Every other week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more.
Today: Put chamomile to use in more than just a great cup of tea.
Chamomile flowers look like tiny daisies, and unless you already know better, they seem best suited for delicate decorations on a woodland crown. But while they are in the same plant family—Asteraceae—as daisies, they're more than just a pretty face: They're a useful herb, too. Asteraceae is the same family that artichokes, burdock, and cardoons belong to, so it's little wonder that Deborah Madison’s father described the family as “some rough stuff from out of doors.”
The two most common types of chamomile are Roman (or English) chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile), which is a lower-growing perennial, and German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), which is a taller annual. For the most part, they can be used interchangeably, but if you're trying to tell them apart, there are a couple of things to look for. Roman chamomile flowers sit on slightly hairy, single stems (1, below), while German chamomile flowers have multiple flower stems coming off of a central stem, sort of like a menorah made out of flowers (this type of stem is properly called a corymb). If you have dried chamomile flowers, you can cut the flower head (2, below) in half: If it's hollow, it's German; if it's solid, it's Roman. (But you might need to do a few to be sure—sometimes German chamomile flower heads will be solid, too.)
Chamomile is used to help soothe upset stomachs, ease stress, and help you get your Zs, but it belongs on your plate, too. Here are 10 ideas for putting chamomile to good use in the kitchen:
1) Add fresh flower heads to salads.
2) Make your own herbal tea to enjoy with breakfast.
3) At the end of the day, use your chamomile tea in a hot toddy.
4) Food52er aargersi suggests using chamomile tea to make rice, a tea and honey panna cotta, or tea-poached pears.
5) Dry your chamomile so you have some to enjoy long after the fresh herbs of summer are gone. Heidi Swanson dries edible flowers by arranging them in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. She leaves them for about a week, tossing them with her fingertips every day or so until they are dry and crisp. Once they seem completely dry, she gives them another couple of days to make sure any residual moisture is gone and then transfers them to an air-tight container to store.
6) Food52er KingKelsey uses chamomile to infuse alcohol, saying, “It makes awesome cocktails.”
7) Or, instead of infusing, make chamomile sugar cubes and drop those into a cocktail instead.
8) Use your dried chamomile to make Chamomile Lemon Cupcakes with Honey Buttercream Frosting.
9) You can also put dried chamomile to use in Anthony Myint’s French Toast Crunch, an indulgent treat that’s a cross between crème brûlée, French toast, and tres leches cake. Serving it with a puddle of Tahitian Vanilla Bean & Egyptian Chamomile Blossom Maple Syrup wouldn't be a bad idea, either.
10) Use chamomile in homemade soap. (Just to clear, this is not an edible option. We're in favor of washing hands, not mouths, with soap.)
More: Chamomile is also one of the secret weapons of biodynamic wine producers around the world.
Tell us: What are your favorite ways to use chamomile?
Photos by Alpha Smoot