If you have a garden, I hope you grow the beautiful annual flower calendula.
Calendula officinalis produces beautiful orange or yellow flowers from seed in midsummer until frost, attracting honeybees, bumblebees, and other pollen and nectar-seeking insects, as well as hummingbirds.
Calendula self-sows readily in the garden if you allow a few flower heads to fall to the ground (or you can harvest and dry the mature flowers, save the seeds, and plant them where you want them next spring). Its flowers are edible, and its long use as a cooking herb gives the flower its common name pot marigold. Adding calendula flowers to cooked foods (grains, casseroles, breads, even desserts) gives them a lovely yellow color.
The flowers also have a long history of use for healing, especially for wounds and inflammations of the skin, mouth, and mucous membranes. You’ll find extracts of calendula in many cosmetics, hair-care, and baby-care products, too.
When you harvest the blooms or handle the plants, a sticky, resinous substance with a distinctive, fruity fragrance clings to your fingers. Herbalists say these plant resins are partly responsible for the plant’s healing power.
Make your own calendula tea/wash, oil, or salve
Most calendula medicinals begin with a supply of fresh or dried flowers. If you’re not growing your own, buy dried flowers intended for human use.
- To make a tea that soothes internal mucous membranes, add calendula flowers to water in a ratio of a tablespoon of fresh or two teaspoons of dried flowers to a cup of water. Bring to a boil and simmer or allow to steep for 10 minutes. You can either drink the tea or use it as a soothing wash for sunburns, rashes, or sores. Refrigerate for up to a week any tea you don’t use right away.
- To make calendula oil/lotion, fill a sterilized glass jar (of any size) with dried calendula flowers and cover the flowers with a high quality oil: olive, almond, or grapeseed work well. Cover the jar and let it sit in a cool, dark place for four to six weeks, shaking or stirring occasionally. Strain the plant material from the oil using two or three layers of cheesecloth, and refrigerate the oil until ready for use. You can rub the oily cheesecloth bag holding the spent flowers onto face or hands as a moisturizer. To help prevent the oil from going rancid, add two or three drops of benzoin essential oil or half a teaspoon of tincture of benzoin per half cup of oil, along with a few drops of rosemary or lavender oil.
- To make a healing salve, add three or four teaspoons of melted beeswax per half cup of warmed oil in a double boiler, and stir well until the mixture begins to cool. Pour it into a suitable glass or metal container and seal. If the salve is too hard, reheat it and add a bit more oil; if it’s too runny, add a bit more beeswax.
Margaret Boyles lives in a wood-heated house in central New Hampshire. She grows vegetables, eats weeds, keeps chickens, swims in a backyard pond in summer, snowshoes in the surrounding woods in winter, and commutes by bike whenever possible.