This season we have been giving away Calendula seed packets. No, calendula is not an ingredient in Goodbye Sandfly. It’s a part of our life, and a beautiful way to remind ourselves about our commitment to and belief in the natural world.
Introduction to Calendula
Calendula joined our garden as a forest of seedling volunteers from my friend Nicky’s garden. On sunny days throughout summers I dried the petals on a baking sheet in the back of our 1984 Mazda 323.
Four gardens and 12 years later, calendula has been added to each one. Once established it will self seed each year, and it’s very easy to change its location in the garden. It blooms prolifically for months on end with the most amazing clear orange colour and simple form. I let it grow amongst the vegetables, providing attraction to the bees and other pollinators as well as working as a general pest repellent. The smell of calendula is strong and unique, giving me the same warmth and comfort as brushing up against my tomato plants.
Calendula in the Bath
My first attempt at using calendula was as part of a bath salt, using dried petals mixed with salt and essential oils. The petals looked so beautiful in the glass jar against the white salt. However, they did not look as beautiful sticking to my body and the edges of the bath once the water was gone. So, for using them in a bath, I’d recommend putting them into a small cloth bag.
When we lived in Queenstown, I made calendula oil using the fresh petals in olive oil and leaving a jar in window to catch any sun for about a month. When starting with fresh petals, I kept the jar lid slightly ajar. Each day I wiped the inside top of the lid to remove any water that was condensing off the petals, then agitated the oil. This created an orange coloured, very stable, long lasting oil. This oil was then used for baby massage oil and nappy rash balm and face oil.
In Karamea I tried a couple of fresh petal oil macerations, with the same attention to detail, and ended up with mold on inside top of the jar. My conclusion is that it is more humid in Karamea, so I could not effectively drive off the water from the oil. So, for ease of creating a good stable product, I recommend drying the calendula first.
You can dry petals in the back of your car on a sunny day, or in a warming drawer in the oven, or in a dehydrator. I pull the petals from the centre of the flower, but my colleague Margaret at True Blue organics dries the whole flower in the dehydrator.
¾ fill a glass jar with dried flowers/petals and cover with olive or sunflower oil. Lovingly swirl regularly, storing in a cool place, then filter off the oil after about a month. After letting the oil settle, if you see there is a residue or moisture layer in the oil, you can carefully pour or pull off the oil again, leaving the moisture layer behind. You can still use the oil/moisture left at the bottom, it’s all precious, just use it first and don’t mix it for long term products because the water content will make the shelf life very short.
Calendula as an infused tea is very easy to do, and the taste is very mild. Although for calendula petals I use a sieve or pot, because the petals float, and I don’t like drinking the petals.
Calendula in Food
My favourite way to use calendula in food is as a garnish to salads, especially spinache salad, again because the colour contrast is so keen. The petals can be added to any baking, sweet or savoury, their flavour being quite secondary to their addition of colour.
There are pages of information and history and uses for calendula. For anecdotal motivation and a sense of first hand knowledge, check Maria Treben, reknowned Austrian herbalist at http://www.mariatrebenherbs.com/calendula.htm
For science, cultivation, history and heaps of terrific looking recipes see www.herbalpedia.com/calendula.pdf