Bitter and Sweet Chamomile : Perfume and Tea Note

I am spending a summer afternoon at my grandmother’s in my favorite manner–stretched out on the grass, reading a book. Absentmindedly, my eyes glued to the page, I pick a small flower from a patch in front of me and bring it to my nose. In that instant, I forget about the book, and the only thing capturing my attention is the poignantly familiar aroma of chamomile, of bitter honey and green apple.

chamomile3

The reason chamomile, a simple, ubiquitous flower, puts me under its spell so quickly is that the herb used to be a favorite cure-all remedy in our household during my childhood. It was used in tisanes to help me sleep, lotions to soothe rashes or hair rinses. It’s the smell of summer in the countryside, and when my great-grandmother was alive, at this time of summer we picked baskets of chamomile and dried them in the shade. These days we don’t bother anymore, and my grandmother is happy just to buy the ready-made chamomile teas from the pharmacy. But since I have nothing but time and plenty of chamomile around me, I find an old wicker basket and gather a few handfuls of flowers. Spread out in a thin layer, they look like a polka dot extravaganza, and the scent intensified by the sun is unexpectedly lush.

My childhood recollections aside, I have grown to love chamomile (or camomile as it is sometimes spelled) in my perfumery work for its ability to add a warm touch to fragrances. There are two types of chamomile used in perfumery, Roman and German chamomile varieties. Roman chamomile has a sweet, delicately spicy note, and while its effect peters out quickly, it makes for an interesting top note in masculine fragrances. German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) is the one usually sold for tea and tisane blends, and in perfumes, it gives an intriguing smoky floral, apple-like nuance. It shimmers in the top notes, runs like a subtle leitmotif through the heart and lingers well into the drydown.

sa majestechamomile-v1

An unexpectedly wonderful pairing is that of chamomile and rose, and it’s the one explored in perfumes like Perfumer’s Workshop Tea Rose, Frédéric Malle Une Rose, Serge Lutens Sa Majesté la Rose, Penhaligon’s Elizabethan Rose, Parfums de Rosine Roseberry, and Parfums de Nicolaï Rose Intense. The smoky bitterness gives a richer dimension to the sweet, honeyed rose, while rose tempers the herbal edge of chamomile.

Chamomile is also well-suited for dark, moody blends, where its character becomes more lighthearted. It’s a chameleon of a note. For instance, Comme des Garçons Avignon uses the herbal warmth of chamomile to boost an accord of incense and woods. In Estée Lauder’s Youth Dew, it joins bergamot to add more luminosity to the heavy, dense composition of amber and balsams. In Clinique Aromatics Elixir, chamomile flirts with the dark rose, but it also extends the green note deeper into the drydown.

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Masculine fragrances, especially in the chypre or fougere families, can make much use of the chamomile’s smoky, floral and fruity nuances. Tom Ford for Men Extreme weaves it through the dry woods of its composition, where chamomile offers a bridge from the spicy lemony top note to the rum and patchouli drydown. Houbigant Fougère Royale layers it with lavender and other herbs for a vibrant opening. Lancôme Balafre is another classical, by-the-book fougère, and it also uses chamomile for a memorable warm effect.

One of my chamomile inflected favorites is Gucci by Gucci, a dark, decadent blend. Chamomile holds its own alongside all of the lush and opulent notes like frangipani, patchouli and musk. The intro where the chamomile plays off its apple nuance against tart guava takes off the cloying edge, especially once Gucci shifts into its praline and honey embellished drydown.

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If you would like to dry chamomile for tea, select a patch away from the road. Snip off the flower heads, a task for which sharp scissors are handy, and spread  them out in an even layer on paper. Direct sunlight destroys the aroma, so pick a shady, well-ventilated spot. Remember to toss the flowers once a day until they are completely dry. I store all of my herbs in tightly sealed tea containers.

Chamomile tea has a delicately smoky, bittersweet flavor, and it’s an acquired taste, but if you like a hint of bitterness, it mixes well with rose petals and lavender. Add a touch of vanilla extract to round out the blend, and you will have your own unique composition in a tea cup. Doctors don’t recommend drinking chamomile tea during pregnancy, and if you have special health conditions, seek medical advice first.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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67 Comments

  • Cornelia Blimber: You are evoking childhood memories with this article…chamomile…the fields in Limburg..my mother did all kind of things with chamomile, lightning up her hair colour, making tea..But she did not pick the flowers, she bought dried ones in the pharmacy.
    I love the smell of chamomile . I am unable to detect in Sa Majesté La Rose, as I said in another comment, but I certainly smell it in Aromatics Elixir. And I smell it also in the vintage Ivoire. I certainly will find out the other perfumes you mentioned, thank you for this article! July 22, 2014 at 7:22am Reply

    • Victoria: My aunt used to do the rinse to lighten her hair color, since mine is dark, so chamomile did nothing. But it left it soft and shiny.

      I notice a similar apple like, herbal note in Ivoire, but I have a feeling that it might be tagete, rather than chamomile. July 22, 2014 at 1:18pm Reply

    • Kat: Limburg, Germany by any chance?:)

      My mother was also big into the pharmacy herbal tea blends – especially chamomile, peppermint, hibiscus and Linden flower.
      I stock up everytime I visit because they also remind me of my childhood.

      Someone should make a tisane-blend style perfume…with chamomile, linden, hibiscus or something! I’d definitely try that.

      And I will also try to unearth my Ivoire sample now! July 22, 2014 at 3:15pm Reply

      • Cornelia Blimber: Hi Kat! No, the south of the Netherlands. But the fields in Germany are of the same beauty.

        A chamomile soliflore would be nice, I agree! July 22, 2014 at 4:03pm Reply

      • Victoria: Oh, I would love such a perfume idea, especially if it were in a format of a light cologne. Imagine how wonderful it would feel. July 22, 2014 at 6:03pm Reply

    • solanace: I have always highlighted my hair with chamomile (sometimes with a teaspoon of peroxide, to cheat a little bit). July 23, 2014 at 5:23am Reply

      • Marilyn: I just read your comment about using chamomile to lighten your hair…would you please share your recipe! March 7, 2015 at 8:54am Reply

  • Sandra: Hmm.. I didn’t know you were not suppose to have chamomile while your pregnant. Oh well… I am fine and little one is ok too. I drink all sorts of teas and love chamomile tea as well. Very soothing and comforting in the evenings. I prefer to have it in my cup rather then in a perfume though:-)
    Being pregnant means my sense of smell has changed dramatically- I can smell things I have never smelt before – very exciting and at times I can be repulsed.
    This morning I’m drinking Harry & Sons tea :it’s a white tea with the rose petals and natural vanilla and lemon flavors. I really wanted to make chai this morning but it seems my husband has finished all the milk. My husbands mom makes her own chai tea powder , and I am always very happy to take some off her hands. The black tea we use to mix with the chai powder is from Kenya- she gets it from her family members there. fantastic!! July 22, 2014 at 8:38am Reply

    • Victoria: First of all, congratulations! I wish you and your family much of happiness.

      What does your chai powder include? Spices? July 22, 2014 at 1:23pm Reply

      • Sandra: Yes- I am not sure what she uses- I can only guess. I can ask her and report back! July 22, 2014 at 2:32pm Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you. I’m very curious to find out. July 22, 2014 at 6:01pm Reply

    • solanace: Congratulations! July 23, 2014 at 5:25am Reply

  • Marc: I wear Balafre and the opening is what hooked me when I got to try it first. July 22, 2014 at 9:44am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, the opening is terrific, a classical bright and herbal one. July 22, 2014 at 1:24pm Reply

  • Marc: But I have no idea what chamomile tastes like in it. Need to find some. July 22, 2014 at 9:45am Reply

    • Victoria: Most supermarkets carry it. It’s an acquired taste, but if you don’t mind a little bit of bitterness, it can be very comforting. July 22, 2014 at 1:24pm Reply

    • Michaela: I adore chamomile scent, it’s summer childhood for me. My grandmother used it as a remedy for many disorders, and it is one of the most recognizable medicinal plants for me. I add it to homemade cream, it’s soothing and smells divine. I use the tea for the eyes or the face. I don’t like its taste at all. Thank you for pointing the perfumes using this beautiful flower. I’ll certainly try them when I can. July 23, 2014 at 6:19am Reply

      • Victoria: How do you make your cream, Michaela?

        It’s fun to try and compare and see if you can pick out a particular note. Chamomile is distinctive enough in certain fragrances, and if you know what it smells like from tea, you might recognize it. July 23, 2014 at 7:48am Reply

        • Michaela: I heat ‘bain-marie’ from 1 to 3 hours, very small heat: coconut oil, as much as to cover the flowers (not fresh, but well dried): about 1 part chamomille and 2 parts calendula (sometimes some St. John’s Wort). I add some beeswax (about 1 tablespoonful to a teapot of 500 ml) as a preserver and to make it harder. I turn off the fire and I leave everything about 24 hours to get a good infusion. Then I heat it again to make it liquid and strain ( I prefer French coffe press to strain, it’ easier, but you can use anything). When it gets to room temperature it’s ready to be used. If you don’t like the texture, you can heat it again and add some more beeswax. It’s my universal cream: good for lips, scratches, minor burns, rashes, mosquito bites, even deodorant. And it smells very nice of chamomille and beeswax.
          Sorry for the late answer, I was off some days. July 28, 2014 at 4:21am Reply

          • Victoria: Thank you very much, Michaela! I will definitely try it, especially since I have some beeswax on hand. July 28, 2014 at 10:25am Reply

            • Michaela: You are welcome 🙂 I’d love to know if you like it in the end. July 28, 2014 at 10:45am Reply

        • Michaela: It keeps well for several months in the fridge. Maybe it keeps to room temperature as well, I haven’t tried. I prefer coconut oil, but lard may be used as well (my grandmother used lard for her calendula ointment). If I add about 2 parts of cocoa and shea butter to 1 part coconut oil I get the best lip moisturizer (tested in winter wind). July 28, 2014 at 4:26am Reply

          • Victoria: Thank you! I also read about lard being used for ointments, but I don’t think I will go that route myself. Shea and cocoa butter is more like it. July 28, 2014 at 11:19am Reply

  • Portia: Hi Victoria,
    Sometimes when my mind is so full that it’s fit to burst chamomile tea is the one thing I know will calm me. At least a little. The process of making it and the lovely aroma as it brews and also the 5-6 minutes it takes to make can often be the perfect amount of down time that I need to clear my head.
    Great before bed too.
    Portia xx July 22, 2014 at 9:54am Reply

    • Victoria: I know what you mean. Chamomile really helps me to fall asleep, and whatever the reason it works, I like the taste as well. And as you say, the process of making a tisane is relaxing in itself–throwing flowers into hot water, watching them bloom and color the liquid pale gold. July 22, 2014 at 1:26pm Reply

  • AfonsoC: Have you ever tried Fleur du Male by Jean Paul Gaultier? To me, it’s the most wonderful blend of soapy honeyed chamomile with a good dose of neroli. Refreshing yet full-bodied. I find it perfect! July 22, 2014 at 10:37am Reply

    • Victoria: Do you know if it’s still available? I like it very much as well, especially the blend of herbal notes and orange blossoms. July 22, 2014 at 1:27pm Reply

      • AfonsoC: I think so, at least in my country Portugal it’s still available in the stores 🙂 July 22, 2014 at 1:56pm Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you. I will check for it here too, then. July 22, 2014 at 5:59pm Reply

  • AfonsoC: Oh, forget it! I just saw you’ve already reviewed it! July 22, 2014 at 10:38am Reply

  • Jennifer: Chamomile tea has a nicer taste than smell and I would like to try more perfumes with it. Your description of Gucci sounds good. July 22, 2014 at 11:10am Reply

    • Victoria: L’Arte di Gucci was another perfume that blended roses and chamomile and framed it all with dark, ambery notes. But it has been discontinued. Hope that Gucci di Gucci won’t follow the suit. July 22, 2014 at 1:28pm Reply

  • Vishishta: I mix a few drops of essence of chamomile into jojoba oil and it erases any small itchy rash! As I am often allergic to unknown substances in the air, I find it a wonder essence! July 22, 2014 at 11:32am Reply

    • Victoria: That’s fascinating. I haven’t used chamomile essence in any way, other than in perfume, but I imagine that the oil accented with it would smell pleasant and herbal. July 22, 2014 at 1:30pm Reply

  • Bastet: Wow, interesting article. I don’t much like the taste of chamomile, but do enjoy many perfumes with that note. Sa Majeste la Rose and Aromatics Elixir, in particular, are two of my favorites. I wonder how they would smell together, since they share at the least rose and chamomile notes?

    And I had no idea that chamomile flowers looked so much like daisies! I wonder if some of the “wild daisies” that grow here in Virginia are actually chamomile? July 22, 2014 at 11:37am Reply

    • Victoria: They might be in the same family. If you take a photo, I’m sure many people who know plants (such as our Andy here) will be able to identify them.

      I haven’t tried layering Sa Majeste la Rose and Aromatics Elixir, and I’m having difficulty imagining the result, but maybe, if you used only a little bit of Sa Majeste la Rose, the rose note in Aromatics Elixir would be enhanced. July 22, 2014 at 1:31pm Reply

  • george: When I tried Sa Majeste la rose it’s exactly that smell of “the countryside in summer” that I got; that bitter herbal tang. It made me wonder why this rose was considered majestic rather than rural. And now I know why. July 22, 2014 at 12:28pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s something described as too prim and proper, but with that rustic facet, Sa Majeste la Rose has some interesting twists for me. And it’s a very good rose for those who enjoy the freshly picked rose scents. July 22, 2014 at 1:33pm Reply

      • george: I really liked it too; the “rural” isn’t a bad thing! July 22, 2014 at 5:14pm Reply

        • Victoria: Not at all! Rural is a good thing in my book. July 22, 2014 at 6:09pm Reply

  • iodine: Now, I definitely need that chamomile soap I spotted in a pharmacy here in Kefalonia! Thanks for the beautiful article! Let me send you back a greeting scented with Jasmin- the real one!- angels trumpets, myrtle, pines and sea of course! 🙂 July 22, 2014 at 1:18pm Reply

    • Victoria: Enjoy your vacation! I’m imagining all of these beautiful scents in one package. 🙂

      I’ve picked up some Ukrainian handmade chamomile scented soap, which according to my grandmother, was a case of profligate spending ($3 a piece of soap, which for these parts is a highway robbery :). I just couldn’t resist. July 22, 2014 at 1:36pm Reply

  • rainboweyes: Chamomile is one of the scents of my childhood too. My mum prepared chamomile tea for me whenever I was not feeling well. I’m not fond of the taste, actually, but I’ve found a nice chamomile and vanilla tea recently, which is quite nice.
    But my favourite tea blend that helps me fall asleep is melissa and lindenflower. July 22, 2014 at 4:06pm Reply

    • Victoria: Vanilla makes a huge different in chamomile tea, even a minuscule amount. Another addition I just remembered was rose water, instead of rose petals. It also makes chamomile sing.

      I will definitely try melissa and linden flowers! July 22, 2014 at 6:08pm Reply

  • Andy: A cup of chamomile tea is in order for me tonight. I think the chamomile I have right now is Egyptian grown, so I wonder if the two varieties used in perfumery are largely grown there. As George alludes, I also find chamomile smells and tastes particularly rural, despite the fact that we don’t have any growing in the rural areas where I live. But if I were in charge at a tea company, I’d make a countryside inspired blend that contained chamomile and other balmy, grassy herbs. As an overall trend, the aesthetic of the countryside seems to be overshadowed by images of the lushly exotic and faraway, but to me it’s such an accessible ‘place’ of escape. I wish it was used as an inspiration more often. July 22, 2014 at 6:37pm Reply

    • Victoria: I suspect that they may not be. Egypt is a large producer of many plants used in perfumery, including chamomile.
      And I like your idea of tea blending chamomile and grassy notes. This sounds like a perfect rural fantasy. July 23, 2014 at 7:40am Reply

  • Lydia: I make poultices with chamomile for my eyes when I work on computer too much. Never thought it’s used in perfumes, but I wear and love Aromatics Elixir. July 23, 2014 at 5:06am Reply

    • Victoria: My eye doctor here in Belgium recommended doing it when I had a long lasting eye irritation. It really worked. July 23, 2014 at 7:42am Reply

  • Unpaletteable: I’d never considered chamomile as a frangrance note in perfume before! This was a lovely eye opener, and I imagine would be so gorgeous in a man’s fougere. However, it’s CdG Avignon I want to sample for myself. July 23, 2014 at 1:30pm Reply

    • Victoria: Avignon is one of the best incense perfumes, and I’ve been wearing it for the past 5 years on and off. Love everything about it. July 24, 2014 at 7:50am Reply

  • Dain: Tata Harper’s Aromatic Irritability Treatment has a lovely, intense chamomile note to it. It smells like an apple orchard. =) July 23, 2014 at 7:20pm Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, that sounds interesting! I don’t know where this brand is sold in Belgium, but I will keep it in mind. July 24, 2014 at 7:51am Reply

  • solanace: Thank you for another beautiful and informative article, Victoria! Now I´ll have to try Sa Majesté la Rose. 🙂 Having read your review, I´m expecting something more rural than royal, which will probably enhance my appreciation of the perfume.

    Chamomile does not grow here, but I cannot complain, since we have lovely macela do campo:

    http://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macela July 23, 2014 at 7:40pm Reply

    • Cornelia Blimber: Hi Solanace! I am curious to know your experience of Sa Majesté. I tried hard to find out that rural note, but I only smell a sour kind of rose. Not bitter but sour. I love the drydown though, so I will keep my bottle. Sometimes I make the initial fase sweeter with a drop of Clair de Musc. July 24, 2014 at 4:25am Reply

      • solanace: It will take a while for me to get my hands on it, but I´ll let you know. July 24, 2014 at 2:18pm Reply

        • Cornelia Blimber: And I will let you know whether I found the rose in 1000! First of all I have to buy a new bottle, as mine is empty. July 24, 2014 at 5:15pm Reply

    • Victoria: If you like roses with a citrusy touch, it will be a good one to try. It also has a great lychee note, which gives it a fresh, tart opening (this is probably why Cornelia is finding it sour).

      I wouldn’t complain either! You have so many fabulous fruits and plants over there. 🙂 July 24, 2014 at 7:52am Reply

      • solanace: Un Zest de Rose is one of my faves, so I guess this one is a must try for me. July 24, 2014 at 2:19pm Reply

        • Victoria: It’s more rose than citrus in comparison to Un Zest, but it’s still bright and sparkling. July 24, 2014 at 2:24pm Reply

  • Lynley: I love chamomile but realize reading this I’ve neglected it for a while now. As a teenager I used to add some dried flowers to hot water to use as a facial steamer (in a bowl with a towel over your head), and then drain the water to use as a toner for the next few days. It’s great for calming irritated skin. I also use to add the oils (both, the ‘normal’ and the blue one but I can’t remember which is which) with other oils to a carrier for a night face oil.
    Essential oils suddenly seem far more expensive and with less of a range than a few years ago.. July 24, 2014 at 12:11pm Reply

    • Victoria: All of these ideas sound so nice. Just thinking about winding down with a chamomile treatment feels relaxing. 🙂 Off to make a cup of chamomile tea right now. July 24, 2014 at 2:26pm Reply

  • Gentiana: Chamomolle reminds me, as well, to my childhood… Tea for sore throat, steaming the face, treating wounds and acnea, rinsing the hair…. Always a Grandma is behind these things :)… You brought very dear memories in my mind, and tears in my eyes… I didn’t know that so many perfumes contain the chamomille – knew only about Aromatisc Elixir and, recently learned about SMLR (but I don’t feel it).
    You gave me a good idea to search for that gause bag full with chamomille flowers I bought the year before (poor women in our town, especially roma/ gipsies harvest and sell all kinds of medicinal plants). And do a biiig face steaming and a more bigger hair rinse, for me works very well as lighting effect, as I am light brown/ rusty.
    Thank you! July 26, 2014 at 8:06am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for sharing this, Gentiana. I did a steam bath for my face with chamomile earlier, and my skin feels wonderful. July 26, 2014 at 6:33pm Reply

  • Dennis: I have dried my chamomile flowers
    but is to bitter and undrinkable,nothing like the commercial stuff.
    Why do you think it’s bitter January 28, 2015 at 7:54pm Reply

    • Victoria: It probably depends on the variety of chamomile, but it shouldn’t be that bitter. Are you sure you picked the right flowers? January 29, 2015 at 11:38am Reply

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