Pretty, Useful Calendula

In 2008, the International Herb Society named Calendula Calendula officinalis its Herb of the Year. Otherwise known as “pot marigold” (because it is easily grown in pots), do not confuse this herb with the decorative marigolds often found in gardens, which are of the Tagetes genus.  Calendula, besides being a really pretty flower has a great many uses. (It really is pretty – seeds from the same packet will generate blooms anywhere from a pale yellow to a bright, deep orange.)

The use of Calendula goes back to the ancient Egyptians. In the early 1600’s, it was reported that many grocers carried dried Calendula petals by the barrel-full because the Dutch used it extensively in winter broths for various purposes. During World War II, an English woman gave over her entire garden to growing Calendula which was then sent to France to be used to heal wounds.

It is anti-inflammatory, astringent and antimicrobial, and is great for healing wounds, cuts, scrapes, rashes, bee stings, burns and bruises. It is mild enough that it can be used on babies (to heal diaper rash) and is now extensively used in creams for stretch marks. Because of its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, a gargle of Calendula extract can be used for sores in the mouth and other inflammations of the mouth and throat. It also contains large amounts of iodine, manganese and carotene, all of which help regenerate skin cells.

Being the klutz that I am, Calendula salve is never very far from me. I even carry a little lip pot of it in my purse. It comes in handy after I’ve had a wrestling match with a friend’s kitten. I can tell you that it helps heal scratches fast! However, because it does regenerate skin quickly, you never want to use it when there’s infection present. It will heal the skin over the infection.

Another caution: Calendula is a member of the Asteraceae family (plants with daisy-like blooms). This is the same family as Ragweed, so if you have a Ragweed allergy, use Calendula with caution. You might just be allergic to it as well.

As its common name implies, Calendula grows very easily in pots. You can start it from seed indoors or sow directly into the soil after the last frost. It likes full sun but in very hot climates, you might want to put it in partial shade. It is a perennial plant but I’ve found it only lasts about 3 years before I need to re-seed that bed. If you pick the blooms when they’re at their fullest, most plants will bloom from late spring to early fall. (Warning: I had read that rabbits didn’t like it.  Apparently our neighborhood rabbits didn’t get the message. Ours love it.) The petals are the most medicinally-potent part of the plant and they dry easiest if you gently pull the petals off the bitter center disk and then scatter them on a screen to dry. And, the deeper orange the petal, the more medicinally-beneficial chemicals it has.

I’ve seen recipes all over the place that call for Calendula petals in soups and salads. Be aware that the petals are rather chewy, even when dried. Some people chop or puree them before adding to their cooking to avoid the chewiness issue.

Calendula’s sunny petals also make a great addition to spells designed for protection, to help you win the respect of others,  and in legal matters. It’s suggested you carry a bloom or two in your pocket when you go to court but you may want to try the same thing when going to a job interview – to have the interviewer smile favorably upon you.  The bright yellow flowers will help if you’re invoking the Sun in any spell, too.