I’ve long grown flowers, especially marigolds and sunflowers, as part of my organic vegetable garden. The pollination and potential companion-planting benefits have always served as my excuse to add some plants that are “just pretty” to my otherwise utilitarian, food-producing plot. This year, I took my marigold planting up a notch and decided to grow Calendula officinalis, known commonly as calendula, instead of the more common marigolds of the Tagetes genus.
I chose to do so because I wanted to take advantage of the skin-healing properties associated with calendula in the officinalis species. Many companies have taken advantage of these properties and created fine body care products with calendula infusions or calendula essential oil. So, why not grow this multipurpose flower to make my own products?
I started my calendula indoors about six weeks before my region’s predicted last frost, and I have since transplanted them along the edges of my beds of potatoes, tomatoes and peppers. We have several buds and two open flowers. As the flowers open, I will collect the petals to infuse oils, most likely olive oil. After at least a few weeks of steeping, the oils can be blended into any body care product recipe that calls for a liquid oil component. I plan to make an herbal salve, as shown in this how-to video.
Plus, calendula petals are edible and make a beautiful topping for spring and summer salads. On top of that, the dried blossoms can be used to provide color for homemade cheeses and butters and are also employed as an inexpensive saffron substitute. They may be mixed with other herbs to give added flavor to teas, as well. You could even mix them in a corn muffin recipe. With all of these options, what’s not to love? So much for “just pretty”!
Jennifer Kongs is the Managing Editor for MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. When she's not at her desk, she's likely whipping up something tasty in her kitchen, pulling weeds and planting in her garden, or working up a sweat on the local running trails. Connect directly with Jennifer by leaving a comment below.