By: Justin Butts
The name calendula comes from the Latin world kalends, which is also where we got “calendar.” Botanists thought of this name because calendula blooms continuously every day of the month. Calendula is a cool-weather annual in the Coastal Bend. If the plants are protected from frost or freeze, calendula will bloom from autumn through winter and spring, until the heat of summer shuts them down.
The flower has been used as a food and medicine since antiquity: ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans documented many uses of calendula, from skin ointments to dyes to poultices for wounds. They are gorgeous flowers, but belong more appropriately in the herbal garden due to their many culinary and medicinal uses.
In India, women offer calendula flowers at the temple of Ganesh. In one small farming village, I once watched dozens of women in their colorful saris line up at the temple of Ganesh, each woman carrying a basket filled with golden calendula flowers. They laid their offerings at the temple one at a time, until thousands of gorgeous calendula flowers overflowed the temple.
Calendula have been a staple in the herb garden throughout Europe since earliest recorded history. Their petals were a common ingredient in soups and stews in all parts of Europe. Calendula were so common in cooking, they took the name “pot marigold,” not because they grow so well in pots, but because they were so common in the cookpot.
They do, however, grow well in pots. If planting your calendula in a container, wait until the cooler temps of October to put them out. Make sure to bring the pots indoors during a frost or freeze, and your beautiful calendula will flower all the way through spring.
A need to know basis:
Growing Up: Spacing, 12”. Height, 12” to 20”. Cool weather annual: sow by seed into well-tilled soil in September, or even better, plant transplants in October. Full sun; prefer evening shade in hotter weather and protection from winter winds. Any well-drained soil. Plant with plenty of organic compost for prolific flowering. Water until established and then as needed. Deadhead or harvest often to inspire new blooms.
Profiling: Harvest flowers at peak of golden color and heady aroma. Sprinkle fresh petals on salads or use as edible garnish. Add flowers to soups or stews; add to rice while cooking to give a gorgeous saffron color to rice. Boil petals in water to make a lovely golden dye. Add petals lavishly to bath water to soften skin and treat acne. Cut the entire flower and hang upside down to dry for medicinal uses (all parts are useful).
Local Recs: “I love calendulas! They are great for pollinators, bloom well in the heat, look great, and the orange and yellow varieties are edible. I am a big proponent of growing plants that serve multiple purposes and calendulas fit the bill. This is a flower that should be grown in every vegetable garden and landscape. They are rock stars!” – Leo Ruiz, Get Growing @getgrowingcctx
Fun Facts: Herbal healers have used calendula in poultices since ancient times. Civil War doctors used dried calendula leaves to treat wounds, because their soothing and antiseptic properties helped prevent wounds from infecting. Calendula oil is made by macerating the petals, and is common in skin ointments to treat bruises, dry and cracked skin, and sores.