Garden Zen Activity: Harvesting Chamomile

My mind-clearing, repetitive activity of the month? Picking chamomile blossoms:


The biggest of these flowers is about the size of my thumbnail, and (as you can see) there are an awful lot of them. Also, harvesting them requires some finesse. You only want the flower, not the stems (which are bitter). So I pinch them off with by thumbnail again my index finger right up against the bottom of the flower, and I catch the blossom in my other hand. I've become ambidextrous at this, so I can switch hands when one gets tired.

I get about a salad plate full of blossoms each week, which need to dry thoroughly before storage. This is what they look like after a week or two of drying:


This is actually a couple harvests' worth, because they lose a lot of volume as they dry out. I suppose technically I should have these up on cheesecloth-lined screens for maximum air flow, but I just give them a turn each day with my hand when I walk past, and it seems to work fine. 

Once they are dried, the chamomile flowers are ready to use for tea. I just scoop them directly into my mesh tea ball, and make it by the glass. It's a really delicate flavor, so I usually end up letting it steep for about 10 minutes, then add a healthy dose of honey. 

If you've never tried it, chamomile tastes and smells a bit like apples (in fact, in Spanish it's called manzanilla). The flowers smell like that when you pick them fresh, too, so it makes the repetitive task of picking hundreds of blossoms quite pleasant. I really enjoy this harvest: It’s meditative to be in the sunshine, picking masses of mini-suns to keep for the winter.

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