The history of Chamomile dates back at least to the time of the Ancient Egyptians, when it was dedicated to their Gods for being a cure for the 'Ague' (What we would now probably describe as Acute Fever) but it is impossible to believe that this ancient and 'noble' herb had not already been known and appreciated for thousands of years before that by many cultures.
A History of the 'Noble' Chamomile - Anthemis nobilis
The word 'Chamomile' as we know it now in English comes from the Greek Chamomaela or 'Ground Apple'. Pliny describes the plant as having the aroma of ' apples or quinces'. In Spain it has been known for centuries as Mantazilla or 'Little Apple' and is used for flavouring the light sherry which bears its name.
In the Middle Ages it was used as a 'strewing' herb to improve the atmosphere at gatherings and festivals, and to the Anglo Saxons it was one of the 'Nine Sacred Herbs' and known as 'Maythen'. In these times it was also used widely in Beer Making as a bittering ingredient, and it was not until hops took over that function in beer-making that it ceased to be used for this purpose.
Chamomile was known to the Romans and used for incense and in beverages. Ironically, the name 'Roman Chamomile' by which it is sometimes known, does not stem from this time, but from a rather arbitary naming of the herb in the 19th century by a plant collector who happened to find some growing in the Colleseum in Rome!
It was the monks during the middle ages who became the main custodians of herbal knowledge in Europe collecting and translating ancient works on herbal remedies and developing their own. It was at this time that the 'double headed' variety of Anthemis nobilis 'Flora Pleno' is first mentioned, as a milder and less bitter source for tinctures and tisanes and was cultivated in monastery gardens. Flora Pleno is a 'Sport' or mutation of the usual Anthemis nobilis, and will occur naturally about once in 10,000 in plants raised from seed. This variety is sterile (does not set seed) and all new plants are cuttings or 'clones' from these rare variations.
It was during the first information revolution - the invention of the printing press in the 17th century - and the increasingly wide availability of books that, the confusion over the precise identity of 'Chamomile' began. The spread of 'Herbals', one frequently copied from another or pieced together from other earlier herbals (Copyright is a relatively modern invention) caused simple errors to be given the authority of print.
Thus it is that particular authors would refer to one or other of the 'Chamomiles' (Anthemis nobilis or Matricaria recutica respectively) as the 'True' chamomile and the other, if mentioned at all, as an inferior or 'Wild' variety. Often it was simply whichever Chamomile happened to be grown and used in the author's locality that was given the name 'True'.
The Middle Ages
Both Anthemis nobilis and Matricaria recutica are grown commercially in the 21st century, the reputation of both having been undiminished by the advent of a more rigourous scientific approach in both medicine and cosmetics . On the contrary, the value of naturally derived ingredients for all manner of products has been scientifically proven. Along with the growing popularity of Aromatherapy as an alternative medical treatment, this re-discovery of the value of natural products has been instrumental in stimulating the use of essential oils worldwide. The English Chamomile Company is proud to participate in this expansion and is committed to both refining and improving its world famous ' Pure Steam Distilled Essential Oil of English Chamomile ' and to developing new oils and new production techinques in the future.
Egyptian Glass Perfume Amphora
At this time too, probably originating in the East and soon spreading into Western Europe as part of the development of Alchemy, the techniques of distillation were applied to plant materials as part of the Alchemist's ongoing investigations into the nature of matter. It was from this era that the idea of 'Essences' developed and the name 'Essential Oil' was applied to the oils derived from aromatic plants by distillation.
Since the days of the Alchemist, the method of extacting essential oil from aromatic herbs has remained in principle,exactly the same process.
Similarly, the variety 'Trenague' , which has no flowers at all, was discovered during cultivation, and has since been propagated for use as an aromatic lawn. The monks also noticed the plant's property of being beneficial when planted near ailing or sick plants, often aiding a full recovery. This has given Anthemis nobilis the reputation of being 'The Plant's Physician', and studies are currently underway to investigate the causes of this interesting 'virtue'.
var. Flora Pleno
In modern times more widely read authors have tended to hedge their bets and describe both varieties as being similar in properties and more or less interchangeable - this is simply not the case.