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"How to Grow",  Flowers,  Natural Health,  Preserve Your Harvest

All About Calendula: How to Grow, Harvest, Dry, & Use Calendula Flowers

Calendula officinalis just may be one of my favorite annual flowers to grow in the garden. Yes, I could probably say that about many flowers – I do love them all! – but calendula definitely deserves to be among the top 5. It is gorgeous, easy to grow, has a long blooming season, and is super easy to save seeds from. Additionally, did you know that calendula is both medicinal and edible? It sure is!

Come read along to learn all about calendula, including how to grow, harvest, dry, and use it. In addition to providing a burst of sunshine in the garden, you may be surprised to learn what expansive natural healing properties it has!


Get to Know Calendula


Calendula is highly prized by gardeners and herbalist alike due to the versatility of this flower. To be more accurate, we should call calendula by what it really is – a flowering herb! Yes, an herb. Speaking of names, sometimes calendula is referred to as “pot marigold” – but don’t confuse it with true marigolds, such as french marigolds! They’re distinctly different, and not nearly as medicinal in nature.

Sprinkle fresh or dried calendula blossom petals on top of salads (or any dish really) as a cheerful pop of color! They also make a beautiful and tasty addition to scrambled eggs, frittata, summer salsa, or even in soup!  Whole dried flowers can also be added to soups, broths, and stews in the winter for an extra immunity boost. Or, put some pep in your summer beverages with a calendula garnish.

Another bonus is that calendula makes an excellent companion plant in any vegetable or pollinator-friendly garden! It is #1 on our list of Top 23 Plants for Pollinators. This flower attracts bees and butterflies, and is said to repel pest insects. Its roots may help increase the activity of beneficial microbes and fungi in the soil.


A close up of a hand holding about 8 calendula blooms of various sizes, petal structure and color. Some are bright orange, some are more light yellow, and some with pink tones. The hand is covering over a garden bed of kale and lettuce.


Medicinal Benefits of Calendula


Calendula has been called upon for centuries to treat skin ailments, support the immune system, and heal infections, both internally and externally. If you pay attention to labels, you’ll probably notice calendula as a key ingredient in many natural skin care products, and for a good reason! I use our homemade calendula salve every day.

Topically, calendula can ease, heal, or otherwise treat a huge array of skin conditions. According to the Chestnut School of Herbs, this includes: “rashes, stings, wounds, burns, sunburn, swelling, eczema, acne, surgical wounds, scrapes, chicken pox, cold sores, and even genital herpes sores.” It works its magic by promoting cells repair and growth, coupled with its natural antiseptic properties and anti-inflammatory properties. Above all, it is gentle in its work.


“Calendula is a wonderful herb for babies, being potent as well as soothing gentle. It is one of the most popular herbs for treating cradle cap, diaper rash, and other skin irritations. And calendula tea is a useful remedy for thrush type of yeast overgrowth not uncommon in infants.”

Rosemary Gladstar, from her book Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide


Internally, it can help boost the immune and lymph system, fight fungal infections, reduce inflammation, menstrual cramps, and gastrointestinal upset, as well as keep fevers at bay. It is also an anti-viral. One of the quickest and easiest ways to consume calendula is by making tea, which we’ll cover soon!


Our Favorite Calendula Varieties


Calendula comes in dozens of shades of the sunset: golden yellow, bright to light oranges, blushing reds, and some of my favorite, peachy-pink tones. Regardless of appearance, they all have the same amazing healing properties, so choose whatever colors tickle your fancy!

Want to know which ones tickle mine? Here are our top 6 favorite varieties, in no particular order:


Four images of different types of calendula. Pink surprise is peachy-pink and has a large middle center. Apricot twist is light orange and more fluffy, with full petals. Strawberry blonde has a light yellow center with pink petals.
Shown are Pink Surprise (Top left and bottom right), Apricot Twist (bottom left), and Strawberry Blonde (top right).


So, are you convinced? Are you ready to try your hand at growing calendula in your home garden? I shouldn’t even say “try” – because there’s really not much to it! I’d like to wager that even the blackest of thumbs out there can successfully grow calendula.



How to Grow Calendula


Calendula is just about as no-fuss and low-maintenance as they come. It will perform best in rich, well-draining soil, but will tolerate a wide variety of soils – including poor soil. Hell, half of ours this year isn’t even growing in soil.  Blooms that were left behind dropped their seeds in the gravel around our raised beds, and so there they grow! The volunteer calendula shown below is growing in 4” of gravel, which has weed block fabric below that. Hardy little plants, aren’t they? Therefore, it should go without saying that it can easily be grown in containers too!

Speaking of being hardy, calendula is tolerant to both heat and cold. Direct-sow their trippy large seeds in the garden in spring. Follow the instructions on the seed package in regards to depth. I believe it is usually around 1/4″ deep. The plants and long-lasting blooms may continue straight through the first freeze the following winter!

Calendula grows best in full-sun, but will tolerate some late afternoon shade, especially in the hottest climates. Provide moderate water. It won’t like being overly wet, as it is fairly drought-tolerant. It is also reported to be deer-resistant!


An image of raised garden beds with hundreds of calendula blooms growing in front of them. There are chickens in the garden area, and climbing pole beans going up a trellis along the back of the beds, which abut a blue house. The blooms are orange, red, pink, and yellow. Other leafy greens also grow in the beds. The sun shines in the distance, low on the horizon.
Some of our 2019 calendula crop ~ mostly volunteers whose seeds fell from the beds above. Yes, they’re growing in front of the beds, in the same small strip of gravel that is to the left of the pavers as well. Each spring, we tuck a few calendula plants in our raised garden beds as companions to our veggies, along with in our pollinator islands and other “wild” garden spaces. As we are getting more and more volunteers, we are needing to plant less and less – though I always love to try new varieties too!


The one disease that seems most likely to affect this plant is powdery mildew, which unfortunately is very common here. Avoid overcrowding plants to increase airflow and reduce the chances of disease. The recommended spacing is about one foot. Thankfully, the mildew only seems to affect the foliage and not the blooms. Usually, we just let ours ride it out until we finally pull overly infected plants. Learn how to prevent and treat powdery mildew organically here.



When & How to Harvest Calendula


Herbalist all agree that the best time to harvest calendula is during mid-morning, shortly after the new blooms have opened but after any dew has dried. That said, simply do your best given your schedule. Harvesting midday or even in the afternoon is better than not harvesting them at all!

To harvest calendula blooms, pick or cut off the flower where it meets the stem. If you plan to use it for edible or medicinal purposes, avoid collecting the heads that are already starting to dry and go to seed. Fresh blooms are best for this. Use the older ones for seed-saving instead. And yes, take the whole head! The most medicinal value is found in the green pedestal, not just the flower petals.

If you aren’t up for drying or using the fresh blooms, some calendula varieties have strong enough stems to make good cut flowers too.


Three images of close up calendula blooms. One is pink one is curled up and closed, with water droplets, too wet to harvest. The others are in sunshine, dry and open. Scissors are shown trimming one bloom at the base of the flower head.
The dewy calendula bloom on the left is too damp to harvest just yet. Wait until the sun comes out, they dry a bit, and then snip away! Shown are Zeolight and Solar Flashback varieties.


A Few Notes on Harvesting Calendula


While harvesting calendula, your fingers may get a bit sticky from the resin. This is a good thing! The resin has potent antifungal properties, and is where most of the healing power comes from.

Don’t worry about “saving” flowers on the plants, or feel bad about taking blooms! The more you take, the more will come. If you’re serious about stocking up on calendula, plan to have new blooms ready to harvest every few days.

On that note, uncollected flower heads will allow calendula to freely re-seed itself. you don’t want your garden full of calendula volunteers, plan to collect spent flowers before the seeds dry and disperse. We harvest some, but leave plenty behind as well. The volunteers are welcome here!


A woven basket full of harvested calendula flower blooms, in every shade of yellow, pink, orange, and red.
One of our spring calendula harvests.



How to Dry & Store Calendula


There are a variety of ways to dry calendula. No matter how you do it, one thing is of the utmost importance: make sure that it is 100% completely dry before being put away for storage. I have heard too many horror stories of jars full of moldy blooms, after all that hard work to collect and preserve them. So, so sad! The next very important thing to note is that calendula should not be exposed to high temperatures when drying. Heat will denature and ruin much of its medicinal components. Therefore, drying in an oven is not recommended.

You can choose to dry the petals, or the entire head. Petals alone will dry more quickly and have less chance of mold. However, plucking petals takes a lot more upfront labor to prepare for drying. Also, the green butt-end (for lack of a better term?) and center of the flower hold beneficial components as well, so we opt to dry the blooms whole.

Do not wash blooms before drying. If needed, gently shake them out to dislodge dust or occasional insects. But since we are taking newly-opened blooms, they should be fresh as daisies!


Air Drying Calendula

Under the right conditions, calendula can passively air dry. It just takes a bit of time and patience. Okay, maybe a lot of time. In a warm, well-ventilated, dry location, set the calendula blooms on screens, in airy baskets, or other breathable racks, like this hanging herb drying rack, which we use for another kind of herb. 😉 Periodically toss and turn the blooms to ensure they’re drying evenly. Then wait.

Given our temperate climate, humidity, and cool spring weather, we decided to not fuss with air drying. It would take forever, and I was worried they would mold. Instead, we used our food dehydrator.


6 stainless steel 12x12 food dehydrator trays are laid out in a perfect rectangle, 2x3. They're covered from edge to edge with calendula blooms of various sizes and colors of red, orange, yellow and pink. The flowers are face-down, with their green bottom centers facing up.
Something about laying out all these heads is very therapeutic.


Drying Calendula in a Food Dehydrator

This method will get the job done much faster! But remember, we don’t want to heat the calendula. Set your dehydrator on the lowest setting – no warmer than 95-100°F. Our awesome Excalibur dehydrator has a “living foods” setting in this range, which ensures all the beneficial healing properties of herbs or other plants aren’t destroyed by heat! 

Lay out your calendula blooms face down on your dehydrator racks. On a low setting, dry them until they’re dry. Bone dry. Sorry, there isn’t an exact time to go by!

The time it takes to fully dry depends on the method you use, your machine (or not), if you’re drying petals only or whole heads, and the flowers themselves. For example, some of our smallest blooms were completely dry within a day or two, while the fattest, largest heads still seemed like they needed a few more days.


The stainless steel trays loaded with calendula now inside the dehydrator, ready to get dried.
Dang, that is a sexy machine full of sunshine. See the dehydrator we have here.



Store dried calendula blooms in an airtight container out of direct sunlight, and use within one year.


Two large glass jars full of dried wrinkly calendula blooms. Whole heads of dried flowers.
Some of our stash.



How to Use Dried Calendula


So, what do I do with all this dried calendula? Well… any number of things!


Calendula Tea

For internal use, one of the quickest and easiest ways to prepare dry calendula is making a tea infusion. In 8 ounces of water, steep approximately 1 to 3 loose Tablespoons of dried petals, or 4 to 6 dried flower heads. This is easy to do with the assistance of a loose-leaf tea infuser, like this one we love and use. Cover and steep in hot water for 8 to 10 minutes, and then enjoy! Or, scale up the portions and steep a larger pot to enjoy over a couple of days. It is best to store the prepared tea in the refrigerator to maintain freshness.

Keep in mind that people make medicinal teas primarily for their health benefits over pure enjoyment and flavor. Thankfully, I quite like the taste of calendula tea! It is mellow, slightly earthy, slightly sweet, and maybe just a tad bit grassy – but not nearly as grassy as over-steeped green tea.

Enjoy calendula tea on occasion to boost your mood. After all, it is historically referenced for having antidepressant properties! Or, if you are in need of some deeper healing (and have an ample supply!), feel free to sip on the tea up to three times a day. You really can’t overdo it. Calendula has no limit or risk of toxicity! I have been sipping calendula tea this spring to ease my swollen lymph glands caused by allergies. It is also the first thing I reach for when I have menstrual crampsand mine are no joke!


A mug that reads "good vibes only" on the side, with a stainless steel tea infuser perched inside. Several dry calendula heads are inside the infuser, along with laying around the base of the tea mug and in a jar in the background.
That is one cheery-ass cup of tea-to-be, if you ask me.


Other Ways to Use Dried Calendula

If you have chickens, calendula petals can be added to their nesting boxes as a natural insect repellent. Also, if you feed your chickens fresh or dried calendula petals, their egg yolks will be even more golden orange! Plus, they’ll reap all the health benefits as well. You can also add petals or whole flowers to a bubble bath!

In addition to adding it to various meals and beverages, herbalists use dried calendula to make incredibly healing calendula-infused oil, topical salves and creams, or tinctures for internal use. When applied topically, calendula can help ease inflammation, redness, rashes or other irritation, eczema, psoriasis, and more. Learn how to make homemade calendula oil here, along with 8 ways to use it! Then, you could turn your oil into incredibly moisturizing homemade calendula salve with this tutorial. We also offer organic calendula salve in our shop, made with flowers grown in our home garden.

If you want to dive deeper, I highly recommend checking out the book “Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide” by Rosemary Gladstar. It has been one of my key sources of information and inspiration thus far – for calendula, and beyond! Another great resource is this Organic Body Care Recipes book.



Now you know all about calendula!


I hope you found this article to be interesting and helpful as you start your calendula journey. Even if you don’t plan to get all deep into salves and oils, you won’t regret adding it to your garden. I promise!


Let me know if you have any questions, and please spread the love and share this post with friends!



DeannaCat's signature, keep on growing

64 Comments

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Yes, however, if it is still really hot in your area you will want the seedlings to avoid excessive heat or sun while they are young. It may be best to start the seeds in containers so you can keep them in early to mid day sun but shade during the hottest parts of the day. This is especially true if the temperature is still in the 90’s to 100’S, it just really depends on your specific location. Hope that helps and good luck!

  • Aimée

    Thank you so much for this post. I love calendula and have been growing, harvesting and drying the flowers for years to infuse in oil. Such a healing plant! I have something I just discovered that has never happened to me: I noticed in my tray of currently drying flower heads they are covered in white flies and aphids. They were not like that when I pinched them off and I even went out to check the plants and sure enough, they are pest-free. I think the latest bouquet of sweet peas I brought into my house had the pests and they migrated to the drying calendula. Do you think I can somehow still use the flowers? Since they are already dry, I think washing them would ruin them. But I am not sure if making an infused oil out of these with the pests would contaminate the medicine in some way. Would LOVE any ideas/advice you may have.

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hi Aimee, calendula is an amazing plant! That is very strange to hear the aphids or white flies have move onto your flowers after they were picked and drying. However, I don’t think the pests will prove to be an issue for your oil especially if you strain out the flowers so no need to worry there. Good luck and enjoy your next batch of calendula oil!

  • Ellie

    Hi

    I was told you can eat the green leaves,
    So I am going to blanch them and make
    “Spinach pie”.
    One question, can you cook and the stems like other plants like silverbeet etc?
    Love this site 🌹

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hi Ellie, you could eat the leaves but even thought they are edible, they aren’t something that I would want to eat. You could most likely prep them the same was as silverbeets but I would be leery of the stems… Let us know how your “calendula pie” works out and thanks for reading!

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hello Jen, calendula flowers actually do not have a strong smell at all, the aroma is actually very subtle. I would definitely recommend growing some!

  • Sharon

    I am a little confused because you talk of using the base. If I was going to use to make a tinture do I need the base? And can I just put the petals straight in the alcohol for the tinture or do I need to dry them?
    I will save some to make tea that sounds good also.

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hello Sharon, that’s a great idea, maybe we will make a tincture soon as well! Now, are you talking about the base as in the green portion of the flower? If so, yes it is good to use the base as it contains the most resin wherein the most beneficial properties are compared to the petals alone. If you only have the petals that will work as well, however, you want to fully dry the flowers before making a tincture with them. Hope that helps and good luck!

  • Heather E Bennett

    I love everything I’ve read on Homestead and Chill. Every time I start to search for gardening information, I search around on different sites, but without fail ALWAYS end up on Deanna’s page and am left thoroughly impressed and thankful for this resource!

  • florence sweem

    prettiest pictures of calendula i have ever seen,,,and cant wait to throw some flowers in my nesting boxes,,,,thanks for the great info

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