October Flower ~ Calendula

COMMON NAME: calendula
GENUS: Calendula
C. Officinalis ‘Golden Gem’- dwarf; double; yellow. ‘Pacific Beauty’- double; yellow, orange, apricot; more heat tolerant than other cultivars. ‘Orange Gem’- double; medium orange. ‘Chrysantha’- double; buttercup yellow.
FAMILY: Compositae
BLOOMS: summer and fall
TYPE: annual
DESCRIPTION: Calendulas have light green aromatic leaves and large {up to 4 inches across}, daisy-like flowers that come in shades of yellow and orange. Plants get to be approximately 2 feet tall with a spread of 12 to 15 inches, though dwarf varieties that grow only have that size are also available.
CULTIVATION: Calendula performs best in cool weather and is often used as a fall bedding plant. For fall bloom, the seeds should be sown outdoors in mid-June. The seeds, which should be sown 1/4 inch deep, germinate best at temperatures ranging from 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. They need total darkness, so be sure that all the seeds are covered well. The plants need full sun but can tolerate relatively poor soil.
Calendulas are often planted in the herb bed because of their extensive medicinal and culinary value. An ancient recipe using an infusion of calendula blossoms in wine was supposed to “soothe a cold stomach.” Made into a salve, calendula was used to cure toothaches, jaundice, sore eyes, and skin irritations. The flowers were also thought to be good for measles, varicose veins, and ulcers. Gerard, who wrote an English herbal, suggested that a concoction made from the flowers and sugar, taken in the morning, would keep one from trembling. The plant was also thought to draw “evil humours” out of the head, strengthen eyesight, and protect one from poisoning and angry words. The juice, when mixed with vinegar, was used to relieve swelling.
Calendula was used extensively as a medicine during the Civil War and World War 1, when Gertrude Jekyll instigated a campaign to grow and gather calendulas to be used to dress wounds. They were shipped to first-aid stations in France. Even today, the petals, made into an ointment, are good for oily skin.
Calendula was also used as seasoning. The Romans used both leaves and flowers in salads and preserves and as a seasoning for meats. The Saxons were thought to have used the plant in place of salt and pepper. Since that time, the flowers have been used to season broths, wine, and other drinks. The blossoms have also been pickled and candied.
Today calendula is used to garnish meats, in cream soups, and in stuffed eggs. It is also added to egg dishes and fruit bread {pumpkin, banana, and so on} for color and delicate flavor. A delicious egg salad spread can be made with hard-boiled eggs, mayonnaise, and seasonings, including chopped calendula petals. To eat calendula, however, was supposed to make one feel more amorous, see fairies, or be easily induced to sleep.
The flowers were also popular in nosegays and bouquets. In addition to their beauty, the pungent odor of the flowers was said to have been useful in keeping ladies awake during long sermons.
Calendula played more important roles in the church as well. Early Christians put these flowers by the statue of theVirgin Mary and called them “Mary’s gold.” The bright yellow flowers of calendula have been used as decorations for temples and festivals throughout the centuries. Called “herb of the sun,” calendula was considered the most sacred herb of ancient India. Holy men of that country were said to have strung the blossoms into garlands and placed them around the necks of the gods.
Calendula was sometimes called summer’s bride or husbandman’s dial, for the flower head follows the path of the sun throughout the day. This plant is also called pot marigold because it was commonly planted in big pots or flower beds. “The marigold goes to bed with the sun and with him rises weeping” refers to the fact that the flower heads close up during the night and the ray flowers, curved inward, trap dew inside. The genus name is from the Latin word calendae, which means “throughout the months” and refers to the extremely long blooming season that this plant enjoys in optimum growing conditions.
A native of southern Europe, calendula often escapes cultivation in southern California. This flower is the English floral emblem for the month of October.
Because of their stiff stems and large flowers, calendula makes excellent cut flowers and are often grown in the greenhouse during winter months for this purpose. The brightly colored petals make a good dye.