How to Use Fresh Chamomile Leaves, Seasonal in Spring
Katherine Knowles for the Village Voice
Fresh on the market today, chamomile leaves, green and tender, ready for foraging. But how do you use them?
Usually when you think chamomile, you think pretty white-and-yellow flowers. But the leaves can also be brewed as tea, and eaten as is, imparting a delicate flavor to dishes.
"When you make the tea, I'd say don't hard-boil the leaves," says JoAnn Banks from Lani's Farm Stall (which is at Union Square Greenmarket on Mondays and Saturdays). "Be gentle. They're delicate when they're fresh, and you want to keep that special flavor."
Fancy trying the tea? Pour a mug of boiling water. Stir in a tablespoon of torn leaves and stems. Cover the mug with a cloth or a saucer (to keep the heat in) and let the tea steep for ten minutes. Strain it into a fresh mug, or chill, and serve over ice, with a dash of apple juice to sweeten. The flavor is brighter than the flower tea. It's mild, herby, almost grassy. Very summery and pleasant.
So what should you look for in your fresh chamomile? "Bright green stems that aren't wilted," says JoAnn. Wash the leaves and pat them dry with paper towels. Store them wrapped in a paper towel, zipped into a Ziploc in the fridge for a few days.
As well as a soothing tea, chamomile leaves can be used as an add-in to salads. Try mixing them into chopped butter lettuce dressed with olive oil, salt, and just a quick spritz of lemon. Combine snipped chamomile and mint as a leafy covering on top of a ricotta-spread hot flatbread, or chop chamomile finely and add it to yogurt with a touch of grated garlic (as you might with dill) as a dip for crudités.
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