The word calendula comes from the Latin caleo, meaning "warm" or "to glow," a name that appropriately reflects the blossom's sunny, golden hue. Christians called it "marygold" or "marybud" because its blooming coincided with festivals celebrating the Virgin Mary. Other names for the herb include summer's bride, husbandman's dial, holigold and "poor-man's saffron" because its color and mild peppery taste make it an excellent and inexpensive substitute for the Spanish condiment.
Calendula prefers a rich loam and full sun, but will grow in most soils and partial shade. A self-seeding annual, it can become quite invasive if grown in ideal conditions.
Medicinally, calendula has proven itself as a very effective skin conditioner for cuts, scrapes, wounds and burns. A balm for new mothers, calendula is very beneficial for diaper rash and for soothing nipples that are sore from breastfeeding. To make your own calendula cream, add three grams of flower petals to two cups of edible oil (preferably olive oil). Place in a double boiler and gently heat for two hours. Remove from the heat and strain out the petals. Place fresh petals in the oil and repeat the gentle heating for another two hours. Strain out the calendula flowers again and add three grams of beeswax, gently stirring over the heat until the wax and oil have blended. Allow to cool in clean jars before sealing.
Added to a salad, calendula petals not only enliven it with color but also contribute nutrients. The herb is a good source of lutein, a powerful antioxidant shown to be particularly effective in combating age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of irreversible blindness in North Americans.
Calendula also makes a delightful tea, especially when combined with lemon balm. One caveat: If you're allergic to ragweed, you might react to pot marigold as well.
Another caveat: Never use commercially grown flowers. Only use plants that you know have not been subjected to herbicides or pesticides. Washing won't be enough, because over time the plants will absorb these poisons — and in all likelihood you will as well.
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