I’ve chosen calendula as the first featured herb in my new series on medicinal herbs. Quite simply put, my first forays into the world of herbal medicine involved calendula, and for that reason, I thought it should be featured first.
Calendula is a bright and sunny herb that can also be known as “pot marigold”. Please, however, do not confuse calendula with one of the many other varieties of marigolds commonly found in gardens. The scientific name for the herb calendula is Calendula officinalis.
Calendula has been a known medicinal herb since the twelfth century. It is thought to be of Mediterranean origin, however, it is now grown worldwide. Our ancestors used calendula both internally and topically. Today, however, calendula is used primarily as a topical treatment.
Calendula flowers contain a high amount of flavonoids. Flavonoids are plant based antioxidants which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal effects. Flavonoids also help to protect cells from free radicals, which are unstable molecules thought to be directly involved in the aging process and which may contribute to a host of medical conditions.
Most often, calendula flowers are used to make topical treatments including tinctures, balms, salves, ointments, creams, or bath teas. Note that the entire head of the calendula flower may be used, not just the petals. Calendula has been used to treat a plethora of skin conditions including cuts and scrapes, chapped skin, stings, rashes, and other minor skin irritations and infections. Calendula is very gentle and has been used on babies, children, and those with skin sensitivities.
In the Garden
Calendula is easy to grow in most USDA hardiness zones. It grows best in full sun. Calendula will tolerate any soil type, including clay, sand, and loam, as long as the soil as good drainage and the plant is watered evenly.
It is easy to grow calendula from seed. It tends to do best when directly sown, however, it is possible to start the seeds indoors and then transfer them outdoors when the weather allows. Calendula prefers cool temperatures, and for best results, should be planted in early spring or early fall. Note that calendula can tolerate some frost. If planted in the spring, cut back calendula before the hottest days of summer and allow it to grow again in early fall for more blooms.
Calendula typically grows to about one foot to two feet tall. It is resistant to most pests. It is even considered deer resistant! Calendula blooms range from very pale cream to bright orange. It is a happy and bright plant which will bring both beauty and function to your garden.
Harvesting and Storing
The flower heads (not just the petals) should be collected on hot, sunny days, if possible. The flower heads should be picked on a regular basis in order to prevent the plant from producing seeds. This will allow you to harvest the largest quantity of flower heads. It is best to collect the flower heads in the morning, before they have fully opened. Flower heads may be pinched off or cut with scissors.
Dry the flower heads completely before storing. Calendula may be dried by placing the flower heads face down on a dish towel out of direct sunlight. The flower heads must be completely dry before storing them. If they are not completely dry, they will mold and the harvest will be wasted. The flower heads should feel warm, fragile, and crispy. If they feel cool, that indicates there is still water present. Once completely dry, the flower heads should be stored in water tight jars outside of direct sunlight.
Please see the following links for ways I use calendula.