Look: the constant marigold
Springs again from hidden roots.
Baffled gardener, you behold
New beginnings and new shoots
Spring again from hidden roots.
Pull or stab or cut or burn,
They will ever yet return.
From ‘Marigolds’ by Robert Graves
Calendula officianalis, or more commonly known as the English or ‘Pot’ Marigold, not to be confused with the French Marigold has to be one of my most favoured and widely used herb in my repertoire.
I sow a large tray of these striking plants every year and every summer, around June right through to the autumn, the garden is packed with large pockets of the most intense orange flowers…the unmistakable vivid colour of Calendula. As attested by the extract from Robert Grave’s ‘Marigolds’ they are incredibly hardy and robust plants, so much so I often find myself trimming them back lightly as the season progresses mainly to prolong the flowering period but also to keep them compact and neat.
Growth and Cultivation
Calendula is in fact a perennial plant, but many people, me included treat it as an annual and re sow a fresh crop every year. The seeds are incredibly easy to collect, I often leave a handful of flowers to go to seed for next year’s sowing and the seeds remind me of tiny caterpillars all tucked up in the centre of the dried flower head, turning from lime green, to light brown as the seeds ripen and mature.
Germination is pretty much 100% successful sown either direct in late spring or earlier in trays indoors, although can be sporadic. They are a great plant for children to start with as the seeds are large enough for tiny clumsy hands to handle and grow quick enough to satisfy child-like impatience.
The plants seem to prefer full sun although I grow them wherever there is a bit of space be it in full sun or partial shade, I have noticed over the years that those grown in full sun produce a better quality flower, those grown in partial shade seem to grow more green and bushy with fewer flowers.
They grow to about a foot or so and towards the end of the season can become leggy and top heavy, often bending down to the ground. They can be supported although I prefer to keep deadheading and pruning very lightly to keep the plants neat and compact and also encourage more flowers (which is the most useful part after all).
To flowers range in colour from a light lemony yellow to full-on vivid ‘Tango’ orange, I have only ever had one yellow form and that was last year so hopefully this year I’ll have a few more. The flowers are much like daisies in that they open to greet the Sun and close up of an evening
Where do I begin? Calendula is a bloomin fantastic friend to us mortals with all our cuts and scrapes and sores and sprains. The way I use it the most is by infusing the fresh flower heads in sunflower oil. This is what’s known as a macerated or infused oil, and is of particularly good use in massage although can be blendied with other oils, waxes and so on to create a brilliant healing salve.
To make a macerated oil is simple. Pick flowers on a dry day, I like to leave them an hour or so in the sun to ‘wilt’ ever so slightly. I then pack them into a large glass jar and cover with Sunflower oil. Shake well and leave on a sunny windowsill for 2 weeks shaking occasionally. After two weeks strain the oil. You can then dilute 1 part calendula oil with something like 2-3 parts sweet almond for a wonderful massage base oil to use on dry, sensitive, bruised and / or inflamed skin and also for sprains and stiffness in the muscles and joints. It’s particularly good for itchy dry skin conditions like Eczema. For a lighter alternative allow the flowers to steep in distilled or spring water and use as a facial splash or tonic for the same symptoms and to refresh.
Again in the kitchen it is the flowers of Calendula that I use most frequently, especially in salads. A single flower yields enough petals to scatter over a fresh salad which not only makes it look nice but also provides a very mild, subtle peppery taste. The petals can also be used to decorate cakes and garnish all kinds of dishes.
I have seen Calendula referred to as the ‘British’ or ‘Poor Man’s’ Saffron as the petals can be used to colour and dye food in much the same way saffron does. In fact the flowers can also be used, again like Saffron, to dye cloth and yarn, something I may try out for myself this year as Saffron in large quantities is far from cheap!
According to Culpepper, Calendula is ruled by the sun and under the sign of Leo and qabbalists might assign this herb to Tiphareth, the centre, the heart. Whilst I personally favour Calendula for its direct healing properties, as an oil or salve etc, I did find this intriguing reference in Ms Grieves Herbal:
‘It must be taken only when the moon is in the Sign of the Virgin and not when Jupiter is in the ascendant, for then the herb loses its virtue. And the gatherer, who must be out of deadly sin, must say three Pater Nosters and three Aves. It will give the wearer a vision of anyone who has robbed him.’
Could be pretty useful!!