Calendula: The What, Why, How & MORE How (Part 1)

This isn’t really like me…

I’m a rough and tumble, “real talk”-ing, skateboarding, harsh-desert-dwelling tomboy, I barely have a filter and and I put truth before worrying about someones hurt feelings. I’m not gentle, I’m not girly…

No, I’m not very likely to be the type that likes flowers.

But over time, somehow or another, they crept up on me, digging their dirty little roots right into my heart and squeezing it until I had no choice but to give in.

FINE…

I like flowers… OKAY!?

Calendula

Since starting my 2-year Western Herbalism & Holistic Nutrition AOS Program nearly 8 months ago I’ve found myself drawn to many plants that i hadn’t considered useful to me before now. Calendula officinalis tops the list on these. There are many who might say that it’s a beautiful flower…

and those people really like yellow I’m sure…

It’s what i found beyond that eye-piercing hue and the general unremarkable appearance of the plant that drew me into it. This is one heck of a useful, easy to grow, simple to use plant.

Well, let’s get on it then shall we?

THE WHAT:

(say whaaaaaat?!)

Calendula officinalis is a member of the vast Asteraceae family along with Sunflower, Chamomile and Daisy. A flower of many names it is most commonly refered to as “Pot marigold” but it has also been called “French pot marigold”, Marybub”, Holigold”, or simply “Golds”. It’s latin root of calends refers to it’s propensity toward blooming according to the calendar. Some say this happens on the first of the month while others say on or near the full moon.

THE HOW:

Cultivation

A popular cultivar and well known herbal remedy that is most likely native to areas of central to southern Europe, spanning into northern Africa and Iran, calendula grows well in most temperate climates dying off in extremes of heat or cold.

Easy to grow and quite prolific in nature calendula has a good spot as a staple garden flower. Quite commonly used as a landscape or accent plant, it’s bright orange and yellow flowers spike color into gardens all over the world. Just as it’s common name implies it grows quite well potted. Another advantage growing in pots is that, calendula being an avid self-sower, it’s growing area remains contained to one spot. Not a problem so much as a solution though, it can easily double your harvest to let them plant themselves into open soil and double your latter harvests.

 As far as conditions go it prefers well-drained, light and sandy soil with full sun. In most areas it can be started inside and transplanted or sown from seed after last frost. With calendula only the flower heads are used. Harvesting the blooms before they go to seed will encourage the plant to make more blooms which can then be harvested again. Here in Phoenix, where we have no frost, I’ve found it best to start at the latest edge of summer, October or November, when the heat begins to dissipate. Remember to stay on top of picking the heads, doing so can give a harvest all the way up through May.

THE WHY:

First and foremost be aware that if you or someone you may be giving a calendula product to has an allergy to another member of the Asteraceae (Composite) family it may trigger an allergic reaction. This isn’t always the case, in fact I’d say it’s not really common, but it’s better to err on the side of caution I’m sure. So be sure to ask, and tread lightly.

With that said, I’ve grown quite fond of adding the orange and yellow blooms to my salads and fresh veggie/hummus wraps. It’s probably the easiest way to use them and who doesn’t like beautiful food anyway?

As far as therapeutic remedies go calendula is also a favorite amongst herbalists everywhere. It’s antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties lead it to be one of the best topical infused oil remedies for endless skin conditions, including but not limited to: cuts and burns that are healing poorly or slowly, chronically chapped lips, bruises, bug bites & stings, even black eyes and athletes foot met their match!

Best part is making an infused oil is easy! you could even go a step further and turn it into a balm or salve (which i might explain at a latter date how to do ;).

THE HOW 2.0:

Speaking of beautiful food, calendula has a pretty good history of use as a natural, herbal food coloring (No more food dyes!). King Henry VIII is said to have enjoyed his meals heavily seasoned and vividly colored, as such, his cooks often added the petals of calendula to impart a rich golden yellow to their dishes. Among the many dishes it has tinted are rice, broth, even frosting and cakes have had a taste! the possibilities are endless! Try it out, and if you do leave a comment on how it went!

But you want recipes, no?

First you need dried calendula blossoms, these can be grown and dried in a cabinet face up for about a week, or purchased at your local herb shop. you will need enough to nearly fill a large mason jar.

Calendula Solar Infused oil:

   You will need:

  • 1 Qt large mouth Mason jar  filled to the shoulder with dried blossoms
  • Mason jar lid ring (you wont need the flat cover)
  • 1 Bottle Organic oil (Olive oil is great, Almond is better, Jojoba is best)
  • Square of cheesecloth enough to cover the jar opening plus some.
  • brown paper lunch sack
  • extra cheesecloth, about 1 1/2 ft square
  • large bowl
  • rubber spatula

Simply enough, cover your flowers in the oil making sure to pour to one side to allow air to escape. when your flowers are covered by at least 1/2 inch of the oil stop pouring. place the cheesecloth over the opening and screw the ring on over it. Put the jar, now filled and covered, in the brown bag and place in an outside area that receives full, hot, afternoon sun. make sure it’s a place where it won’t be disturbed! Daily, or every other day or so pick up the jar and swirl it gently so as not to spill the contents but to lightly agitate them none-the-less. when you do this make sure to check on the color and ensure there are no icky things growing in there (there shouldn’t be, and there likely won’t be).

When 1 month has passed take your oil inside. Wash you hands and then take your 1 1/2 sq. ft. of cheesecloth and place it over you receiving bowl, slowly pour the entire contents into the cheesecloth. Lift the cloth up and allow the oil to drip through into the bowl. then using your hands express as much of the extra oil into the bowl as possible. transfer the oil back to your jar with the help of that handy rubber spatula and voila! You have a calendula infused oil.

All in all, Calendula is a pretty sweet plant. I’m glad it’s proven itself to me.

Stay tuned for part 2 where i’ll be talking about internal uses for Calendula

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