Matricaria recutita (PROSEA)
- Protologue: Sp. pl.: 891 (1753).
- Family: Compositae
- Chromosome number: 2n= 18 (diploid), 36 (tetraploid)
- Matricaria chamomilla auct., non L. (1753),
- M. courrantiana DC. (1838),
- Chamomilla recutita (L.) Rauschert (1974).
- German chamomile, matricaria, true chamomile (En).
- Camomille d'Allemagne, camomille vraie, petite camomille (Fr)
- Indonesia: teh kembang (Sundanese).
Origin and geographic distribution
M. recutita is native from Europe to Afghanistan and northern India (Punjab). It was introduced, probably with wheat, to North and South America, central Asia and Australia, where it has naturalized. In the 19th Century the Dutch brought German chamomile to Indonesia, where it was cultivated, especially in West Java around Garut. German chamomile is currently cultivated in many European countries (e.g. Germany, Hungary, Russia and Slovakia), the United States, Egypt, Cuba, Argentina, India and Korea. Cultivation trials have been conducted in Japan, Kenya and Canada.
The tea made from the flower heads of German chamomile is becoming increasingly popular and sometimes those flower heads are added to teas to increase flavour and bulk. However, the most widespread use of chamomile flowers on the market is as a herbal remedy. Medicinal infusions have been prepared from German chamomile since Antiquity. German chamomile is widely used medicinally as an anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antispasmodic and sedative agent. Hydrophobic and hydrophillic components of German chamomile relax smooth muscles. Extracts are reputed to have deodorant and astringent properties, and to alleviate pain and irritation. Infusions, made by steeping fresh or dried flowers in water, are used both internally and externally. Large doses of a warm infusion are used as an emetic, whereas cold infusions are used as a digestive aid and against colic, fevers and flatulence. Infusions are applied externally as a fomentation or to wash wounds and sores.
The whole plant yields an essential oil which is sparingly used as a flavouring agent in liquors, particularly of the French type, and in confections, desserts, jellies, ice cream, candy, baked goods and chewing gum. It is also used in perfumes, where it imparts pleasing and warm tonalities, and in shampoos, hair dyes and other cosmetics.
Production and international trade
Production and trade statistics for German chamomile are often combined with those for Roman chamomile ( Anthemis nobilis L.). More than 4000 t of chamomile (German and Roman) were produced annually in the 1980s, with German chamomile accounting for most of the tonnage. This figure had increased to as much as 20 000 t in the 1990s. The value of the world production of "blue chamomile oil" (presumably mainly originating from M. recutita ) in 1993 was valued at US$ 5.4 million. Argentina, Egypt and Hungary are the major German chamomile producers, with Germany being the prime producer of pharmacological chamomile preparations.
The medicinal value of German chamomile is primarily due to the essential oil present in the flower heads (0.3-1.5%).
Freshly distilled essential oil is blue, but exposed to light and air it gradually changes to green and finally brown. It has a strong characteristic odour and a bitter aromatic flavour. The constituents of the oil include sesquiterpenes, flavonoids and azulenes. More than 50% of the oil consists of the sesquiterpenes bisabolol and its oxides, which have anti-inflammatory and spasmolytic properties and counteract gastric ulcerations. The flavonoids are particularly concentrated in the ligulate flowers; they include the flavone glycoside apigenin, which has a spasmolytic activity, and flavonols such as luteolin, quercetin and isorhamnetin. The azulenes include matricin, the precursor of the chamazulene that is responsible for the blue colour of the oil and has a strong anti-inflammatory activity. It is not only the genetic influence on essential oil composition that is important, but also many other factors such as plant age, environmental variations, management practices and post-harvest handling. Individuals allergic to ragweeds ( Ambrosia spp.) or with known sensitivity to other members of the Compositae family should avoid contact with German chamomile and its products. Chamomile hypersensitivity is rare, however. The main components of the essential oil of Roman chamomile are esters (particularly the isobutyl ester of angelic acid), sesquiterpene derivatives (e.g. the lactone nobilin but no sesquiterpenes of the bisabolane type) and flavonoids (e.g. apigenin). The weight of 1000 seeds of German chamomile is 0.02-0.03 g.
- An annual, aromatic herb, 10-60(-90) cm tall; root thin, spindle-shaped; stem erect, usually branched, glabrous, cylindrical.
- Leaves arranged spirally, exstipulate, 2-3-times pinnatisect, oblong in outline, 1-10 cm × 0.5-3 cm, glabrous; ultimate segments linear, acute, about 0.5 mm wide.
- Flowers in solitary heads 18-25 mm in diameter, heterogamous; involucre 6-8 mm wide, with 20-30, 2-3-seriate involucral bracts; receptacle hollow, hemispherical at first but elongating to a conical shape, acute, finally 5-7 mm × about 2.5 mm, without scales; corolla of disk flower yellow, 5-toothed, about 2 mm long; ray flowers 10-20, with white corolla, ligule first pointing upwards, then patent, and finally reflexed, 7-10 mm × 2-3 mm.
- Fruit a conical to oblong achene, 1-2 mm long, ribbed on one side; pappus absent or represented by a short rim.
Growth and development
Seedlings usually emerge in 5-10 days. In India, plants sown in the nursery in the second half of September and planted out in the field in November, flower in March-April. In Java, German chamomile flowers throughout the year, in western Europe from May to July. Flowers of German chamomile are mainly pollinated by flies, occasionally by other Hymenoptera and beetles. A single plant can produce up to 45 000 achenes a year. The achenes are mainly dispersed by animals and by human activities.
Other botanical information
Difficulties in nomenclature have caused much confusion in the botanical literature between M. recutita and scentless mayweed (Tripleurospermum maritimum (L.) Koch sensu lato; synonyms: Matricaria maritima L., M. inodora L., M. perforata Mérat, Tripleurospermum inodorum (L.) Sch. Bip.). The confusion arose because it was unclear to which species the frequently used name Matricaria chamomilla L. had to be applied, because Linnaeus made an error, which he later corrected himself, though not in accordance with the (later) rules. Further confusion appears in non-botanical literature dealing with "chamomile" which sometimes refers to M. recutita, but sometimes to Anthemis nobilis (synonyms: Chamaemelum nobile (L.) Allioni, Chamomilla nobilis (L.) Godr., Matricaria nobilis (L.) Baillon), the Roman chamomile, which is also cultivated and used for many similar applications. Therefore, when dealing with information on "chamomile" or on "M. chamomilla" one has to check carefully which species is actually meant. German chamomile differs from Roman chamomile in being an annual, up to 1 m tall, glabrous, with flower heads arranged in a corymb, and a hollow receptacle. Roman chamomile is a perennial with creeping stem up to 25 cm tall and slightly hairy, with single terminal flower heads which have a solid receptacle. Some well-known Slovakian German chamomile cultivars are: "Bohemia", "Bona", "Goral", "Rubomille and "Manzana".
M. recutita is a weedy species preferring sunny sites (slightly shaded sites are tolerated) and found on wasteland, roadsides and fields (mainly of wheat, sugar beet and oilseed rape). Abundant moisture is desirable for commercial cultivation but in the wild dry conditions are tolerated. In Europe it occurs up to 2300 m altitude; in tropical regions it grows in both lowland and montane habitats. The optimum temperature for flowering is about 20°C; at higher temperatures the blooming period is shortened. Young seedlings withstand mild frost.
German chamomile grows in poor soils but prefers soils rich to moderate in nutrients, sandy or loamy to slightly clayey with a pH of 4.5-7.5. It avoids lime as well as heavy metals, but tolerates salinity. It is sometimes grown on soils considered too poor for any other crop.
Propagation and planting
German chamomile is grown from seed. In Europe it is sown in autumn or winter. Spring sowing is unreliable and results in lower yields. The sowing rate is 2-5 kg per ha. Seeds are scattered on the soil surface or sown in rows 10-60 cm apart, and gently tamped down. The optimum temperature for germination is 20-25°C. Small seedlings (e.g. 2.5-5 cm tall) can be transplanted, but larger ones often die. German chamomile can be intercropped with other crops or is grown as an early or late sole crop.
German chamomile is reported to take up 53 kg N, 21 kg P2O5and 85 kg K20 for the production of 1 t of inflorescence. In Indian experiments with 4 nitrogen levels (0, 20, 40 and 60 kg/ha), flower yields, oil content and oil yields increased linearly with the amount of nitrogen applied. In Australia, German chamomile occasionally becomes a noxious weed.
Diseases and pests
German chamomile is susceptible to the root-knot nematode Meloidogyne incognita .
German chamomile should be harvested when most of the flowers have already opened. The essential oil content of the inflorescence reaches its maximum when the ligulate flowers are horizontal, and declines with further ripening. The essential oil content is highest around noon on sunny days. Harvesting in full sunlight is also recommended to avoid a high moisture content. In Cuba flower heads of M. recutita are harvested manually 2-2.5 months after transplanting. In Europe, harvesting is sometimes mechanical, but yields may be 15-20% lower than with hand picking.
In Cuba up to 2000-2500 kg/ha of fresh flower heads of German chamomile have been obtained in experiments. In Europe, 300-500 kg/ha is normal, but as much as 1200 kg/ha is possible.
Handling after harvest
The flower heads of German chamomile should be dried immediately, at temperatures not exceeding 40°C. Drying at 55°C may reduce the oil content by about 30%. The flower heads should be stored in closed containers in the dark.
Several institutes in the world hold germplasm collections of German chamomile. There are large collections in Germany (Genebank of the Institute for Plant Genetics and Crop Research in Gatersleben, 10 accessions) and in Portugal (Portuguese Genebank, Braga, 20 accessions). Since German chamomile is very common and widely distributed, there seems to be no need to pay special attention to the conservation of its genetic resources.
Tetraploid cultivars are preferred for commercial use, because they have larger flower heads. In Slovakia several newly bred cultivars, such as "Bona", "Kosice-1" and "Kosice-2", contain twice the essential oil content of the older "Bohemia" and certain cultivars with high contents of a useful chemical constituent are being developed.
The market for German chamomile as a tea appears to be stable, but its pharmaceutical trade is increasing. Therefore, the prospects for the cultivation of German chamomile in South-East Asia are promising.
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- Johri, A.K., Srivastava, L.J., Singh, J.M. & Rana, R.C., 1992. Effect of time of planting and level of nitrogen on flower and oil yields of German chamomille (Matricaria recutita). Indian Journal of Agronomy 37(2): 302-304.
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