.  I told him how it was the preferred ‘patriotic’ drink for a time while the settlers were boycotting British tea tax— which is why another common name for it is still Oswego tea.

He told me of all the educational experiences they offer to school aged children and I encouraged him to continue the herbal study for whatever time period they were using.  Many of the herbs used by the natives and the settlers will flourish on the land and can be useful.  He grabbed some of our seeds and I hope to talk to him again about some possible collaboration.

A Brief Look At Green Rooibos

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We love rooibos.  I remember drinking ‘red tea’ for the first time back when I was a young college student and barista.  We sold Republic of Tea and always had to try the new flavors that came in so we could recommend properly.  I fell in love with their iced ‘red tea’.  It was refreshing, it had some sweetness.. it was wonderful during a busy 8 hour shift at the coffee shop.  Flash forward ten *yikes* years later and I still like rooibos… but when I had the chance to try green rooibos (unfermented), I could not let it go.  It is a little less ‘woodsy’, a little less ‘obviously sweet’ and the nutrient benefits are surprising.  If you are a lover of ‘red tea’ and have yet to have the green counterpart, don’t miss out on a chance to try it.

Most of our herbal tisane blends have a base of green rooibos.  We find it adds that subtle sweetness that can curb the urge to add extra sweetener, gives the water a lovely dark(er) red color, and lends it’s nutrients to enhance the benefits of the other herbs.

Like all things health-related, there are many ideas and claims out there concerning rooibos.  It is hard to know what is truth and what is preference.  It is hard to know what was exaggerated and what was explained correctly.  I’ve added quite a few different articles (both scientific and ‘lay-man’) that those who are interested can wade through.  I’ve found cross referencing many, many articles helps find a balanced opinion.

Is Rooibos better than Green tea?
Highlights:
“It is the ‘new fad'” {remember I said Republic of Tea pushed this 10 years ago… yeah…}
“unfermented is a close second to green tea antioxidant wise”
“It’s popular now because we can now import it from South Africa, the only place it grows, since apartheid-based trade sanctions were lifted in 2000”.

Teas Ect. on Rooibos
Highlights:
“Rooibos does not have 50 times the antioxidant benefit of green tea, it does not even have as much.”
“Rooibos does not contain any vitamin C.”

Rooibos from Natural News 
Highlights:
“It is low in tannins which allows easier assimilation of its minerals”
“Rooibos is a good source of essential and trace minerals as well, including: iron, magnesium, potassium, (organic) fluoride, copper, manganese, zinc, and vitamin C. {Oh wait, didn’t the other article say it does not contain any vitamin C?? mmmmm}

Phytochemicals in Rooibos
Hightlights:
“These are typical phytochemicals found in rooibos: aspalathin, nothofagin, caffeic acid, chrysoeriol, isoquercitrin, orientin, isoorientin, luteolin, vitexin, isovitexin, luteolin, rutin,flavonoids, quercetin, polyphenols.”

Metaphoric Labs: Regular Rooibos vs Green
Highlights:
“Green Rooibos has 100 times more antioxidants and 10 times more aspalathin (buzz word) than regular fermented Rooibos.”
“Rooibos contains nine flavonoids. Two of these flavonoids quercetin and luteolin, also occur in fruit and vegetables. They are potent antioxidants that can cause cancer cells to “commit suicide” (apoptosis).”
“In in vitro studies, it was found that Green Rooibos was generally more protective against DNA damage than fermented Rooibos. However, senior research scientist at the Medical Research Council of SA, Jeanine Marnewick says her group’s research shows that fermented Rooibos has a stronger effect against some mutagens. She says that both the fermented and unfermented Rooibos show significant protection.”

Ray Sahelian M.D. : Rooibos Herb
Highlights:
“Aspalathin information:  Q:  What is the specific benefit of aspalathin from rooibos tea? Why is it aspalathin better or stronger than other antioxidants?  Also, does green rooibos have a higher concentration of aspalathin and greater anti-aging potential?
A:  There are countless antioxidants in fruits, vegetables, herbs and various plants. Each antioxidant works in a slightly different way in the body. It is not practical to claim aspalathin is better than EGCG in green tea or vitamin E, or astaxanthin, etc. Just as it is preferable to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, it is a good idea to consume a number of different antioxidants. I am not aware of any actual studies done with aspalathin supplements. Limited evidence suggest green rooibos has a higher antioxidant profile than red, but for practical purposes it should not make too much difference.”

“Q:  Does rooibos provide electrolytes and minerals, such as sodium, potassium and magnesium, all which you lose through sweat.
A: I find it difficult to accept this claim. Rooibos is a tea that can provide antioxidants and is a healthy addition to one’s tea consumption, but it is premature to make fantastic claims about this tea. There are countless herbs and teas that have health benefits.”

 

We get our Rooibos from Mountain Rose Herbs.  It’s fairly priced, and we trust the company concerning sustainable practices and organic labeling.

Tips on drinking Rooibos
1.  You can use the herbs more than once without the tannin risk associated with black tea and still enjoy a flavorful drink a second round.
2.  Due to the herb being ‘chopped’, it falls through most tea infusers unless they are the fine mesh ones.  If you do not mind the extra nutrients and fiber (if the tea is organic and you trust the company, eating the herbs aids in both) you can just let the pieces be in your drink.
3. Let the entire family enjoy, as there have been no studies to show that young, pregnant, or elderly individuals can not enjoy the beverage.
4.  If you don’t like the taste, even with sweetener, drink something else. Seriously, why drink something disgusting when there is bound to be a nutritional drink out there for you that you’ll love!