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Calendula officinalis is This Month’s Featured Herb

Sugar and Pith, vintage botanical illustration of calendula

Calendula has been used for hundreds of years for both medicinal and culinary purposes. No one knows exactly how far back this flower has been healing people, but it’s remained in broad use for good reasons. Modern studies are beginning to support what herbalists have always known: it has emollient, antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and vulnerary properties. All of this makes calendula a common ingredient in wound salves and skin treatments.

But it has also traditionally been used to color foods like butter and cheese as well as to flavor beverages and stews, especially in medieval times. It was considered the “poor man’s saffron” and added to dishes where one might have used saffron if only one wasn’t a penniless serf. Nowadays you can buy your own crocuses for a reasonable price and grow a pinch of saffron a year if you’re particularly enterprising.

Calendula can be drunk as an infusion or added to other teas. Although it isn’t as popular now, it was used to settle stomachs and heal ulcers, both of the stomach and the mouth.

In the Garden

Sugar and Pith, weathered white and purple lion statue in a garden with calendula growing at its base

Calendula is one of the top five herbs I believe it’s essential to grow in my own garden. The brilliant thing about it is that this flower reseeds itself in most gardens freely. Some people may see this as a nuisance but I can’t enter into their feelings because seeing their blossoms are like viral sunshine. My garden is spilling over with yellow and orange flowers screaming loudly that even when the sky is grey spring is here! I pluck them out where I don’t want them and let them reseed all over again. I think I could be happy in a garden almost exclusively covered in calendula and California poppies.

How to Harvest and Dry

Harvest calendula in the morning when the flowers are fully open but still fresh. If you’re going to dry them in a bundle make sure you leave enough stem with which to do this. If you’re drying them in a dehydrator stem length isn’t as important because after you select all the best flower heads you’ll remove the whole stem up to the base of the flower. Don’t wash your herbs unless they’re very dirty, you use pesticides in your garden, or have pets that might have peed on them. If you choose to wash them be sure to remove as much water and dampness as you can for best quality.

I dry my mine in my dehydrator because I find it preserves the quality best but if you don’t have one, don’t worry. You can tie the stems together in a bundle and hang them upside down out of direct sunlight or you can thread them together with a needle to form a chain of them and hang them somewhere dry and warm. You want to make sure the base of the flower is completely dry before storing or they may mold. Store your dried calendula heads in an airtight jar in a place out of direct light. It will keep for a long time but I recommend using it within six months for best quality.

Calendula in Sugar & Pith products

Sugar and Pith mini triple strength wound salve, four tins of salve on a book page with a calendula flower and petals

Many of Sugar & Pith’s products feature calendula such as the Triple Strenth Wound Salve, Maiden’s Blush herbal bath soak, and all of the lip balms.

Sugar and Pith mini triple strength wound salve, four tins of salve on a book page with a calendula flower and petalsSugar and Pith mini triple strength wound salve, four tins of salve on a book page with a calendula flower and petalsSave