If you only grow one flower in your vege garden or allotment then make it Calendula Officinalis. It is garish and perhaps even a little bit tacky but it will reward you in so many ways. As well as being an excellent companion plant for your Veges (it will deter many pests that would otherwise attack your edibles) it is also a medicinal wonder drug. I want to persuade you to grow this cheerful little flower and show you how to extract it’s wholesome goodness and turn it into an indispensable medicine that you’ll reach for again and again.
So what kind of benefits can be derived from Calendula? Well, Quite A few actually. If made into a lotion or balm it can be applied to a number of skin ailments like mild burns, stings, inflammation, nappy rash, cuts and bruises, eczema, athlete’s foot and acne. It has the magic qualities of being antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and also anti-fungla. Quite a little trouper really.
It’s one of the easiest seeds to grow that I know of so a great one for children. Just sprinkle the seeds into trays of compost and cover lightly. They’ll start sending out little shoots within a week or two. Then transplant them to a sunny spot in your garden. They cope with most soil types and semi shade and will also be very happy in a little pot on a balcony or patio. Keep them well watered. If you want to be really clever and keep a continuous supply throughout summer for harvesting then sow another batch a few weeks after your first batch and again a few weeks later. I did two sowings this year and my first lot are still merrily flowering while my later batch are about two weeks away so I should have enough.
Harvesting is so easy and you can’t harvest too often. They will send out more buds the more you harvest (just like sweet peas) so get picking. Pick once all the morning dew has dried out and snip just above a leaf node.
Make sure you select the most perfect, pristine flowers.
Here’s a good specimen….
…..this one is a little past it. To dry the petals I like to dry the whole flower head.
Lay them out on a piece of muslin and turn every day or so.
They are a very sticky flower and you want a dry crisp flower so drying takes a little while. You’ll know they’re ready when you can pull away the petals with ease. Any resistance means they’re Not Quite Ready.
See how crispy they get? Then fill up a clean jar with the petals.
Now we can make a Calendula infused oil. Making an infused oil is so easy but you do need to have a little patience (as Gary Barlow was right to point out). Take a clean, sterilised jar and fill three quarters full with dried calendula petals. Then fill the jar to the top with olive or sunflower oil. Make sure the petals are completely covered with the oil to prevent them from going mouldy.
Looks very pretty doesn’t it.
Label the jar with the date and leave it in a sunny spot for 3-4 weeks to work it’s magic. Give it a little smile and a gentle shake when you pass by. I’m going to leave mine for 4 weeks to extract every last drop of goodness. You can find recipes that say you can heat the oil with the petals very gently for a few hours to create an infused oil. However, I prefer to wait. Speeding things up can be a bit spooky for my liking; a bit like microwaves really (double spooky). Just be patient and you will be rewarded with a beautiful ingredient. I’ll show you how to make a balm for general ouchies and one for putting on itchy bites (as we call them over here) or general insect bites.