Story by Jonny Villaseñor, Summer 2018
Growing up in a Latino household, I quickly learned to appreciate the wonders that are provided by Manzanilla, or chamomile. The word Manzanilla actually means “little apple” in Spanish, due to the similarities in this plant’s fragrance to a sliced apple. I have memories of my mom taking me to our backyard garden to help her pluck flower heads; she taught me which flowers were ready for plucking and which ones were to be kept on the plant a little longer. My mom has appreciated chamomile ever since I was a young boy. She would swear by a cup of chamomile tea in providing quick relief for an upset stomach. However, this wasn’t all that we expected from our Manzanilla plant. We also used chamomile tea as a soothing relaxer when in need of de-stressing, suffering from insomnia, and for trying to curb hunger. The Roman variety of chamomile, commonly referred to as garden chamomile, was the type that my family would grow for its medicinal properties. According to my mom, the latter variety should be avoided for consumption by pregnant women due to the possibility of causing a miscarriage, attributed to chamomile-induced uterine contractions. Despite this, chamomile tea is still revered in our household as a favorite for treating various minor symptoms!
When growing chamomile at home, we had our fair share of difficulties. Aphids have a natural affinity towards chamomile, as the flowers often attract them. To remove aphids, my family would use natural remedies such as hosing off the aphids in areas on the chamomile plants that have been affected, removing affected plants, companion planting the chamomile plants with allium plants like onion and garlic, or even spraying aphids directly with a concoction of tomato leaf, pepper, garlic, and water. When trying the first treatment, one must be careful to only spray in the morning. This allows sufficient time for the chamomile plants to dry off when exposed to the hot midday sun. Another common issue that my family experienced is how rapidly the chamomile plant reproduced and covered a plot of land due to how easily the seeds spread in the wind. The photo shown above is a local example of what can happen to a garden site when chamomile is planted without keeping a watchful eye on new chamomile sprouts. In my family’s case, we often planted chamomile in a pot instead of in the garden to avoid it “spreading like wildfire.”