Welcome back to the Zaytuna Farm herb tour, in which we’ve met Rosemary, Yarrow, Aloe, Mint, Sage, Comfrey, Parsley, Lavender & Nasturtium so far. Next stop is the star of many a kitchen garden at this time of year. A little ray of edible sunshine, a cheery companion for many plants, known by multiple names, her radiance outshines all of them. Meet Calendula officinalis, also known as Calendula, Marigold, pot marigold, English marigold and Herb of the Sun. Don’t confuse her with the Tagetes species, also commonly called Marigold (Tagetes species), also a sunny yellow or orange, and a popular companion plant but is not generally used medicinally.
Before she flowers you might not even notice she’s there, but once she does you can’t miss her. A hardy annual plant, growing between 30 and 50 cm tall, with lime-green, lance-shaped leaves that are a little tacky to touch. Her flowers are a brilliant yellow or orange, which if left on the plant, grows into a seed head packed with crescent-moon-shaped light brown seeds. Her flowers are like the sun and her seeds like the moon. Amazing.
How to Grow Calendula
Calendula will grow in a wide range of soils, and likes full sun. She’ll flower prolifically if the open flowers are cut from the plant, and self-seed easily if the flower heads are not removed. Calendula is a good companion plant, as she brings in beneficial predatory insects, as well as bees to help with pollination. Here at Zaytuna you’ll often find Calendula interplanted in our kitchen and crop gardens, hidden among the leafy greens and tomato plants, completely inconspicuous and unremarkable until she bursts into bloom one fine day, and doesn’t stop till cold weather rolls around again.
Calendula can be self-propagating (just let some of the flower heads go to seed), and is started from seed, direct or in pots. She can be sprouted from seed anytime, except the coldest months, and will flower right through till the next cold spell.
Calendula petals are edible and a little bitter. They make a lovely addition to salads, stir fries, cakes, soups, omelettes…really anything you want. They will infuse rice with a soft yellow colour and have been called Poor Man’s Saffron for this reason.
Medicinally, Calendula has been used to heal ulcers, bruises, wounds, burns, eczema and fungal infections and other skin conditions. She’s also reported to ease the discomfort of varicose veins and haemorrhoids. This can be done using an infused oil, balm or a strong infusion, and is said to be especially effective if combined with chickweed. Combined with plantain and marshmallow in a tea, Calendula is said to help heal the digestive tract and address gastrointestinal inflammation and irritation, and often recommended for Crohn’s disease, colitis and gastritis.
Calendula does not produce an essential oil, though oil is created from it using either solvent extraction or by infusing in oil. Internal use of calendula is not recommended during pregnancy. Topical application is safe for all, and a balm made from infused calendula can be useful for nappy rash and cradle cap on babies.
Calendula has also been used in beauty routines throughout the ages. Especially popular is a tea made of calendula and chamomile to lighten (blonde/light brown) hair, and combined with other skin soothing herbs, calendula makes a lovely addition to a relaxing bath. Calendula infused oil is used for skin conditions, such as eczema, dry skin and to promote skin healing.
Calendula is such a wonderfully easy-going, low maintenance, cheery companion that even a neglected garden, or a forgetful gardener will appreciate her bursts of sunshine petals with their multitude of uses.
References & Resources:
How Can I Use Herbs in my Daily Life? By Isabell Shipard
Herbal Remedies by Nicola Peterson
The Modern Herbal Dispensatory by Thomas Easley and Steven Horne