Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Herb of the Week - Calendula or Pot Marigold

Let's face it. The turn in the weather here this week from mild to very cold has certainly chapped my skin.  And the over heated office I work in has taken its toll as well. But herbs can help to heal both body and spirit. And there's something especially healing in a soothing product you've made yourself, with all-natural ingredients.

So today’s Herb of the Week is Calendula (Calendula officinalis), one of the top skin healing herbs.

Tonight I am presenting a program on Bath and Beauty which focuses on aromatherapy to lift your spirits and soothing treatments for winter harried skin.  I thought I would share a couple of the calendula-centered recipes I put together for this program as well as help you in a decision to include this great herb in your garden this year.


The name Calendula came from the ancient Romans for the fact that it bloomed on or around the first day of the month or calends.  Although more popular for its color and attractive flowers rather than its medicinal properties it was featured in the Doctrine of Signatures (the principal that an herb's physical characteristics are a clue to its usefulness) as a treatment of jaundice.  Nicolas Culpepper stated it was a good herb to strengthen the heart.

Calendula came to the Americas with European settlers.  It was prominently used during the Civil War as a treatment for healing wounds and halting bleeding.

To Grow

Calendula is a cheery, dependable blooming flower in the marigold family (not to be confused with scented marigolds in the family Tagetes.) They have semi strong upright branching stems with medium green leaves covered with tiny hairs.  The flowers are round many petal daisy-like poms that come in shades from yellow to deep orange.  They will bloom from midsummer until after frost.  The flowers close at dusk.  It is said if the flowers open fully in the morning the weather will be pleasant, if they do not, weather will be less seasonal.

This is a plant easily grown from seed and can be grown in all zones.  Fresh seed is essential however, because the seed viability is only one year.  The seeds are curvy crescent shapes covered with ridges.  Harvesting seed yourself is great but you must use them in the next growing season.  You can sow the seed directly into the garden once the soil has reached about 60 degrees.  On a nice sunny day in April or May this is a great early garden activity.  You can also start them indoors planting them out after the chance of frost has passed. Thin the plants to inches and keep them weed free, but beyond this no special treatment is needed to grow them.  They are a hardy annual plant and will survive frosts and even early snow.  They prefer a cooler climate and bloom best in fall weather.  Once the temperature reaches 25 degrees their season will end.  If you put seeds in pots in July you can enjoy them along with your mums for fall color.

The plants will grow 12 to 18 inches tall depending on conditions.  They are also a great container plant and keep to inches in window boxes and patio planters.  They will grow in just about any soil that is well drained.  They react badly to dampness.  They do prefer a sunny location.  Calendula is considered a companion plant as it can draw aphids away from other plants, but you will need to watch for an infestation.

Susceptible to all the normal pests of the garden, they will develop powdery mildew if not properly thinned.  To keep them blooming, make sure they are well watered and clip of the spent flower heads.  Since I harvest the flower heads, just as they reach full bloom, I know I will always have a new crop of buds to take their place.

To Use

Pinch off the flower heads from the stem and lay them flat to dry.  Once they are dry you must place them in a dark jar with a tight fitting lid to preserve the color of the petals.  The flowers are hygroscopic meaning they are easily affected by humidity.  Some suggest pulling each petal off the flower, but I have never had the patience to do that before drying and am still satisfied with the color and quality of my dried calendula.

Historically a woman who could not choose between two suitors was advised to make a fine powder of dried calendula flowers, marjoram, thyme and wormwood simmer them in honey and white wine then rub the mixture over her body.  Then she must lie down and repeat “St. Luke, St. Luke be kind to me: In my dreams let me my true love see!”  I just had to share that because it is February!

As an edible flower, the most common early uses for Calendula were in cooking.  In England it was tossed into dishes so often you might think it was a vegetable.  It was especially popular for flavor when stewing lark or sparrow according to the Elizabethan cookbook of John Gerard.  Other dishes including Calendula pudding, Calendula oatmeal, and calendula dumplings were also created.  There were even recipes for calendula wine (see below).  It is great as a coloring in rice dishes, and the leaves can be used in salads.  Add the petals to soups, stews and fish dishes.

Tinctures of the flowers have been recommended for the treatment of a wide variety of ailments including amenorrhea, cramps, toothaches, fever, flu, and stomach aches.  As a general tonic it has been known to induce sweating in a fever and increase urination and aid digestion.  Calendula has also been extensively used as an external remedy for sores, cuts, bruises, burns and rashes.  You can make a quick and easy ointment by crushing fresh flower petals and mixing them with olive oil.  A personal powder can be made by grinding dried flowers and blending them with arrowroot powder, cornstarch or talc.  I will often pluck a flower and rub it on a bee sting to relieve the pain and itching with good results.

Calendula has a strong yellow / orange color and the petals can often be substituted for saffron in a recipe.  I grid them, then stir them in when I want a rich yellow color in my lemon herbal butter.

More recently with the advent of home making of remedies and cosmetics, Calendula has found a new niche.  In addition to the yellow color it can impart to lotions and salves it is also great for skin.  An antiseptic with anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties it can promote healing.  The essential oils in the petals are an excellent skin healer, especially for cracked skin and chapped lips.  A poultice on burns or stings is very use useful.  Salves with calendula can be used for the treatment of varicose veins, chilblains and impetigo.  A cold infusion (tea) can be used as eyewash for Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis.)  The sap in the stem has a reputation for removing warts, corns and calluses, which is why an infusion of the leaves, stems and flowers is used to make soothing lotions and creams for dry rough skin.

At the Backyard Patch I use Calendula in my Elmhurst Garden Walk Tea, Menopause Tea, PMS Tea, Victorian Floral Black Tea and in Green Tea for the Tummy.  In other products is it part of the infused oil in my Happy Feet Massage oil, as well as a coloring in my Orange Rice Mix


Sweet Calendula Buns
4 Tbls. softened butter
½ cup caster sugar
2 eggs
½ cup self-rising flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 Tbls. fresh calendula petals

Put the butter sugar, eggs and sifted flour and baking powder into a bowl and mix until smooth and glossy.  Fold in 1 ½ Tbls. calendula petals.  Turn the mixture into greased or paper lined muffin tins and sprinkle with remaining petals.  Bake in a warm over 325 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.

Calendula Wine
2 quarts of Calendula officinalis flowers
1 gallon boiling water
1 Campden tablet, crushed (sterilizer available from a wine making store)
3 tangerines, juice and thinly pared peel from each
1 lemon, juice and thinly pared peel
5 ¾ cups sugar
1 ¼ cups white raisins, finely chopped
wine yeast
yeast nutrient

1.              Wash the flowers and put into a large container with a lid.  Pour over the boiling water and stir in the Campden tablet and leave for 24 hours. 
2.              Place the sugar in a large bowl.  Draw off 1 cup of the liquid and heat it to just before boiling with the citrus peel, then pour over the sugar.  Leave to cool to body temperature (rather than room temperature.)  Then pour back into the bulk of the liquid adding the raisins citrus juice, yeast and nutrient.  Cover and leave in a warm place for 5 days to ferment, stirring twice a day.
3.              Strain the liquid through a double thickness of muslin.  Pour into a fermenting jar, fitted with a fermentation lock and leave to continue fermenting. 
4.              Rack the wine as it begins to clear.
5.              When the wine is completely clear, bottle and store in a cool dark place for at least 6 months to mature.

Calendula Cleanser
4 Tbls. olive or almond oil
2 Tbls. dried calendula flowers
few drops of violet, orange blossom or rose water

Warm the oil in a bowl placed over a saucepan of hot water.  Stir in the dried flowers and continue to heat gently for 30 minutes.  Remove the bowl from the heat and allow to cool.  Stir in the flower water.  Bottle
Directions for use: swear a small amount onto face and rinse with warm water.  Keep refrigerated and use within 10 days.

Facial Mask
Calendula and chamomile have long been used as skin softeners, and aloe is a proven healer. Use the gel from your own aloe or purchase from the drugstore. Here's a soothing treatment for winter-worn faces, suitable for all skin types. The essential oils—you can choose from several, with different effects—provide a subtle aromatherapy, lifting and soothing your spirits, while the herbs and almond meal do their work.

2 tablespoons almond meal (almonds ground very fine)*
1 tablespoon powdered calendula
1 tablespoon powdered chamomile
about half of a raw egg, yolk and white beaten together
aloe gel, enough to make a paste
2 drops chamomile essential oil, or oil of your choice

Mix the almond meal and herbs together. Add enough aloe gel and egg to make a paste. Add essential oil. If the paste is too thin, add more almond meal; if it’s too thick, add a bit of aloe gel or egg. To use, wash your face. Pat dry, and apply the mask. Leave on for 10 minutes or so, while you’re lying down, then wash off gently. Refrigerate for up to a week. (This will make 3-4 masks.) Follow the mask with a gentle moisturizer.

*Almond meal and almond oil are recommended for cosmetics because both are superior moisturizing and softening agents. If you are allergic to nuts, or intend to make the cosmetic as a gift for a friend, you may substitute oatmeal (oat flakes ground fine) and a non-nut oil of your choice.

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