As last year’s polar vortex blew in its snow dumps and sub-zero temps, I huddled inside by the wood-burning stove. When the spring thaw came and I ventured out into the crispy, frosted mornings, I was reminded that nothing is forever.
My lavender plants were toast, along with the tarragon and sage. I expected the same for my chamomile plant, which I’d nursed along for so long I didn’t see how it could have survived. I bought new stock at Brenckle’s Greenhouse, and as I made room for the new plants in my herb garden, I saw a tiny sprig of bright, green lacy leaves—so small that if I hadn’t taken my time, I would have just pulled it up as a weed. But no, the old and finicky chamomile that had grudgingly given up only one or two blossoms each year had somehow survived. I cleared out the dead leaves around it, planted plant No. 2 beside it, and proceeded to have a seemingly revenge-fueled bonanza, you-can’t-kill-me-off-that-easily crop of chamomile over the summer.
The bee balm came back, as did the borage. I planted nasturtiums and also calendula and flax. All edible flowers. There’s something inherently decadent about eating flowers. It’s like a fairytale. The flowers are part of a magic potion that offers something you had never thought about before: eating beauty instead of just looking at it. I put blossoms in my salads and on my oatmeal. We floated delicate, purplish-blue borage flowers in our glasses of red wine and made up a martini that incorporated some of my rose geranium. It seemed illicit, even, eating and drinking these flowers. It had to be wrong, I thought at first. And then I thought: I want to eat flowers every day.
Chamomile is wonderful because once it blooms with its tiny optimistic flowers—simple white petals with a bold yellow center bobbing in the breeze—the sun brings out their comforting, soft smell and it spills across the yard. I harvested blooms as the summer advanced, snipping them one at a time into my basket, and then dried them in batches in a pan lined with newspaper on the top shelf of a bookcase.
As fall settled in, and the ritual of drinking tea crept back into my routine, I had the ingredients all ready to go. But I was also inspired to try chamomile in both tea and dried bloom form in a variety of baked goods, too: cakes, tarts and scones. It’s wonderful to have this cozy smell from the summer come rushing back at you in unexpected ways during the long, cold months. Known for its anti-inflammatory and calming effects, chamomile is the perfect way to usher in the winter chill—and a reminder of sun and warmth and next year’s plantings.