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"If you pick up a half-dozen herb books to look up chamomile, you are likely to find a bewilderment of names. There's Roman (or English) chamomile, a perennial, and German (or Hungarian) chamomile, an annual. The German species might be listed as Matricaria chamomile, Chamomilla recutita, or Matricaria recutita. These are all the same plant! Roman chamomile is referred to in some sources as Anthemis nobilis, in others as Chamaemelum nobile. The currently accepted nomenclature is Matricaria recutita for the German, and Chamaemelum nobile for the Roman.

"The word chamomile (sometimes spelled camomile, and generally pronounced with a long i), is derived from Greek - chamos (ground) and melos (apple), referring to the fact that the plant grows low to the ground, and the fresh blooms have a pleasing apple scent. Even at this level of naming, all is not clear. Roman chamomile is indeed low growing, and is used for clipped lawns in England. But German chamomile grows to a relatively stately 2½ feet.

"German chamomile is a sweet-scented, branching plant whose tiny leaves are twice-divided into thin linear segments. The flowers, up to one inch across, have a hollow, cone-shaped receptacle, with tiny yellow disk flowers covering the cone. The cone is surrounded by 10 to 20 white, down-curving ray flowers, giving it the appearance of a miniature daisy.

German chamomile is native to Europe and Western Asia, where it is weedy; it has escaped from cultivation in the United States as well." "Roman chamomile...has a spreading habit and grows only about a foot high.

Leaves are twice or thrice divided into linear segments, which are flatter and thicker than those of German chamomile. Its flowers are also up to an inch across, but its disk is a broader conical shape, and the receptacle is solid. Roman chamomile also has white ray flowers, though a number of cultivated varieties have none at all and give the appearance of little yellow buttons. There are also double-flowered cultivars (well-known by the sixteenth century), and a flowerless one called 'Treneague,' named for the English estate on which it was developed. Roman chamomile is native to Western Europe northward to Northern Ireland.

"If you have a pile of dried chamomile flowers, you can distinguish the Roman from the German by splitting the flower receptacle open down the middle. If the receptacle is solid, it is Roman; if hollow, it is German.

You should test five or ten flowers to be sure, because occasionally a German chamomile flower will be solid in the interior. Roman chamomile has slightly hairy stems, while those of the German are smooth. In the live plant, the flowers of Roman chamomile sit singly atop the stem, while those of the German are on divided stems in a comb-like arrangement (known as a corymb)."

Excerpted from Steven Foster's "Chamomile" article in "The Herb Companion." Dec. 1992/Jan. 1993, Vol. 5, No. 2. Pp. 64-65. Posted by Cathy Harned.

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