Calendula is an annual flowering plant, Calendula officinalis, more commonly known as the pot marigold. The familiar orange and yellow garden plant is a member of the aster family, Asteraceae. It was familiar to Romans back in the day as they gave it the name calendula. In the warm regions of the Mediterranean it could be seen flowering on the first of almost every month, or on the calends, so this plant came to be known as calendula.
Marigolds are considered an old-time garden favorite. Even though new hybrids in a wide range of colors and growing habits are available at garden centers every year, the original orange and yellow marigold will always find a place in many gardens. It can be started by seed during the cold months and transplanted outside when the ground has warmed up in the spring.
Marigolds need at least six hours of sun and preferably full sun in the garden. Fertilizing and ‘dead heading’, or picking off the flowers that are done blooming, will help the plant to continue producing more flowers. The colorful blossoms will bloom continuously all summer long until the frost is heavy and the ground freezes. Seeds that drop from spent flowers will grow the following year.
As the flowers die back they can be harvested, dried and kept in sealed glass jars for making herbal tea. Slightly sweet and slightly spicy, the orange and yellow petals are a nice addition to mint tea. Pull the petals from the flower head and add about a teaspoon to a cup of near boiling water with a tablespoon of crushed mint leaves. Steep for four minutes or so, strain and enjoy. Fresh flower petals can also be used to make tea.
Fresh petals can be added to salads or tossed with steamed vegetables and pasta for a splash of color. The colorful petals lend a brightness to pale foods like rice, cream soups, cheeses and dips. Calendula contains carotenoids, including beta-carotene, which gives it the bright orange color. It can be used as a substitute for saffron.
Calendula can be used to soothe irritated skin. The essential oils contain ingredients that soothe inflammation and aid new tissue growth and repair of damaged skin. Calendula creams and lotions are available at health food stores and herbal shops. Use one with a nut oil or seed oil base because petroleum-based products can irritate dry and damaged skin. Old-timers would have made a poultice from the juice or essence of the flower petals and applied it directly to the wounded area.