Its tall stems and vibrant yellow, orange, gold, or cream petals add beauty to any garden, but there is more to calendula than meets the eye. This incredibly versatile plant is a wonderful companion in the veggie patch and has been historically used for its many healing properties.
An herbalist friend of mine (and Garden Culture contributor!) with the most impressive medicinal garden I’ve ever seen cannot say enough good things about calendula. She grows it in abundance for her many different soaps, salves, and tinctures.
But you don’t have to be an herbalist to get in on the calendula craze! We can all reap its many benefits by planting it in our backyards.
Calendula is commonly referred to as pot marigold, English marigold, and poet’s marigold. It’s important to note that pot marigold is not the same as common marigold (Tagetes), but they are both members of the Asteraceae family.
A cool-season annual, calendula is often one of the first springtime blooms to open up in the garden. Its flowers are rich in pollen and nectar, and so early arriving pollinators and other beneficial insects love them.
There’s a chance you might find aphids on them, which is expected considering pot marigolds are often grown as trap crops next to precious fruits and vegetables. Aphids are drawn to their sticky sap, but don’t fret! It won’t be long before beneficial insects eat them all up.
While we’re on the subject of eating, calendula is an edible flower, often used in soups and stews (where it got the name ‘pot marigold’), as well as in salads and with fish and eggs. Be warned, women who are pregnant should never eat or drink this flower.
History and Health
Calendula is native to Southern Europe and by the fifteenth century, was a staple in most British gardens.
The book Growing Heirloom Flowers: Bring The Vintage Beauty of Heritage Blooms to your Modern Garden, by Chris McLaughlin, says calendula was often used in the WWII battlefields to treat wounded soldiers due to its antiseptic and anti-hemorrhagic properties.
It is still used in natural remedies today to treat skin conditions, inflammation, and to detoxify the liver and gallbladder. Of course, please be sure to consult an expert before treating any health issues with this flower.
Starting Calendula Seeds
Lisa Mason Ziegler, author of Vegetables Love Flowers: Companion Planting for Beauty and Bounty, recommends starting calendula seeds indoors 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost.
Place the seeds in a small cell container and cover with ¼” of soil. Germination should take about 7 to 10 days, and transplant into the garden once the flowers are 3 to 5” tall.
Calendulas like part-sun to full-sun and will tolerate most well-drained soils. Dying flower heads can be pinched off to encourage new growth and a bushier plant.
Calendula flowers make a great addition to the tabletop or any other area of the house in need of a splash of color. In her book, Mason Ziegler recommends harvesting them at least twice a week, when the bloom is just starting to unfurl the petals.
Cut the stem as close to the earth as possible, and enjoy calendula’s beauty for up to 7 days in a vase.
As the growing season approaches, I cannot recommend the above-mentioned books enough! Both are incredible resources for organic gardeners and cover a wide range of topics. They are worth a read.