In Germany between 1930 and 1945, though chamomile flowers were collected, only about 6 ha were cultivated; the drug requirement was about 1000 tons. In 1955 the main regions of origin of the drug Chamomillae flos for Germany were Germany (mainly Saxony and Franconia), Hungary, the Balkan countries, the USSR, the CSR, Yugoslavia, Belgium, France, and Spain. Varieties or origins used up to the 1980s were “Holsteiner Marschenkamille” (Holstein Marsh Chamomile), “Quedlinburger Groβblütige Kamille” (Quedlinburg large-flowered chamomile), and “Erfurter Kleinblütige Kamille” (Erfurt small-flowered chamomile). Only the tetraploid variety “Bode-gold” brought the breakthrough for the use of cultivated forms in Germany in 1962.
In the meantime a clear shift took place in the main cultivation areas. Today, the main suppliers are Argentina, Egypt, Hungary, Poland, and the Balkan countries; the major quantity comes from Argentina (with decreasing quantities since 1995) (). Meanwhile, a big part is imported from Egypt as well.
In Germany as well, cultivation was extended after 1975. Today exclusively cultivated varieties are grown. The biggest part of these are tetraploid varieties with high (–)α-bisabolol content.
Meanwhile, the main culture of the medicinal plants and spices cultivated in Germany is True chamomile. The annual cultivation area amounts to more than 800 ha, more than 700 ha thereof are to be found in Thuringia. Other German cultivation areas are Saxony (about 40 ha organically grown chamomile) and Hesse (approximately 100 ha). The total area of organically grown cham-omile has increased continuously during recent years and comprises about 100 ha at present. A comprehensive investigation as well as an evaluation of procedures and equipment of the production of chamomile in Saxony and Thuringia is discussed by Herold et al. and Seitz.
The cultivation of chamomile in Germany is still increasing slightly and is limited in principle by the availability of harvesting equipment (in 2003 and 2004, over 800 ha alone in Thuringia).
There are two reasons for the increasing cultivation of chamomile in Germany:
Cultivation of high-quality, protected chamomile varieties with a special profile of ingredients for the production of pharmaceutical products
The increasing requirement of product safety concerning undesired residues of pesticides and heavy metals
Chamomile cultivation in Germany and similar climatic regions is normally effected through direct seeding in late summer (September) and spring (March / April). The splitting of the seeding time in autumn and spring reduces the risk of emergence that is inevitable due to the low thousand seed mass of the chamomile seeds and the characteristic properties of a plant that germinates in light. Furthermore, the splitting of the seeding time leads to different maturity dates, so that existing picking techniques and drying capacity can be used reasonably over a longer period of time.
The seeding is effected with special drilling machines for fine seeds on a weed-free recompacted and well-rolled soil.
Dependent on the available soil humidity and temperature, germination takes places within 1–2 weeks. In general, row distances of about 25 cm are preferred, and the seed density is approximately 2.0–2.5 kg per ha.
The nutrient need of chamomile is not very high and it also flourishes on moderately supplied soils.
Increased quantities of nitrogen fertilizer lead to undesired additional herb growth and a delayed formation of flowers. For the fertilizer need, 40 kg N, 50 kg P2O5, and 100 kg K2O can be considered as reference points.
In case of well-supplied soils, an additional fertilizing can be completely set aside.
Weed regulation is effected by soil herbicides that on the one hand are worked into the soil during preparation of the seed bed, and on the other hand via machine hoeing after emergence.
Post-emergence herbicides are available only on a very limited scale and are legally regulated in the individual cultivating countries.
Chamomile has a slow development at the beginning and forms an opulently dense population in a late stadium, that is capable of effectively suppressing weeds.
Besides downy mildew (Plasmopara leptosperma [de Bary] Skalicky), in central European cultivation areas there are almost no other diseases or parasites that could cause economically relevant damage.
Harvest is mostly effected with special picking machines.
Harvest time is indicated by the beginning of full blossom. In the upper flower horizon, at least 80% of the flowers should have fully blossomed out, i.e., the white ligulate flowers should stand horizontally or bend slightly downward.
The harvested material is highly endangered by fermentation. Therefore, the period of time between harvest and the beginning of drying should be limited to a maximum of 2 to 3 hours. Any rising pressure due to high storage levels is to be prevented.
Immediately before drying, a sorting of herb parts that have entered the product due to the mechanical picking often takes place. This is frequently achieved by double-sided countercurrent drum sieves.
Drying is realized with belt-drying plants or grating dryers at a maximum product temperature of 40˚C.
Depending on the number of possible picking procedures, a harvest of 350–600 kg drug per ha is obtained.
Special varieties with a high content in (–)α-bisabolol are used, especially in the German chamomile cultivation. These varieties in many cases are company property and the corresponding seeds cannot be bought commercially. Therefore, seed production is mainly realized by the companies themselves.
For this separate propagation, special seed-propagation areas are sown and cultivated until full ripeness of the flowers. The distance between the individual plants is often very wide and the cultivation is treated analogously to a root crop in order to assure that seeds are only obtained from one special plant.
With the selection of the propagation areas it is important to observe that natural weed pressure of wild chamomile can be excluded.
The fully flourishing chamomile herb is mostly harvested by cutting and drying on grating driers with cold air. This leads to an after ripening of immature seeds, and a good yield of chamomile seed can be obtained through posterior threshing.
Cleaning is effected through the classical methods of seed preparation. The results are seed qualities with a germinating power of 80–85% with a yield of 100–200 kg seeds per ha.
Selections from the book: “Chamomile”. Edited by Rolf Franke and Heinz Schilcher. Series: “Medicinal and Aromatic Plants — Industrial Profiles”. 2005.