On a still summer evening, my retriever has her nose pressed against the screen door. Just outside, on the patio, a dehydrator is desiccating a load of chamomile blossoms. The aroma must be intoxicating to a sensitive nose.
Come the deep winter, I will make a Coleman press thermos of tea from the dried blossoms and bring it to the desk where I am writing now, using the soothing tea to settle me in for an evening’s work. And the History Dog will follow me there, too, also enjoying the aroma.
I am not a true pioneer, for earlier settlers picked their chamomile from prairie pastures, whereas mine grows in dedicated beds on our home property. Nor am I a true German anymore, I guess, because I find straight chamomile a little too bitter in a tea. I cut it with some native mint, which also grows domesticated in its own garden bed, and drizzle in a little honey.
Chamomile is an herb embedded in German cultures, both extraterritorial and in the Federal Republic. There, according to the American Botanical Council, it is listed in the German Pharmacopoeia and is officially approved for medical herbal treatments, especially for infants. Commercial sources are mainly in eastern Europe, Argentina, and Egypt--where its use is documented to deep antiquity.
Regulations of the European Economic Community require chamomile for commerce to be cultivated in set-aside areas. I have not, however, submitted my Cass County property for EEC approval.
Chamomile is naturalized to most all lands settled by Europeans, following them wherever they go and escaping into nature. Researchers among urban German refugees whose ancestral diaspora had traversed Russia and Kazakhstan before returning to south Germany, found the women assiduously tending their chamomile.
A published study by NDSU student Cheryl Briggs found chamomile in common use in the Hutterite colonies of the northern plains. “Chamomile is a good tea for settling the stomach and nerves,” she writes. Similarly Susan Jane Fisher, in a recent dissertation on the horticulture of the Mennonites of Manitoba, found use of chamomile pervasive among Mennonite women.
I particularly like the recollections of chamomile given in an oral history interview by Velva Magdalena Diede Walden, a German-Russian woman who was raised on a farm near Antelope (that’s between Richardton and Hebron). “When we had what we called ‘tea,’” she remembers, “it was chamomile tea. “I loved to go out in the pasture and pick the little white flowers, petals all around a yellow beehive-like center. I would take my hand palm up and fingers spread and put it under the flowers, close my fingers, and pull the flowers off.”
Medical people including Sanjay Gupta, a public figure well known to NPR listeners, CNN viewers, and Time magazine readers, have tested the medical merits of chamomile, and the results are inconclusive, except for its calming effect--which is the effect I seek from it. I honestly don’t know if this is a chemical effect, or I just relax in the ritual and heritage of the stuff.
You know the old saying, sometimes attributed to Henry Ford but going back much further than him: He who cuts his own wood is twice warmed. I would say something similar: He who picks his own chamomile is twice soothed.