This bushy Mediterranean annual bears yellow or orange flowers so brilliantly colored that they once were said to be reflections of the sun. Calendula’s long bloom period was noted by the ancient Greeks and Romans — the name “calendula” comes from the Latin calendae, for “calendar”.
The herb has a long history of use. Early Greeks and Romans drank calendula tea to relieve stomach ailments, and they applied the herb externally as a poultice to treat superficial skin wounds. During the Middle Ages, the dried flowers were added to soup and stew pots (hence the name pot marigold) to help ward off illness. Calendula has also been used as a dye for food, fabric, and cosmetics.
Common Names: Calendula, Pot Marigold
Description: Branching plant, 1 to 2 feet tall; orange or yellow ray blooms up to 4 inches across; lance-shaped leaves and stems covered with fine hairs
Flowering: June to September
Parts Used: Flower petals and leaves
Habitat: Native to areas around the Mediterranean; naturalized in temperate regions worldwide
Calendula petals make colorful additions to green salads and have been used as an economical, though less vividly colored, substitute for saffron in cheese, rice dishes, and soups. Calendula leaves can be eaten raw, but some people find their flavor unpleasant. The dried, powdered herb also can be used as a food coloring.
Calendula has anti-inflammatory properties, and the herb has long been used to relieve inflammation of the stomach, throat, mouth, and skin. A tea made from the flowers or a tincture made from the entire plant can ease inflammatory digestive conditions such as gastritis, colitis, and peptic ulcers. Calendula tea can also be taken as a mouthwash or gargle to treat mouth and throat inflammation.
Used externally in salves, creams, and ointments, calendula helps heal skin wounds and irritations, such as rashes, insect bites, and burns. A mild infusion can be used as a douche to treat vaginal yeast infections.
Caution: Those allergic to other members of the family Asteraceae, such as ragweed, may be sensitive to calendula.
Calendula is an attractive plant for containers or informal cottage and cutting gardens. Modern cultivated varieties expand the color palette to include peach, apricot, cream, and bicolor single and double blooms.
This plant, sometimes listed as “marigold,” is an ingredient in many personal-care products. Used in hair rinses, calendula brings out gold highlights. Extracts of the flowers are combined with other herbal ingredients in soothing topical creams used to treat inflamed skin conditions, infections, lesions, and ulcers of the leg. Calendula flowers can also be mordanted with alum to make a yellow dye for fabric.
How to grow it
After danger of frost has passed, sow seeds in your garden in well-drained soil and full sun. Seeds will germinate in 7 to 14 days. Thin seedlings to 6 to 12 inches apart. Calendula self-seeds readily, so remove the dead flower heads immediately to prevent excessive self-seeding and to extend the flowering period.
For culinary or medicinal use, harvest the flowers when the plant is dry, then remove individual petals and dry them on paper in the shade. Spread the petals in a single layer, not touching one another, to avoid discoloration. Store the dried petals in an airtight container.
SUNNY CALENDULA PILAF
Calendula can turn ordinary rice into a vibrantly colored, flavorful side dish that’s good for you, too!
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 tablespoons diced celery
2 tablespoons blanched sliced almonds
1 long-grain brown rice
¼ cup fresh calendula petals
1 teaspoon chopped fresh lemon thyme
1 teaspoon minced lemon zest
Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot, celery, and almonds. Cook for about 5 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and the almonds are lightly browned. Add the rice and cook for 1 minute more. Add the water, calendula, thyme, and lemon zest.
Bring the mixture to a boil, then cover it and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 45 to 50 minutes, or until no more steam rises from the pan. Remove the covered pan from the heat and let it sit for 5 minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork and serve.