When the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors planted an herb garden at the magazine offices in the spring of 2015, our expectations were low. The weather stayed unnaturally cool, cloudy and soggy for weeks. So, we were pleasantly surprised that nature dealt us a bumper crop of calendula when the weather turned warm. Reluctant to let anything go to waste, we quickly researched calendula and found ways of dealing with an abundance of this skin-friendly herb, starting with easy homemade calendula-infused oil.
Calendula has been used medicinally for centuries. The flower petals contain high amounts of cell-protecting antioxidants. Calendula’s uses include topical applications to the skin to help heal wounds and to treat burns, cuts and minor infections. (Learn more about the herb’s beneficial properties on the Mountain Rose Herb blog.)
In addition to soothing the skin, calendula flowers are also beautiful. The plentiful blooms — in shades of yellow and orange — brought a cheery appearance to our office garden. The flowers bloomed all summer and well into fall, although we stopped harvesting in mid-September in hopes the plants will reseed next spring.
Every couple of days during the growing season, we visited the herb garden to harvest new blooms. Calendula flowers easily pop off their stems when you cup your fingers beneath the calyx and pull up. Before we could use the flowers in homemade concoctions, though, the petals needed to dry thoroughly because their moisture could encourage the growth of mold in our homemade calendula-infused oil. To dry our harvest, we spread out the flowers on the tops of our computers. The low heat generated by the computer towers worked great, and each batch of calendula flowers took only a few days to dry sufficiently. After a few months of bountiful harvests, we began joking about starting a mail-order calendula business.
Dried calendula flowers will keep in a dark, dry spot for many months. Most of us stored the dried blooms in glass canning jars until we were ready to use them. We poured olive oil over dried calendula flowers inside clear, clean glass jars, and then placed the jars on sunny windowsills to steep. The resulting calendula-infused oil was ready in about a month, after it had changed color to a vibrant orange-yellow.
Editor Hannah Kincaid mixed some of her infused oil with homemade sage oil and beeswax to create a healing calendula salve that’s shared by everyone in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS office. Making salves is simple: With a double boiler, melt a small portion of shaved beeswax in an herb-infused oil, and then pour it into a container for storage. The mixture will solidify into a salve as it cools. See A Quick Guide to Beeswax & Liquid Oil Ratios for advice on determining the amount of beeswax to use in your own calendula salve recipe.
I made soap using my own calendula-infused oil. The herb’s skin-healing properties appealed to me because I suffer from dry skin and rashes in the winter, and I also have family members who battle eczema. To make calendula soap, you can use this Echinacea Soap recipe from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS website, substituting calendula-infused oil for the extra virgin olive oil, and using calendula flower petals instead of echinacea. I omitted the essential oil to create an extra-gentle unscented soap.
Dried calendula flowers also can be sprinkled on top of salads, soups and other dishes to bring a cheery touch of summer to your meals at any time of year. And calendula is easy to grow: Just sow the seeds in your garden when the soil is warm. To get a jumpstart on spring, you can plant Calendula officinalis seeds indoors about six weeks before the last frost, and then transplant them to your garden. Your biggest problem will likely be keeping up with the harvest as the flowers start to bloom.
(Top) Photo by Rebecca Martin
(Second) Photo by Cheryl Long
(Third) Photo by Rebecca Martin
(Bottom) Photo by Rebecca Martin
Rebecca Martin is an Associate Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, where her beats include DIY and Green Transportation. She's an avid cyclist and has never met a vegetable she didn't like.