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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!

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.



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.

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 in calendula 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.

In addition to adding it to various meals and beverages, herbalists use dried calendula to make topical salves and creams, or tinctures for internal use. Add petals or whole flowers to a bubble bath! Another popular option is to make calendula-infused oil. The oil can be used on its own, applied directly to soothe skin, or added as an ingredient to other homemade skin care recipes that call for oil. It would be killer for anyone into using the “oil cleansing method” too. Click here to learn how to make your own healing calendula oil, plus 8 ways to use it!

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

48 Comments

  • Hillary

    Hi Deanna!

    I just made my first batch of salve thanks to your recipe(s) and thorough directions! It’s cooling in the cute little jars and I’m so tickled! My question is how long do the dried petals keep in the pantry? Argan oil wasn’t cheap enough for me to make one big batch so I’d like to do this again in a couple of months and want to be sure that’s okay assuming I have adequately dried and stored my petals!

    Thank you so much for everything.
    Hillary

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hello Hillary, your dried calendula flowers should be fine if used within the next 6 to 8 months. Glad you’re having so much fun with the salve, it is an incredibly healing product. Thanks for tuning in and good luck!

  • Jeanne Hupprich

    My dehydrator does not have a temperature setting. Do yo think I could still use it?
    Thank you so much for this post. I love calendula.
    I feel fortunate to have found you.

    • DeannaCat

      Hi Jeanne – Does it give you even a low/med/high option, or just on and off? Either way, I think it should be okay, though if you do have any options at all – go for the lower settings! Or, if your climate is nice and arid, you could allow them to passively dry out at room temperature in a sunny window? Thank you for the kind words!

  • Nicole Novak

    Well, I’m diving into the calendula pool. My flowers are already blooming like crazy with lots of volunteers coming up as well. I just had my first radiation treatment of 20 for skin cancer on my nose. I opted for radiation instead of surgery because it is supposed to be as successful and will not leave a horrible huge scar smack in the middle of my face. I have ordered the jojoba oil and the book Organic Body Care Recipes and will cut and dehydrate the flowers today so I can get them into the oil when it arrives and get the infusion going so that 3 weeks from now when the radiation burns are the worst I can treat the wound with this magical oil. I was given a tube of calendula cream by the care center but it contains alcohol as the first ingredient!! Thanks for your great articles on calendula and please everyone, protect your face and everywhere else with sunscreen and wear big floppy hats!

    • DeannaCat

      Yes, if you have the right climate for it! Though the petals can get brittle and fall off as they dry (making a bit of a mess) – which is why many people tend to lay them in baskets or herb drying racks. Also, it is common to harvest the head only instead of pulling large stems or branches since they can continue to produce more flowers 🙂

      • Kaitlin

        Your site and Instagram are my go to’s! Thank you so much for all the amazing content, I’ve learned so much from you!

        I harvested my first batch of calendula yesterday and the blooms were infested with teeny tiny bugs 🙁
        I tried looking it up but was only finding info on pests on the underside of leaves. Any idea what it could be? They were super tiny, microscopic, larva looking. Very fast movers when I touch the petals, white/tan color.

        • DeannaCat

          Hi Kaitlin – We see those on occasion too. I find that if I harvest the flowers and leave them in an open airy basket outside for a few hours or overnight before bringing them in to dry, the little buggers vacate the premises and are gone! Try that. If you have any around, you could also toss a sprig of rosemary, sage, mint or lavender in the basket – which can help repel insects and encourage them to move on. Thanks for reading!

  • Alexa

    Hi love your post! So many great ideas on how to use. I am getting so many calendula flowers this year. I was wondering if you ever had trouble with flies after you have stored dried calendula in jars?

    • DeannaCat

      No, we haven’t had any issues with bugs on them, especially after drying thoroughly! Are you air drying, or in a dehydrator?

      • Alexa

        Maybe they weren’t dried fully. I was air drying them but didn’t have them spread out enough so I will try that this time. Wish I had a dehydrator to try.

      • Lyndsay

        Does calendula benefit from pinching off, like basil, or do they grow full and bushy without pinching or clipping of stems/blooms?

    • Liz

      I harvested a bunch of my resina calendula, left it to dry on paper towels indoors (I live in arid Colorado) and this worked great for a few rounds. Then a few days after another harvest I checked on my drying flowers and found tons of caterpillars and their poo all over the flowers. I rinse the flowers off prior to drying them (because I can see small bugs on them) but I could not see caterpillar eggs. I wanted to use these for tea and oil but I’d love them to be bug free when I dry them… any tips?

  • Jan

    What a fantastic article! Thank you so much!

    I was turned on to the use of calendula about 4 years back by our local CNS and am growing it for the first time in my garden this year. I now make the salve myself and use it on my ever-dry, cracked heels. Now I’d like to research where to find other varieties of calendulas.
    I have a question about the seed pods…I see in my garden both the flowers on the tops of the stems AND what look like seed pods on other stems (where there are no pedals). I would like to harvest my own seeds but don’t know just how so I am only guessing about the process. I can also buy seed pods at my local health store but prefer to harvest my own. How do I dry out seed pods from my own flowers? Is that what I am seeing for sure on that stem with curled pieces and no pedals? The look like what I bought to plant my own this year, though mine are green and what I bought were dark brown (dry). If so, do I leave the seeds attached to the stem head and wait til they dry and then separate them or do I separate them from the stem head and then let them dry?

    Oh, one other item of business (i.e. fun!): I read somewhere that in using calendula salve you should wait until you are sure that there is no infection in a cut or such that you are applying it to on your body because the salve actually will ‘heal’ the infection in. Is this true? I sure would like to apply it to my owies (or grands) right after cleaning the affected area first (scratches, sun burns and so forth). What is your advice?

    Thank you very much!
    And I can’t wait to read your newsletters I have now subscribed to!
    Jan in Wyoming

    • DeannaCat

      Hey Jan! So those curled hook things ARE the seeds! Just let them develop and dry (or mostly dry) on the head, crumble them of into a paper bag to continue to fully dry, and then store in a dark cool location with your other seeds until next year!

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