Calendula, The Garden’s Weatherman

Calendula is a flower that has been used ornamentally, culinarily, and medicinally since ancient times. Now, it is important to note that I am talking about Calendula officinalis, not Tagetes, which is in the same plant family. Tagetes can be toxic, so make sure you are using the correct marigold.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. Any information found on thegigglinggardengnome.com is intended for informational and educational purposes only and not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you have a medical condition or are seeking medical advice, please speak to your doctor or other medical professional.

Plant Information

Common name: Calendula, marigold, pot marigold

Scientific name: Calendula officinalis

Family: Asteraceae

Calendula is a hardy, cool-weather annual that is beneficial to people in a variety of ways. Another member of the “daisy” family, calendula has bright yellow, white, or orange flowers and green, long, thin leaves. They tend to grow from one to two feet tall and wide. A neat thing about these flowers is that they open in the morning and close at night. In fact, if the flowers are still closed late in the morning, it is said that it is going to rain.

Photo by Pixabay: https://www.pexels.com/photo/butterfly-perched-on-the-yellow-petaled-flower-during-daytime-65255/

Growing Requirements

Calendulas can be direct sown or started indoors, whichever works best for you. Start them about two months before your last frost date or in late summer for fall gardening. Since they are so adaptable, they can thrive in containers just as easily as in garden beds. Though they are not picky, calendulas need rich, nutrient dense, well draining soil and full to partial sun in order to thrive. They can take a little shade, but if you want lots of flowers, I recommend providing a lot of sun. 

Plant spacing should be about a foot apart. I like planting them as a border so that I can harvest them frequently. Once they start to flower, they put out a lot of them. It is best to harvest the flowers early in the day when they are open.

“The marigold, that goes to bed wi’ th’ sun
And with him rises weeping. These are flowers
Of middle summer”

William Shakespeare Winter’s Tale, Act 4 Scene 4
(Shakespeare, Winter’s Tale from The Folger Shakespeare.)

History

I’m telling you, some of the most useful plants are native to the Mediterranean area. Calendula is one of them. It has been used and appreciated by gardeners since ancient times. 

Because calendula reacts to the sun, it became associated with it as well as the passage of time. That is where its name comes from. Notice how “calendula” and “calendar” are so similar? Not a coincidence. The root of both words comes from the Latin for the first day of the month. 

They have been used for celebrations as well as to protect the home and ward off evil. A garland made from the flowers was strung over people’s doors in the Middle Ages to prevent evil from entering. The petals were often scattered on the floor and under beds for extra protection. They have also been used in ritual baths and incense to cleanse and protect. Also, we know they were used medicinally during the American Civil War. 

In the language of flowers, calendula represents grief and despair as well as mourning. It is unclear how they came to have such a dark reputation, but they are often found in funerals and cemeteries.

Photo by Alina Vilchenko: https://www.pexels.com/photo/dried-calendula-flowers-on-persons-hand-5562129/

Medicinal Uses

Before I get into this section, it is important to note that you should consult your doctor before using any herbs or supplements to treat any condition. Calendula can interact with some medications if taken internally. Also, extra caution with this herb is needed if you are trying to conceive, pregnant, or nursing. Please seek out the advice of your physician.

Calendula is a very potent medicinal herb. It has been proven to be antiseptic, antifungal, antitumor, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory. It is one of the best herbs to promote healing tissue. As such, it has been used as a mouth rinse to treat thrush and as a tea to help with gut problems. However, it really shines as a topical treatment for skin issues. 

Many salve, ointment, poultice, lotion, and cleanser recipes feature calendula prominently. That is because it has compounds in it to speed healing and reduce risk of infection. It has long been considered an effective treatment for burns, rashes, stings, cuts, bruises, and abrasions. Those compounds also make calendula useful in cosmetic applications. It makes a good facial cleanser and moisturizer because of its anti-inflammatory and restorative properties.

Culinary Uses

If this post has led you to believe that calendula is merely an ornamental medicine and therefore probably nasty, let me assure you, that is not the case. Soups, stews, rice dishes, and salads are all foods that traditionally include calendula in their ingredients. In fact, it is often used as a cheaper substitute for saffron. The common name “pot marigold” comes from its use as a “pottage herb”, or an herb used in pottage (stew). Not, as I had always assumed, because it can be grown in a pot. 

These bright, daisy-like flowers have long been used as a yellow dye for fabric as well as butter and cheese. They have a slightly peppery flavor but have been used to give color to baked goods as well. The leaves are best used fresh to liven up salads.

Conclusion

Calendula plants are easy to grow and care for, have a fascinating history, and are incredibly useful. If you are a newbie gardener, you can’t go wrong including them in your first garden.

Resources

Please go check out these resources for additional information. There was so much more than I could possibly cover here.

  • Doleschal, Mareike. “Shakespeare’s Favourite Flowers: The Marigold”. Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, 01 Jul 2021, https://www.shakespeare.org.uk/explore-shakespeare/blogs/marigold-on-death-beds-blowing-the-marigold-in-shakespeare-and-victorian-england/.
  • Shakespeare, William. Shakespeare’s Plays, Sonnets and Poems from The Folger Shakespeare. Ed. Barbara Mowat, Paul Werstine, Michael Poston, and Rebecca Niles. Folger Shakespeare Library, [datetoday]. https://folger.edu/explore/shakespeares-works/all-works
  • Arora D, Rani A, Sharma A. A review on phytochemistry and ethnopharmacological aspects of genus Calendula. Pharmacogn Rev. 2013 Jul;7(14):179-87. doi: 10.4103/0973-7847.120520. PMID: 24347926; PMCID: PMC3841996.
  • “Calendula”. Mount Sinai. https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/herb/calendula.
  • “Calendula”. Cornell University. http://www.gardening.cornell.edu/homegardening/sceneff01.html.
  • Dollemore, Doug. Giuliucci, Mark. Haigh, Jennifer. Kirchheimer, Sid. Callahan, Jean. New Choices in Natural Healing. Rodale Press Inc, 1995.
  • Mindell, Earl. Earl Mindell’s Herb Bible. Simon & Schuster, Fireside, 1992, P 60
  • Ducham, Brittany. Radical Remedies An Herbalist’s Guide to Empowered Self-Care. Illustrated by Elana Gabrielle, Roost Books, P 72.
  • Franklin, Anna. The Hearth Witch’s Garden Herbal: Plants, Recipes & Rituals for Healing & Magical Self-Care. Llewellyn Publications, 2023, P 103-107.
  • McVicar, Jekka. The Complete Herb Book. Introduction by Penelope Hobhouse, Firefly Books, 2007, P 66-67.
  • The New York Botanical Garden. Herbal Handbook. Clarkson/Potter Publishers, P 21-23.
  • The Editors of Prevention Health Books. The Doctor’s Book of Herbal Home Remedies. Rodale Inc., 2000.
  • Balch, Phyllis A. Prescription For Nutritional Healing. Third Edition, Avery Books, 2000, P 92.

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