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All About Calendula

By Ellen Ecker Ogden, author and garden design lecturer.

Calendula or Calendula officinalis, is a hardy annual, and member of the Asteraceae or Compositae family, which share a central disc surrounded by spoon-shaped petals.

Notable species include daisy, arnica, Artemisia, chamomile, chrysanthemum, dandelion and Echinacea. Often mistaken for the more familiar French and African pom-pom flowers known as marigolds (Tagetes) that come in a six-pack at the garden center six-pack, both produce bright yellow and orange blossoms that add a sunny personality to the flower, herb or vegetable garden.

Calendula blossoms form a neat ray of petals that gently unfold from a tight bud, opening up to radiate from the center as the sun hits them in the morning, and closing up when the sun sets. The name calendula means the first day of the month, presumably because this pot marigold blooms reliably at the start each day. It is easy to grow from seed and quickly grows from seed to maturity in 6-8 weeks.

Also known as Pot Marigold, English Marigold, Poet’s Marigold, or Summer’s bride, the original species were contained to yellow and orange, yet many new hybrids have been bred to develop a range of differing shades of apricot, orange and yellow, with doubles and single blossoms, as well as plants of shorter stature for bedders, and longer stems for the cutting garden.

All About Calendula: Origins and Uses

Originating in Europe, Calendula has been written about since the fourteenth century, cultivated for healing properties, and to highlight blonde hair. Golden orange flowers are a favorite among herbalist, and one early herbalist recommended simply looking at the plant will improve eyesight.

Medicinally, calendula contains saponins an antimicrobial, and the dried petals can be made into a tincture or oil, used to treat injuries from slow healing cuts, ulcers, and minor burns. Reported to help with gangrene during the Civil War and WWI, it is widely used homeopathic remedy, for skin problems and inflammations. Taken internally, essential oil made from Calendula is an effective antifungal for vaginal yeast infections.

Calendula has long been prized as a natural hair rinse to bring out the natural blonde highlights. According to the New American Herbal by Stephen Orr, he quotes herbalist William Turner in the sixteenth century,

“Some use to make their heyre yelow wyth the floure of this herbe. Not beying content with the natural colour which Gad hath given them.”

Early settlers to America from Europe brought seeds for Calendula or pot marigold to their kitchen gardens, to add as a seasoning and a spot of color. The bright orange petals add vibrancy to soups, cheeses and meats – a poor man’s substitute for the more expensive saffron. Petals pounded in a mortar and pestles were added to butter, bread pudding and cream for a more appetizing color, and a hint of flavor. Today’s chefs and cooks strip off the fresh petals to sprinkle over salads and soups.

Calendula are often times confused with Marigold, each with golden orange hues, but they are indeed different from one another.

Because the Calendula closes its petals at night and reopens them at dawn, Elizabethans considered it to be a simple flower, and a symbol of earnestness, devotion and optimism. Medieval Latin breaks the word into two parts: “Calends”, for the first day of the month in the ancient Roman calendar, and “Ule”, meaning globule or nodule to describe the sun like shape of the blossom when in full bloom.

Calendula can produce a spectacular display of yellow and orange flowers from early summer until frost, yet while the blossoms are prolific, they are short lived in a flower vase, and in the garden can readily turn from blossom to seed head. Cutting them early in the morning while the air is cool helps extend vase life for cut flowers, and keeping the spent blossoms deadheaded regularly will keep a continuous display of blossoms throughout the summer season.

All About Calendula: In the Garden

Not all flowers are easy to start from seed, yet Calendula, with its twisting pods are reliable and germinate easily. Ideal for a children’s garden, since the seeds are sizable, and easy to handle, they are an economical way to get a lot of flowers for a little money.

A packet of seeds can be sown directly in the garden or started in seed trays or pots. In less than 6 weeks, the plants will fill a flower bed with color, and with any luck, produce seeds to self sow more plants for a succession of blooms.

Sow seeds in ordinary garden soil, or in a pot. Water and place in full sun or part shade. Plants will bloom more prolifically when the soil is not amended with compost or over fertilized, which will produce lush foliage, yet fewer blossoms. Plants can reach 15 inches in height, with a multi-branching habit.

Calendula are at their best when grouped together as a large clump, in a flower bed or mixed container. The bright colors are a nice complement to blue flowers such as lobelia and salvia when planted together.

Calendula are popular in kitchen gardens or meadows, because of their natural shape and easy going habit, and attract beneficial pollinators. The more popular varieties include the “Kablouna Series”, which contain a range of gold, orange and apricot flowered blossoms on powdery mildew resistant plants. Or “Pacific Beauty” mix, which is heat resistant, with long stems prized by cut flower growers. An unusual mixture is called “Flash Back” named for the flashy red or maroon backs of the petals, which are tricolored with orange, apricot, peach or cream, and yellow. At night, they fold up for the night revealing a “flashy” back side.

Calendula is one of the 16 flowers included in our <a href="/wildflower-seeds/wildflower-mix/edible-flower-seed-mix">Edible Flower Seed Mix</a> which is equally beautiful and tasty.

For the natural gardener or meadow gardens, Calendula blossoms encourage a host of beneficial insects such as minute pirate bugs that control thrips, syrphidae that attack aphids, and micro-wasps that parasitize aphids.

About the Author: Ellen Ecker Ogden is the author of six books, including The Complete Kitchen Garden, featuring theme gardens and recipes for cooks who love to garden. She writes and lectures on kitchen garden design.

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