Each herb has its own kind of beauty, but for me, there are few that can beat calendula. I started growing these sunny yellow and orange flowers in my garden several years ago and I fell in love with them so much that I now have an entire raised bed and several border areas dedicated to them. Do I need all that calendula? Probably not, but I love having them in the garden, picking baskets full of flowerheads and spreading them out to dry inside. Even in the winter when the flowers have disappeared, I enjoy the sight of my jars filled with dried flowers and I especially like making calendula oil to use in lotions, salves and lip balm.
Healing Properties Calendula isn’t just a pretty face, it’s been used for medicinal purposes since the 12th century. According to the University Maryland Medical Center, “Calendula has high amounts of flavonoids, plant-based antioxidants that protect cells from being damaged by unstable molecules called free radicals. Calendula appears to fight inflammation, viruses, and bacteria.” To read more, click here.
And here's what Rosemary Gladstar has to say in her Family Herbal, "[Calendula] is a powerful vulnerary, healing the body by promoting cell repair, and acts as an antiseptic, keeping infection from occurring in injuries. Calendula is most often used externally for bruises, burns, sores, and skin ulcers."
Growing Your Own Growing calendula is easy. In fact, if you have a sunny area in your garden and let the flowers go to seed, you may never need to plant it again. As with many herbs, it thrives where it’s happy with little care. So plant it only where you don’t mind it popping up again year after year.
One of the things I love most about calendula is that it blooms for such a long time in our Pacific Northwest climate. If you’re continually harvesting the flowers, you can start in the summer and keep going well into autumn since this plant is so cold hardy. Calendula flowers also provide habitat for bees and other beneficial insects in the garden. Every now and then I find a big fat bumble bee sleeping among the petals.
Now is a good time to order your seeds so you're ready to plant them after the last frost. I like Horizon Herbs but you can get them a lot of places. Just be sure to get Calendula officinalis, not an ornamental marigold (which will have Tagetes in the name).
Making a Simple Oil Infusion The healing properties are just part of why I like to take the time to infuse oil with calendula. To be honest, more than anything, I like seeing the jar of oil on my counter by the window. I shake it every day (at least I try to) and it’s almost like a “sun globe” with rays of sunny petals instead of snow.
The kind of oil you use is up to you. I typically use organic olive, jojoba, or almond. There are a few methods for infusing oil and if you want to get it done in one day, there are methods for using a crockpot, double boiler or an oven on low heat. But for this post, I’m going to keep it simple and describe the solar infusion method.
For this, you’re going to want to use dried calendula. Calendula naturally contains a lot of water so you typically don’t want to use fresh flowers with this method since they can introduce moisture and cause your oil to go rancid.
Step One: Take a one pint canning jar that’s completely dry--including the lid. (Again, you want to avoid introducing moisture.)
Step Two: Fill the jar halfway with dried calendula flowers. I often just include the petals and not the calyx (the green, cup-like piece that holds the petals together) but you can include the whole flowerhead.
Step Three: Pour in your oil until it reaches just below the rim of the jar.
Step Four: Label the jar with the date so you know when you started the infusion. I often use painter’s tape for my labels. It’s not terribly pretty but it’s inexpensive, peels off easily and is easy to write on.
Step Five: Check your jar in a few hours to make sure that the calendula hasn’t absorbed a bunch of your oil. You may need to add a little more oil if you see any of the plant material poking above the surface. You don’t want any exposed plant material, otherwise it can start to grow mold.
Step Six: Put the jar in a sunny spot, ideally somewhere visible because you’ll want to remember to shake it every day for at least the first week. This helps blend the mixture and infuse the oil. During this first week or so, you'll want to check and make sure you still don't need to add any more oil. You can let your oil infuse for 2-6 weeks. Optional step: If you want a really strong batch of primo oil, you can strain it after 2 or 3 weeks, discard the calendula, and then pour the oil over a new batch of dried flowers. Allow them to steep for a couple more weeks.
Step Seven: When your oil is done infusing, all you need to do is strain it through some cheesecloth and a strainer to separate out the flowers. Before you discard the calendula make sure you squeeze out as much oil as you can! (I often use a potato ricer so I can easily press out all of the oil.)
Now you’ve got your calendula-infused oil! I sometimes just use the oil and massage it directly into my skin, but most often I use it in my lotion recipe (see my last blog), or to make a salve or lip balm.
Hope you enjoy this sunny flower as much as I do!