Beautiful Calendula: A prolific, cheery, yet humble plant, beloved by herbalists and gardeners alike. The root of the name calendula is the same as the word calendar, perhaps because it is a flower that brings joy almost year round. In the Pacific Northwest, calendula can usually be seen blooming, even through the winter. And so easy to grow! I remember sprinkling a few seeds of calendula in my garden one year and ever since, I’ve been blessed by her perpetual presence.
Gardeners love Calendula
Calendula has numerous uses to gardeners, including utilizing its prolific nature and weather tolerance as a winter or spring cover crop to protect your soil. Plant seeds in late summer for a winter crop and in late fall for a spring cover crop. Even if some of the plant dies back in a colder winter, the soil will benefit from the nutrients of the leaves.
Calendula also makes a great border plant or planted interspersed amongst other ornamentals or edibles. I always let calendula reseed in my vegetable garden patch, so it becomes naturally interspersed throughout. In the past few years, I have seen cutworms on them but they have never affected my vegetable plants. This is because it acts as a “trap crop,” in that it will attract pests such as aphids and caterpillars, which keeps them away from other plants you’d like to protect. Calendula also attracts many beneficial insects, some of which, like ladybugs, come to feast at the aphid party. Additionally, calendula is quite beloved by butterflies, bees and other pollinators.
Herbalists love Calendula
Calendula is widely used for its medicinal benefits. Many people have likely seen calendula salves in even mainstream stores, used for everything skin related, including diaper rash, acne, dry skin and wound healing. This isn’t just hype. Calendula is a go to herb for promoting healthy healing of skin conditions. It is very useful for aiding in wound healing, especially with deeper cuts. Calendula is known by herbalists to heal deep wounds from the inside out. Compare this to comfrey which can cause a wound to close up so quickly that any deeper infection has no way out.
Less known, however, is calendula’s uses as internal medicine. It works well as a simple tea on its own but I especially enjoy the way it enhances the flavor of black tea. I have seen it described as bitter by some, but this has not been my experience, perhaps because black tea is also somewhat bitter when you think of it. For this reason I like having it with a splash of cream but honey or any non-dairy creamer would probably suit the taste buds of others.
Traditionally, calendula is harvested during a hot day to maximize its sticky resins and then dried for later use, especially for those winter months, where it can be used as tea or added to soups. Keep in mind that it is important to use the whole flower head and not just the petals for maximum benefits.
But why though?
Calendula has a wide range of medicinal uses, but I want to point out its particular utility for residents of the Pacific Northwest. Some of the components of calendula are helpful in moving that dampness that can settle deep in our bodies through our long wet winters. This doesn’t mean it can’t be partaken of in the summer. On the contrary, particularly for those of us with a damp constitution, our short PNW summers may not adequately warm us to the interior, resulting in an accumulation of that dampness. This can present itself as sluggishness, bloating, and a variety of inflammatory disorders.
Calendula helps to move the circulatory system by its action on the lymphatic system, especially when there is congestion in the lymph nodes. This helps the immune system as a healthy lymphatic system reduces the formation of toxic byproducts that can slow down our immune function. It’s bitter component indicates its usefulness in moving the digestive system and supporting the liver to aid in overall detoxification too.
Calendula is also high in antioxidants such as carotenoids (the orange/red pigments of carrots and red bell peppers) and flavonoids, which are important to healthy blood vessels.
And, calendula is considered as an herb that lifts melancholic moods. Not only is it bright and cheery in color, but its stimulating effects can help shift a low mood in the same way that it helps to move a sluggish circulatory system.
All in all, perfect for us in the Pacific Northwest! So harvest your calendula all summer, it will keep producing more flowers all through the season so harvest them about once per week and you’ll be well supplied when winter comes.
Stay Calm and drink tea!
In the meantime, enjoy a delicious iced tea, using some fresh Calendula. The notes from the sticky resins will delight your taste buds. I would recommend using about 10 fresh blooms per cup, which then gets diluted when you add ice. Pour hot water over the blooms, cover and let it steep for 15 mins, then strain and cool before use. Add honey to your taste, cream if you like and mix with black, green or rooibos tea as desired. You can even get fancy by putting a few brightly colored petals to freeze in your ice cubes as well!