Calendula, A Flower For Everyone: Calendula officinalis
Calendula officinalis is such a joyous and simple flower, especially during the cold months of late winter and early spring. Commonly called pot marigold, it begins blooming in February, and can continue blooming happily throughout the spring, perhaps taking a bit of a break during the heat of the summer and reappearing with the golden colors of autumn. It is considered an annual flower, but reseeds so quickly here in California that it is rarely gone from the landscape. Some unknowing gardeners may think calendula is a weed, but really it’s just an
exuberant ancient plant that wants to be noticed amongst all of the new comers in the flower world.
The folklore behind calendula is so much fun to mention – a concoction of rose water and calendula water was ingested in the 16 th century to enable a person to see fairies. Calendula was cultivated by the Romans to treat scorpion bites. And my favorite, if a woman couldn’t decide between two suitors, she would take dried calendula, marjoram, thyme and wormwood, grind them into a powder, simmer them in honey and white wine and rub them all over her body. Then she would lie down and repeat three times “St Luke, St Luke, be kind to me; In dreams let me my true love see”. And in her dream she would see the man she would marry – if he was going to be a loving husband in real life he would be kind in the dream, but if he was going to be a no good husband he would be a horrible man in the dream. Wouldn’t that save us ladies a lot of heart ache and time??
Historically, the petals of calendula have been used for food. Stewing a lark or sparrow? Add calendula. Morning oatmeal? Calendula was a natural addition. Soup, pudding, dumplings, even wine commonly had calendula petals added. During the Civil War calendula was used to staunch bleeding and promote the healing of wounds. In the modern era calendula has been commonly used as edible garnishes in salads and soups, and as a pretty garden flower. Calendula is a powerful vulnerary – an aid in the healing of wounds. Its value is now well
known, and calendula infused oils are often added to salves and creams to treat rashes, wounds, and cuts, as well as to promote skin regeneration. Calendula flowers are added to facial steams and bath salts to use externally, and can be found in many natural skin care preparations.
Calendula petals are included in teas, used for gastrointestinal problems and indigestion. The flavor is earthy, and the darker calendula flowers will produce a deep golden colored tea. There are many beautiful colors of calendula ranging from white to deep orange to bi colors, but for tea making be sure to use the yellow and dark orange varieties.
Perhaps the best thing about calendula is how easy they are to grow. The boat shaped seed can be spread and raked in anytime from the late winter throughout spring, and then again in the fall. If you want to increase your patch of calendula flowers, simply pull some of the dried flower heads off and crumble the seeds about in your garden, preferably in a sunny spot. If the patch grows a bit unruly or looks unkempt prune the plants back and apply a light fertilizer of fifish emulsion or slow release all purpose fertilizer. For medicine making the orange and yellow
blooms are best, but for salads and cooking the big bi colored calendula blooms are wonderful, and there are many long stemmed varieties excellent for cut flowers.
Fill a quart jar three quarters full with calendula blooms, preferably just as they open. Fill then jar to within an inch of the top with oil – olive, almond, grapeseed, apricot, or a mixture depending on your cosmetic or medicinal needs. Place the closed jar in a cool, shady spot and allow the herbs and oil to infuse for a month. Strain the flowers out of the oil and store in a cool, dark location in a glass jar (preferably tinted) for up to a year. The oil can be applied topically for rashes, bruises, and wounds, or as a massage oil, or use as a oil in salve and face cream recipes.