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Good for Peter Rabbit, good for you

    A great way to get children interested in gardening is to read the tales of Peter Rabbit and his many friends by Beatrix Potter. Her wonderful illustrations bring the animals to life. Peter and his siblings, Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail, always ventured into Mr. MacGregor’s garden against the wishes of their mother. There, Peter was very naughty and ate lettuce, carrots, cabbage and radishes. After barely escaping from Mr. MacGregor’s hoe, Peter had quite a bellyache. Upon Peter’s return home, the very wise Mrs. Rabbit made him some chamomile tea and put him to bed.
     Metricaria, also known as German chamomile, is a hardy annual herb. The flower looks like a small half-inch-diameter daisy with a hollow yellow center and little white petals. Lightly rub the flower and you smell the wonderful apple-like scent. Chamomile is Greek for apple that grows on the ground.
     You can pinch the little flowers off and dry them or use them fresh to make tea. Use about one teaspoon of dried flowers or one tablespoon of fresh flowers per cup of boiling water, and let it steep for about 10 minutes. You can sweeten with honey for children, but I find it unnecessary.
     Start seeds by sprinkling them on the surface of a soil-less media; they need light and a cool 55-degree temperature to germinate. Alternatively, you can sprinkle the seeds directly onto the ground while the weather is still cool in full to partial sun. Chamomile tea is good for upset stomachs and cramps. If Mr. MacGregor’s hoe scraped Peter Rabbit’s skin, a chamomile compress could help heal the wound.
      British and German immigrants introduced chamomile to North ­America. Today it is one of the nation’s best-selling herbs. Dozens of studies have supported chamomile’s traditional use as a digestive aid. Bisabolol, a compound in chamomile, has a relaxing action on the smooth muscle lining the digestive tract, and it acts as an antispasmodic, making it good to use for indigestion and menstrual cramps. Chamomile also acts as a mild tranquilizer in that it depresses the central nervous system, making it good for anxiety. Chamomile has antibacterial and antifungal properties to help prevent infections. But people who experience anaphylaxis with ragweed should not use chamomile.