Calendula are annual or perennial plants in the daisy family (Asteraceae). Also known as edible marigolds, these plants are native to Western Europe and the Mediterranean.
Calendula are useful plants in the kitchen garden as they sustain pollinators in early spring, and provide a cheerful splash of colour right throughout the year.
Calendula are easy-going and can be grow in light, poor, free-draining soil in full sun or partial shade.
Deadhead regularly to prolong flowering and pinch out terminal shoots to encourage bushy growth.
They are best propagated by seed – which is as easy as letting some flowerheads mature and seeds to dry, and then gather and sprinkle in the next patch you’d like to see some calendula.
If planted in a spot that they like, they will freely self-seed to provide continuous supply of fresh plants.
Mainly I grow them for the wildlife pollinators, as well as their splash of colour. They are the ultimate cottage/kitchen garden companion plant. Calendula have been grown traditionally as a culinary and medicinal herb.
The petals are edible and can be used fresh in salads or dried and used to colour cheese or as a replacement for saffron. To use fresh simply snip off the petals with scissors (discarding the fleshy centre of the flower).
A yellow dye can be extracted from the flowers. And oils made from calendula are used in many creams, hair conditioners and other topical ointments. A favourite product of mine is the Organic Calendula Herbal Balm produced in Ireland by the Burren Perfumery.
We have calendula planted absolutely everywhere – at the allotment, to soften the paths, and also throughout the back patch – keeping company with the rhubarb patch and also in the shady beds under the big cherry tree. Once started calendula take care of themselves – to the extent that you may find yourself weeding out seedlings!
“The marigold’s botanical name is Calendula officianalis, which reflects its almost year-round flowering. It is one of those plants which knows its place in the scheme of things and is so cheerful that you just have to smile when you look into its sunshine face. As the garden guru William Robinson (1838-1935) once remarked: ‘Few plants are (p.77) more colourful or less fussy as to soil and situation.’ Its contribution to the well-being of the human race is not confined to its character, however, for it is also a most useful culinary and medicinal herb. Its petals were once sprinkled into the pottages simmering over the hob to add a touch of sharpness, and were also used in egg dishes (a few discerning cooks still use them today). Later it helped retain or increase the yellow colour of butter and cheeses. A salve was also made from the pounded leaves to relive stings and irritations; today, Calendula ointment is available from chemists and health food stores. There is no better antidote for the relief of the native stinging nettle (Urtica dioica): snatch a few marigold leaves and rub them hard so the juice comes out on to the area of the offending nettle sting. It seems more efficacious than using the native dock leaf, Rumex sp.