Putting some order into Matricaria recutita et Chamaemelum nobile

The choice of Chamomile came up for the first edition of our magazine by chance but one of those chances where you feel that you are being gently pushed in a certain direction, A conversation on a herbal forum about the differences between Chamaemelum nobile L and Matricaria recutita triggered me into trying to put some order into this vast subject and pin point some of the differences between Roman and German chamomile.

ImageTo begin with chamomile is one of those plants that everyone has heard of as a herbal tea, it was probably the first herbal tea I made myself as a young student thirty years ago in London when I started to feel the need for plants in my diet. The only snag with this is that in most of these cases, it probably wasn’t chamomile but Matricaria recutita, ok so I am being too pernickety I hear you saying…maybe, but it is important to recognise the difference between what in English speaking countries is known as Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile (L)) and German chamomile (Matricaria recutita). In a herbal tea the difference in taste goes without saying, the former is really bitter and more or less undrinkable (to my palette anyway) and the latter has a much gentler, accessible taste…but they are still more often than not bagged together under the same name. This becomes even more complicated in France as other medicinal plants from the Asteraceae family are also known under the name of chamomile. Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is known colloquially as Grande camomile and it too has tubular yellow flowers in the centre and white disc flowers, Santolina (Santolina chamaecyparissus) is known as Camomille amère or Camomille de Mahon, Chrysanthemum indicum is known as Camomille de Chine and the list goes on. The same thing can be found in English, Dyer’s chamomile (Anthemis tinctoria), stinking chamomile (Anthemis cotula), although these are actually the same genre as Anthemis nobilis…which is no longer the official name as the genre changed to Chamaemelum in 2003 (just to complicate things a bit more!).  On the subject of complications, in different books and internet sites one can find four Latin names given to Chamaemelum nobile as this plant was named by four different botanists these are Anthemis nobilis L, Ormeni nobilis (L) L.Gray, Chamomilla nobilis G.G and Chamaemelum nobile L, which is as already stated the official name.

So what does the word chamomile mean, what is its etymology? It comes from the Greek word khamaimélon, chamia meaning ‘ground’ and melon meaning ‘apple’, so we could say ‘earth apple’ which refers to the apply scent of Chameamelum nobile flowers. Well that is a sigh of relief; at least the root of the name seems to refer to our medicinal plant as feverfew, santolina, chrysanthemum and even Maricaria recutita (German chamomile) don’t smell of apples do they? Well Matricaria recutita a little bit maybe. Read the rest of this entry »