The Many Uses of Calendula

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Calendula officinalis

Most gardeners grow calendulas (Calendula officinalis) for their bright orange to yellow summer flowers, but calendulas are much more than a pretty face in an organic vegetable garden. Calendula flowers can be harvested and used as a medicinal herb, and I like to snip petals into herb teas and salads to add colour and nutrition. In addition, the presence of calendulas in the garden may help repel insect pests, and calendula roots benefit the soil by forming active relationships with soil fungi. Best of all, I can get calendulas to come back year after year by scattering seed heads where I want the next crop of flowers to grow. Calendulas grow so vigorously in my garden that I have often used them as a fall cover crop that is conveniently killed by cold winter weather. Where winters are mild, plants often survive to bloom in spring.

Medicinal Uses for Calendula Flowers

Calendula flowers have a long history of use as the source of natural compounds that help heal injured skin. The plant profile from the University of Maryland Medical Center reports that the abundant antioxidants in calendula petals help heal skin wounds, rashes and burns by increasing blood flow to the affected area while suppressing secondary infections. Calendula is an active ingredient in several diaper creams for babies, and you will often see it in natural hand lotions and first-aid creams.

The first step in making your own calendula preparations is to dry a quantity of calendula flowers. Dried calendula flowers that are not used in medicinal preparations can be fed to chickens in winter, which helps produce darker egg yolks.

Calendula flower

I gather calendula flowers late in the morning, when they are fully open and the dew has dried, and let them dry indoors at room temperature for a few days. Then I remove residual moisture by placing the shrivelled blossoms in my dehydrator or a warm oven for a couple of hours. The dried flowers are then ready to store or make into an infused oil. This is easily done by tightly packing dried flowers into a clean jar, covering them with olive oil or grapeseed oil, and placing the jar in a warm, sunny window. Shaken every day, the oil is ready to strain through a coffee filter and store in 3 to 4 weeks. The infused calendula oil can be used straight-up for rashes, you can mix it with your favourite skin cream, or you can use it as a primary ingredient in a homemade lotion.

One precaution: People who are allergic to daisies, ragweed and other close cousins could react negatively to calendula preparations. I am highly allergic to ragweed, but calendula does not bother me a bit. Perhaps I've grown desensitised by using calendula petals as "poor man's saffron" in rice and pasta dishes.

How Calendulas Help the Garden

I see occasional insects visiting my calendula flowers, but most insects avoid the plants, which is in keeping with one of its old uses as the basis for insect sprays. The idea of brewing up calendula tea from the plants' flowers and leaves, and using it as an insecticidal spray, is getting renewed attention based on several recent studies. In Poland, growing calendulas among cabbage resulted in fewer problems with aphids, cabbageworms, and diamondback moths. A recent study in India showed that calendula extract reduced feeding by tobacco cutworms.

Butterfly on calendula

Calendulas also benefit the garden below ground, where they form partnerships with soil-borne fungi that turn the plants into soil-cleaning machines. In China and the USA, calendula has been found to be useful in the restoration of soil contaminated with high levels of cadmium. In Columbia and Spain, cover crops of calendula were found to suppress root-knot nematodes.

What exciting news! In my climate, calendulas sown in spring produce an abundance of seeds by midsummer. I often use them as a fall cover crop, just because they want to grow that way. The calendulas I sow in vacant space in late summer hardly have time to pop a few flowers before winter shuts them down, and then they go on to feed the soil. With so many talents, calendulas deserve a place in every garden.

By Barbara Pleasant

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Comments

 
"That's so strange that you don't see insects visiting your calendulas. Mine are always covered in bees and hover flies, and I use them in rows between vegetables that need insect polination just because of that. I made a blog post about mine a few months ago, here http://growcookeatit.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/calendulas-and-companion-planting.html"
Carole Gomez on Friday 15 June 2012
"Good point,Carole. The explanation probably has to do with the fact that the UK is populated by native European insects, who have gotten to know calendulas over thousands of years, and coevolved with them. In the US calendula is an exotic species so far as insects are concerned. They just don't know what to make of it."
Barbara Pleasant on Friday 15 June 2012
"Ah, of course! Let's hope your insects discover the delights of calendulas soon!"
Carole Gomez on Friday 15 June 2012
"Will calendulas grow in Dallas, TX?"
Susan on Sunday 17 June 2012
"Yes, they will grow in Dallas, but only from fall to spring, as winter annuals. They are less cold tolerant than pansies, but usually survive mild winters. "
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 18 June 2012
""In Poland, growing calendulas among cabbage resulted in fewer problems with aphids, cabbageworms, and diamondback moths." Can you please give us the link, or the full reference for this study. I work on a CSA and I would like to try this for all our cabbage-family plants, but I would like to read more about it first."
Marsha on Monday 18 June 2012
"Marsha, here is a link to the latest published paper from the Polish research project. Bear in mind that what works in one place may not translate well in another...http://versita.metapress.com/content/q60rq30j024t5114/fulltext.pdf "
Barbara Pleasant on Wednesday 20 June 2012
"Nice post indeed! Wow! I really love your calendulas. http://www.egardensheds.com.au/"
garden sheds on Wednesday 20 June 2012
"I live in Mid-Michigan and my calendula flowers are always covered with small bees and other flying insects. Barbara, thank you for sharing the information about calendulas and the link to the research mentioned above. I too am looking forward to trying to grow calendulas within some of the brassica crops."
Patti Travioli on Thursday 21 June 2012
"lovely instructions but still i love rose the most it is amazing and preety."
varunika srivastav on Wednesday 6 February 2013
"It's Colombia, not Columbia. "
Learn to spell on Saturday 18 May 2013
"Can Calandula be used to help reduce pain in limbs after they have been affected by trauma caused by an accident when I tripped on the faulty pavement near my home on the 12 June 2013 ? I have seen my doctor and he prescribed pain killers 300 mg Aspirin . He said it should help the severe trauma but I could return to normalcy in 2 or 3 weeks time but could not of course guarantee that. I am a retired Chinese Accupuncturist of many years past experience and realise that Calandula is a wonderful plant. You can of course mix a profusion of it with other flowers . Rose petals for instance ! Any any helpful comments would be useful for my wife's problem. Thank you "
Ranald A MacDonald of Keppoch on Sunday 23 June 2013
"The natural medicine I would suggest is arnica, made from flowers of an alpine plant that is not widely grown. Arnica gels and creams are available at health food stores, and they really do reduce inflammation and bruising. Good luck with your recovery. "
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 24 June 2013
"I have found in my climate that my annual calendula seem in fact to be an annual self seeding crop. Hence, they return in great force, almost as an invasive, all over my garden! But I love them, the smell of the foliage and the brilliant blossoms! I am transfixed by the scent of the foliage, which is slightly succulent. Is there not some use for this foliage in medicine? I am a market gardener and am always looking for new ways to promote what I grow."
Dana on Wednesday 26 June 2013
"I'm growing calendula for the first time for making infused oil. I see that you wait until the petals are fully open before harvesting. When you use for infused oil, do you use the whole head, or just the petals? Some sites say to remove the petals, and some sites say to harvest just before they're fully open. Trying to get the most medicinal value from the flower, Thanks!"
Sara on Saturday 6 July 2013
"Sara, you use the whole dried flowers, petals and all. To help them dry quickly use a food dehydrator and then store the dried flowers in an airtight jar, kept in a cool dark place. "
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 8 July 2013
"Hi,I am wondering if you have any experience with Calendula Little Gems - Orange and Lemon. I love them and their scents are lovely. Can I infuse them in oil and use as with original calendulas???"
Kim Fillmore on Monday 2 September 2013
"Kim, might you be thinking of the Lemon Gem marigolds, which also come in orange and dark orange (called red)? The plants have very finely cut, ferny foliage and take a long time to come into bloom, and the fragrant little blossoms are edible. "
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 2 September 2013
"Thank you for the great info on Calendula. I really got lucky on my germination of these this spring. Loved all of the color. I have collected so many seeds and hope to grow more next spring, starting the plants indoors. Two questions: I live in norther Bavaria, Germany. My climate here is what I pretty much grew up with in Mid Michigan...with the exception I have huge Rhodadendrums that I could not grow in Michigan. You mention seeding in the fall for spring blooms. Would that work here? It is already too late for this year, but perhaps next. Also, with hundreds of seeds, can I brew a tea from the seeds? After researching the medicinal value of this plant, I would like to explore more ideas. Sandy Neumarkt Germany"
Sandy Ries on Sunday 10 November 2013
"I am not an herbalist, but in general I avoid eating/drinking plant parts outside of their traditional uses. Seeds of all plants contain compounds different from those in the slightly immature flowers (the part of calendula used medicinally). I do not recommend consuming calendula seeds. "
Barbara Pleasant on Friday 15 November 2013
"Thank you for this article, I think there is some confusion about calendula and several species of it, and also an under-appreciation of its useful qualities. Perhaps it is better to indicate in each use case what particular species we are talking about. The insecticide aspect is very interesting and I started reading more about it - http://www.cloverleaffarmherbs.com/calendula/ It seems like this a working, organic solution to some pests. So Tagetes is not only sturdy in this regard, but can also help other plants. Or did you actually mean Calendula officinalis itself ? Of course, calendula itself is very suitable for human consumption, its antiinflammatory and antimicrobial effect: https://herbalref.com/calendula-calendula-flower-calendulae-flos/ And it is also very beautiful and colourful flower, a great addition to any garden."
Freya Bennett on Thursday 2 June 2016
"Calendulas actually *attract* aphids. I used them this year for their flower petals and as a trap crop. No aphids on anything but the calendula. "
Toni on Tuesday 25 October 2016

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