Calendula, Calendula officinalis
Nicknames : Marigold, pot marigold
Origin and history
Calendula flowers are known to have been very popular as far back as ancient Rome, and they’ve been used for medicinal and culinary purposes for centuries.
Secret language of flowers
You’ll be surprised to know that this happy-looking flower traditionally represents despair, grief, sorrow and uneasiness. It also stands for important predictions. On a more positive note, another of its messages is sacred affection and love.
Calendula grow well from late spring to early autumn and flower for a very long time. As annual plants they produce seeds in autumn, which you can easily collect for re-sowing the following year. They’re one of the easiest plants for beginner gardeners and beginner seed savers. You can also let the plants self-seed and let them decide when and where they’d like to grow.
It’s wise to remember that they’re a cool weather plant, so in really hot weather they need plenty of water and will possibly even benefit from some extra shade if your local temperatures rise above 30°C (86°F). They thrive, and look lovely, in the shade around fruit trees.
In mild climates calendula hold their flowers right through winter. They don’t grow much in winter, which isn’t an abundant time for flower production, but if you get them growing to a decent size with plenty of flower buds by the end of autumn you can keep harvesting for a long time. In colder areas you’ll have to grow them in pots and move them indoors, or you could use frost cloth on the coldest nights (even old bed linen or T-shirts can do the trick).
Dwarf calendulas, which grow to only 15-20 cm (6-8 in) high, are great for planting among vegetables. The more common calendula varieties grow to 60 cm (24 in).
Calendula’s typical colours are bright yellow and bright orange.
If you grow them from seed you can choose from many varieties, explore colours from the entire cream-yellow-orange-brown palette, and also have multicoloured flowers.
The dwarf varieties have slightly smaller flowers that are usually single. The large flowers can be single or double.
Calendula flowers usually taste slightly spicy and may have a bitter undertone. They’re more admired for their colour than their taste. Some people describe the taste as tangy, which has never been my experience. However I’m living in a fairly warm climate, which seems to bring out more bitterness.
Use in the kitchen
Calendula is sometimes used in place of saffron, which is far more expensive. It provides the same colour but not the same taste and don’t provide any fragrance to the dish. The bright calendula petals are very attractive in green salads.
Other edible parts for the raw food kitchen
You can use the flowers fresh or dried. Only the flowers are edible.
Calendula is famous for its benefits to the skin. It’s an ingredient in many homemade and commercial creams. It has a range of other healing properties, including anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral. It’s been used to treat stomach problems, including ulcers, and to relieve menstrual problems.
It’s considered a very safe herb.
It seems to me that calendula flowers should find their way to our plates far more often – although like all good things, and particularly medicinally powerful plants, probably not daily.