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.
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:
- Strawberry Blonde
- Apricot Twist – but seeds aren’t available anywhere right now!
- Pink Surprise
- Solar Flashback Mix
- Pacific Beauty Mix
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Store dried calendula blooms in an airtight container out of direct sunlight, and use within one year.
How to Use Dried Calendula
So, what do I do with all this dried calendula? Well… any number of things!
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 cramps… and mine are no joke!
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!