Calendula (Calendula officinalis) is a herb with a long history of use. The name “calendula,” refers to the Latin word calends because of the belief that calendula blossoms on the first day of each month. It a perennial herb in some parts of the world where the temperature rarely dips below 32° F. Most other parts of the world raise calendula as an annual herb.
Also known as pot marigold, this plant should not be confused with that other common plant with the golden flowers, also called marigold or French marigold, of the family Tagetes. Calendula is a bushy plant that produces daisy-like double or single flowers from spring to fall. It is native to the Mediterranean Sea region of the world, and can tolerate almost any kind of soil.
Historical and Modern Uses
Calendula flowers and leaves have been used as medicine historically. In ancient Roman times, calendula was used to bring down fevers and for skin problems. Calendula spread with the Romans and became a popular cottage garden plant in Great Britain, where it was an important component in skin salves. When the Pilgrims first came to America, the calendula seed rode along with them in the Mayflower, and became an important medicinal herb these settlers couldn’t do without. Medical doctors in the American Civil War also relied upon Calendula in wound care.
More often in modern times, just the flower petals are used. The key to calendula’s herbal power is its skin soothing and detqualities, caused by the high amounts of flavonoids found in the flowers. Flavonoids are anti-oxidants found in plants that defend cells from free radical damage. Calendula also contains phenolic acids and saponins, chemicals which add to calendula’s effectiveness.
And just how effective is calendula in treating skin problems? A study reported by the Georgetown University Medical Center at stated that calendula can cause significant healing for skin burns, dermatitis, cuts and other wounds. A toothpaste containing extracts from calendula even showed promise in curing gingivitis problems.
Noted botanist James Duke, who worked at the U.S. Department of Agriculture for 30 years, writes in his book, The Green Pharmacy, that creams containing calendula are very good for helping to heal sunburn, because this herb reduces inflammation and causes new cells to grow faster.
At Aquarian Bath, we’ve had very good luck using calendula petals in an eye wash for eye infection and inflammation. It even helped to speed healing for a pet cat that injured her eye during what we suspect was a rather nasty cat fight. After a few days of using a calendula wash, the cat’s eye was much better.
Another way to receive benefits from calendula is to make a facial mask from a mixture of powdered calendula petals and clay powder, with enough pure water added to make a spreadable mask. Your face will thank you as the combination of clay and calendula removes impurities from the surface of your skin. Another way to enjoy the healing powers of calendula is in salves, balms, creams and ointments. Often these formulas include other healing herbs, such as aloe, yarrow and comfrey, and natural oils like extra virgin Olive Oil or Jojoba. Salves and Balms which include calendula can be very soothing on rough, dry skin.
You can even add calendula petals to your cooking. Used fresh, they go well in salads and sandwiches, and can be mixed into butters to add an extra touch of golden color and flavor to your breads and biscuits. Dried and powdered, calendula blossoms live up to their old nickname of “poor man’s saffron.” Added to rice, the powdered calendula gives the rice a warm flavor and color reminiscent of the much more expensive saffron spice.
How Do You Raise Calendula in the Garden?
Calendula is easy to grow in your own garden or herb bed, and does well as a potted herb, if given plenty of moisture and drainage. In Central Florida where we are located, our growing season is the Fall and Winter, since by summer, it’s too hot for the calendula to grow. If you live in an area that experiences winter and temperatures colder than 32° F, you plant calendula seeds in your garden or herb bed after the last frost for your area. To determine your last average day of frost, do an Internet search for a “last day of frost for the U.S. map,” which will give you a ballpark estimate of your average last frost date. It also helps to talk to gardeners in your area, who have plenty of experience with the quirks of your region. At our Aquarian Bath garden in Central Florida, the weather is very warm, we raise calendula as a Winter annual by planting seeds at the end of September. February and March are harvest months for calendula, and this year we have a bumper crop of flowers.
You can buy calendula seed in many regular gardening catalogs that feature flower seeds as well as vegetables. However, if you are looking for a high quality calendula seed, check out Mountain Rose Herbs. They sell a variety of calendula that is strictly of medicinal value. Plant your seeds in a sunny location in soil that is rich in compost and water well, because calendula likes plenty of moisture.
Once your plants begin to produce flowers, you can start harvesting your calendula blossoms. The best time to harvest calendula is when the flowers are young, and recently opened. Avoid older, ready to go to seed blossoms, because the healing ability of these older blossoms is of a lesser quality. Collect the flowers on a dry days. Late morning is usually the best time to harvest. Dry the blossoms in a place out of the sun. When thoroughly dried, separate the petals form the rest of the flower, store the petals in an air tight container out of the light.
Calendula reseeds itself easily, so once you have plants established, let some of the flowers go to seed. You can then harvest the seed for next year, or just let the seed fall to the ground, where it will germinate next year. We wait until towards the end of the flowering period to let our plants go to seed, and save seeds for the following year.