Illustration by Kristy Heilenday
And eat something beautiful. One of the most popular wild edibles, chamomile is believed to soothe an upset stomach, calm nerves, treat inflammation and even clear one’s skin. This bright, daisy-like plant is most consumed dried through hot tea, but its light, apple-like scent and mild, bitter bite can be sprinkled fresh into salads, snacks and entrées alike.
The earliest record of edible chamomile lies in Egyptian hieroglyphs, which depict the plant’s medicinal and even cosmetic properties. (It was also used as an embalming agent, but let’s not go there right now.) Vikings used the plant in their hair products, and in ancient Greece, it was prescribed for a number of maladies. The flower saw a resurgence during the Middle Ages, when it was used in herbal stews.
What to Buy
You can often find organic, fresh chamomile at local farmers markets including the South of the James Market and the Scott’s Addition Farmers Market. If you’re growing your own, German chamomile and Roman chamomile are the most commonly ingested species. Keep an eye on their blooms, as windows for peak flavor are narrow; the flowers should be plucked, rinsed thoroughly and eaten just after they open.
How to Prepare
To dry chamomile, pluck the petals and buds from the stems, inspect for bugs, and then spread the petals and buds on a tray and let sit for one to two weeks in a dark, cool, dry area. The flowers can also be picked in bouquets and hung upside down. Once dehydrated, store in an airtight container. Use the chamomile to infuse honey, iced tea and ice cream, or, as Däl-kohm will show us here, panna cotta.
Chamomile Panna Cotta
Makes 4 8-ounce servings
By Hannah Lee of Däl-kohm
3 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin powder
1 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup dried chamomile flowers
In a small sauce pan, combine 2 cups of the heavy cream with the vanilla bean or vanilla extract, chamomile flowers and sugar. Bring this to a simmer and remove from heat, then cover and allow it to steep for 30 minutes at room temperature. In a microwave-proof bowl, bloom the gelatin by sprinkling it into the remaining 1 cup of the heavy cream and allowing it to sit for 3 to 5 minutes, until it swells. In a separate bowl, strain the chamomile and heavy cream mixture through a cheese cloth-lined sieve and squeeze out the remaining liquid; be sure to get every bit of that amazing flavor. Heat the gelatin mixture in microwave until it dissolves, but be careful to not bring it to a boil. Then add to the chamomile mixture, stir, and pour the combined liquids into individual serving cups or jars and chill them in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours. Enjoy this panna cotta by itself, or top with vanilla or ginger cookie crumbles, a drizzle of honey or fresh berries, and garnish with fresh chamomile flowers.