It’s the end of December, we’ve had a couple of frosts and I’m looking at the Calendula which is still sending up new blooms. Its pretty yellow flowers are a delight this time of year, when everything else has begun to droop and turn brown. Right now in the garden it’s green, green, greens. Kale and flowerless Yarrow. Sage and lemon balm. I’d never curse these plants for staying the winter with me, but nothing shines in the winter morning rain like Calendula. It’s this time of year that I look at the flowers longingly, wondering if I should sacrifice this last burst of sunlight turned flower to the herb closet (which is my version of a hybrid medicine cabinet/spice rack).
My first experience growing Calendula was for a client’s garden. He wanted an herb garden that was colorful, something to decorate the space around his bird feeder. I created a bed with native perennials like Echinacea, Bergamot, and Columbine and then sprinkled the annual Calendula seed with hopes that lack of irrigation on that side of the house wouldn’t be a hinderance to their germination.
Within a couple of weeks I started to notice the Calendula plants coming up, and within a few more weeks the first flowers. Calendula’s sunny and prolific flowers were my favorite fling that spring. It seemed to lose vibrancy in the summer, but by summer’s end, when cooler weather set in, the plants were back and blooming.
My fascination with Calendula intensified after I started growing it in my own garden. It’s brittle, in a juicy, fleshy way. Calendula’s foliage and flowers come off with a snap. It is tender and it feels as if you could pull the whole plant if you’re not careful. But this sunny plant comes with a rugged constitution. Pulling flowers and even foliage only spurs this plant to produce more, faster (though, as a rule, don’t pull off more than 1/3 of any plant you’re harvesting from). And humans have responded to its ability to keeping popping out flowers. We use it for everything, and multiple studies have found that not only is it good for us, but it’s good for the soil.
Calendula flowers are a safe and sought after ingredient in self-care products and herbal medicine. It’s best known for it’s ability to soothe skin inflammation and irritations. It is indispensable in my medicine cabinet as a relief for diaper rash and chapped skin. Paired with other herbs like plantain and comfrey, it helps soothe skin back to health after bug bites, rashes, bruises, scrapes or minor burns. Calendula is also an antiseptic, helping to prevent infection and encourage healing.
Since planting it, I have learned a lot more about Calendula and how it helps me holistically manage the garden. Calendula repels many harmful insects, such as tomato hornworm, aphids and my official nemesis: cabbageworm. Interplanting Calendula helps the garden be a place where pest control becomes about creating a natural diversity which serves as a check to pests which might otherwise be an issue.
Calendula is also a powerful ally when it comes to soil remediation. Multiple studies indicate that Calendula has a place in phytoremediation efforts, or, the use of plants to clean polluted soil. Calendula has been shown to pull up and process cadmium, cesium, chromium and even lead. One promising study showed that Calendula pulled between 96 and 99% of lead out of contaminated water in a hydroponic setup after 15 days. There is further research that identifies Calendula as one of the best candidates for cleaning chromium out of the soil, as this heavy metal does not seem to have as detrimental effect on calendula as it does on other remediating plants. This movement toward plant-based soil remediation is especially important in low- budget operations for community gardens in urban and industrial areas to remediate the soil for safe use.
While writing about soil it’s also important to mention that Calendula, aka Pot Marigold has also gotten a reputation for repelling nematodes, just like the French Marigolds that are very popular in vegetable gardening. It has shown to be especially useful in repelling root knot, a condition which is directly due to parasitic nematode larva taking up residence in the roots of plants.
Delightful flowers, ease of growth, the promise of healthy soil and the benefit of medicinal attributes give Calendula a permanent home in my garden and medicine cabinet. We’ll be selling plants in the spring if you’d like to give this long-lasting garden companion a try in your medicinal, vegetable or ornamental beds. It comes in a variety of hues ranging from burnt orange to bright sunny yellow. We also sell salves with this gentle but potent healer infused in organic olive oil. Check out my pages on Herbal Health to try them out.