Chestnut Herbal School

Calendula’s Herbal & Edible Uses:
How to Grow, Gather, and Prepare Calendula as Food and Medicine

Written and Photographed by Juliet Blankespoor

Calendula’s Herbal & Edible Uses- How to Grow, Gather, and Prepare Calendula as Food and Medicine

-

Calendula (Calendula officinalis, Asteraceae) is one of the easiest herbs to grow and a highly versatile medicinal plant—naturally, it finds its way into the hearts and gardens of all herb lovers. It has been used for centuries, both internally and topically, to heal wounds, burns, and rashes. The sunshiny flowers are a traditional remedy for supporting the immune system and lifting the spirits. If that weren’t enough, the edible ray florets of the flower heads (which look like yellow petals) are bursting with antioxidant compounds.

Calendula’s name derives from the Latin calendae, referring to its long blooming season—in certain locales it is said to bloom nearly every month of the calendar year. The species name, officinalis, refers to its historical use in apothecaries and pharmacopeias as the official medicinal species of its genus.

Calendula is also called marigold and pot marigold, leading to confusion with members of the genus Tagetes, which go by the same common name. The marigolds that you’ve seen as common garden ornamentals are in the Tagetes genus, which is in the same family as Calendula—the Asteraceae, or sunflower family—but they are not medicinally interchangeable.

Garden marigold (Tagetes sp.)—pictured here—is not the same plant as pot marigold (Calendula officinalis)

Garden marigold (Tagetes sp.)—pictured here—is not the same plant as pot marigold (Calendula officinalis)

-

As I mentioned before, calendula’s “petals” are actually ray florets, which are miniature flowers unto themselves (this is a classic trait of the Asteraceae family). Look closely at the picture below, and you can see tiny flower buds in the center, soon to open into individual florets. I will simply refer to the ray florets as petals from here on out—please forgive my botanical transgression, which is perpetrated solely for the sake of easy reading.

 

Calendula flowers medicinals

The tiny flower buds in the center will soon open into individual florets

-

For all medicinal preparations, be sure that you use the whole dried flowers, as the medicinal oils are found mostly in the resinous green bases of the flower heads (these are called involucres, botanically speaking). Also take care that the dried petals are bright yellow or orange, which is another indication of quality and freshness. Sometimes calendula is sold as petals only, but this is weaker medicine.


Growing & Harvesting Calendula

Growing calendula from seed is easy-peasy, even for the brownest of thumbs. Sow the prehistoric-looking seeds directly in the ground in mid-spring; germination takes five to fourteen days. Thin to 12 inches (0.3 m) apart. Alternately, if your spring weather is chilly, plant seeds out in trays and transplant the starts when the days warm up.

Calendula will thrive in just about any soil, but like most plants, it prefers to have soil that is not overly dry or wet (non-draining). It’s typically grown as an annual, but can be cultivated as a short-lived perennial in warmer climes (Zones 8-10). It will flower more profusely in full sun but can tolerate a little shade. If you live in the subtropics or tropics, try planting it in part shade, or plant it in the fall (it will thrive throughout the winter in warm climates). 

Here in the southern Appalachians, I plant my calendula when I start my salad and cooking greens. The greens grow more quickly and fill in the bed, and by the time the calendula matures and begins to flower, the greens have been harvested, and calendula has more room to flourish.

Calendula officinalis–-

There are countless varieties of calendula, with many shades of sunset: orange, yellow, and russet. There are multi-petaled varieties for extra garden bling (and edible petals), and varieties with increased resin, purported to be more medicinally active. One of my current favorites is ‘alpha,’ a variety with plenty of resin and mixed double yellow and orange petals. You can use any of the Calendula officinalis cultivars as food or medicine, although the yellow and orange varieties are more common in medicinal preparations. Let the aroma and stickiness of the flowers guide you in finding your personal favorite types of calendula.

The flowers need to be picked every two to three days to promote and prolong the plant’s flowering season. If you let the plants go to seed, they will stop making new flowers. As you’re picking, be sure to deadhead the flowers that have started to go to seed. These overripe blooms have petals sticking up at odd angles or petals that have already fallen off the plant, and the green seeds will be developing. I give these far-gone flowers back to the earth, forgoing them as medicine.

Picking calendula flowers

-

Pick the flowers in the heat of the day when the dew has evaporated and the flowers are looking perky. When you pick calendula, your fingers will be sticky from the resinous bracts, which form the green base of the flower head. Dry on screens or airy baskets in a well-ventilated, warm area. “Schluffle” the flowers often (my invented, Yiddish-inspired term for gently tussling drying herbs).

-

Calendula being readied for drying on a metal screen covered with a lightweight breathable cotton cloth

Calendula being readied for drying on a metal screen covered with a lightweight breathable cotton cloth

- 

Be sure the entire flower head is dry before you put up your harvest. The petals will be completely dried and crunchy and the green base of the flower head will be pliable when you break it open, but it shouldn’t be overly moist. Err on the side of overdrying. Depending on your climate and drying setup, it may take a week to ten days to properly dry calendula.

-

Calendula officinalis-edible flowers

-

 Edible Flowers: Calendula In the Kitchen

Soon after giving birth to my daughter—in the middle of winter—I received a meal from an herbalist friend—a nourishing quiche crafted from homegrown veggies, speckled with the orange and yellow of calendula petals. Such a small touch made a large impression: I felt the warmth and sunshine of summer in every bite. 

To prepare calendula for eating, the petals are plucked from the medicinal-tasting green flower base and can be eaten raw or cooked. Try calendula petals in salads, salsas, scrambled eggs, quiche, and frittatas. The yellow and orange confetti adds merriment and festivity to any dish. Add the petals to herbal compound butters with other edible blooms, such as chives.

-

Calendula and wild bergamot herbal ice cubes

Calendula and wild bergamot herbal ice cubes

Schisandra ice cubes with edible calendula and wild bergamot flowers

Schisandra ice cubes with edible calendula and wild bergamot flowers

-

In the summertime, whole flower heads can be frozen in ice cube trays, creating decorative ice cubes fit for the finest herbal libation. You can fancy things up even more by freezing the flowers in colorful herbal tea. For one of my favorite recipes, see my article on Herbal Ice Cubes. Harvest flowers with longer stems intact for adorning iced herbal teas and botanical cocktails, and add a sprig of mint for contrast.

Calendula’s petals are more than a fetching culinary adornment. Like other edible blooms, they are loaded with antioxidant compounds. Its colorful petals are high in carotenoids, such as flavoxanthin and auroxanthin.

Pictured below:

  • Scrambled eggs with nopalitos (fresh cactus pads; Opuntia spp.) and calendula flowers
  • Wild-greens saag paneer (garnished with calendula)
  • Salad with edible flowers—daylily (Hemerocallis fulva), calendula, and heartsease (Viola tricolor)
  • Cherry nopalitos salsa (recipe here).

-

Dishes made with calendula flowers

Dishes made with calendula flowers. Clockwise from the top left: scrambled eggs with nopalitos (fresh cactus pads), wild-greens saag paneer (garnished with calendula), salad with edible flowers (daylily, calendula, and viola) and cherry nopalitos salsa

-

The whole flowers can also be dried and added to soups and stews as a winter immune tonic. This traditional folk use heralds from medieval Europe, where the flowers were likewise added to bread, syrups, and conserves. In the classic 1863 text The Complete Herbal, Nicholas Culpepper wrote, “The flowers, either green or dried, are much used in possets, broths, and drink, as a comforter of the heart and spirits, and to expel any malignant or pestilential quality which might annoy them.”1

-

Medicinal Bone Broth with Calendula 

Every winter, I make a strong medicinal and mineral-rich bone broth of calendula flowers, turkey tail (Trametes versicolor), astragalus (Astragalus propinquus), stinging nettles (Urtica dioica), seaweed, organic beef bones, and shiitake (Lentinula edodes) mushrooms. I simmer it in a big pot all day, concentrating the brew with evaporation by leaving the lid off. After straining and cooling, it’s frozen into small portions and subsequently added to soup, stew, marinara, and chili all throughout the winter months. This herbal broth is an excellent way to sneak extra minerals into our diets, and also doubles as an immune tonic, helping to keep colds and flu at bay. My daughter has an exceptionally discerning palette (a euphemism for picky-as-all-get-out) and doesn’t notice this extra herbal addition to her meals.

-

Sun tea with apple mint and bee balm and calendula flowers

Sun tea with apple mint and bee balm and calendula flowers

Medicinal Benefits of Calendula

Parts Used:  Whole flowers (as mentioned before, be sure to use the entire flower head, including the green base, rather than the petals alone)

Medicinal Preparations: Tea, tincture, infused oil, salve, broth, compress, poultice, vaginal douches and suppositories, sitz baths

Tincture ratios and dosage: Fresh flowers 1:2 95%; dried flowers 1:6 70%. Both preparations 2–3 ml (⅖ to ⅗ teaspoon) three times a day

Infusion ratios and dosage: 1 Tablespoon (15 ml) of the dried flowers infused in 1 cup (240 ml) of water three times a day; 3 to 12 grams of the dried flower a day by infusion

Herbal Actions:

  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Lymphagogue
  • Vulnerary (promotes wound healing)
  • Antibacterial
  • Antifungal
  • Emmenagogue (stimulates menstrual flow)
  • Cholagogue (stimulates bile)

Medicinal Uses: Calendula is a wonderful digestive ally, and it’s one of the primary herbs I recommend for GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), which commonly affects people with the symptoms of heartburn.

In the case of peptic ulcers, calendula can be taken concurrently with antibiotic therapy (to address the presence of the bacterial infection of H. pylori, or Helicobacter pylori), and then continued for two weeks after finishing treatment. See the notes below for important contraindications associated with calendula. 

This is an outstanding herb for stimulating the lymphatic system. It’s used to treat acute or chronically swollen lymph nodes resulting from respiratory infections, localized infections, and tonsillitis. It is also used to build immunity by helping to prevent infection through activation of the lymphatic system.

-

calendula infusion

An updating calendula infusion

-

Calendula is one of my personal favorite wintertime teas. I find it so uplifting, especially when I’m feeling the long-dark-night blahs. Interestingly, I find the flavor of a strong cup of calendula tea to be reminiscent of unsweetened cacao. Most modern herbalists don’t use it as one of their primary antidepressant herbs, but it’s mentioned for this specific use in multiple historical texts. Calendula may be called upon for grief and sadness along with other cheering flowers, such as rose (Rosa spp.), mimosa (Albizia julibrissin)  and lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). Consider adding citrusy herbal cheer as well, such as lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and lemon verbena (Aloysia citriodora).

-

Calendula oil

Calendula oil

-

Calendula as a Topical Medicinal Remedy

Topically, calendula addresses myriad skin complaints, including rashes, stings, wounds, burns, abrasions, swellings, eczema, acne, insect bites, scrapes, bruises, chickenpox, cold sores, cervical dysplasia, diaper rash, cracked nipples from breastfeeding, and postpartum perineal tears. 

I keep calendula oil stocked in my fridge, often combining it with plantain (Plantago spp.), chickweed (Stellaria media), Saint John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum), and violet (Viola sororia and others) in salve form. I add calendula to herbal mouthwash formulas for periodontal disease, thrush, and bleeding gums. 

See my article on Topical Benefits of Calendula for more information, plus my personal recipes for making your own infused oil and salve.

Calendula can also bring healing relief as a poultice, compress, or soak. These are all topical preparations traditionally used to help relieve pain, infection, and swelling. When my daughter had chicken pox, I made a fresh poultice from calendula mixed with other herbs and applied it daily. She had quite the outbreak and doesn’t even have one scar, thanks to this herbal poultice.

Safety and Contraindications: Do not use calendula internally during pregnancy since it has traditionally been used to bring on menses. As calendula is in the aster family, it may cause a reaction for people who are highly sensitive to plants like ragweed (Ambrosia spp.) and chamomile (Matricaria recutita); this possibility is rare, but sensitive individuals should proceed with caution when using calendula for the first time. Rare incidences of allergic contact dermatitis have occurred with the topical use of calendula.

References

 

  1. Culpeper, N. The Complete Herbal; to Which Is Now Added, Upwards of One Hundred Additional Herbs, with a Display of Their Medicinal and Occult Qualities Physically Applied To the Cure of All Disorders Incident to Mankind . (Thomas Kelly & Company, 1863).

Meet the Green Mastermind Behind Blog Castanea:

JULIET BLANKESPOOR founded the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine in 2007 and serves as the school’s primary instructor and Creative Director. She's been a professional plant-human matchmaker for close to three decades. Juliet caught the plant bug when she was nineteen and went on to earn a degree in Botany. She's owned just about every type of herbal business you can imagine: an herbal nursery, a medicinal products business, a clinical practice, and now, an herbal school.

These days, she channels her botanical obsession with her writing and photography in her online programs and here on her personal blog, Castanea. She's writing her first book: Cultivating Medicinal Herbs: Grow, Harvest, and Prepare Handcrafted Remedies from Your Home Garden. Juliet and her houseplants share a home with her family and herb books in Asheville, North Carolina.

Want to take a deeper dive into medicinal herb cultivation?

Our 1,000-hour Herbal Immersion Program is the most comprehensive handcrafted online herbal course available, covering botany, foraging, herb cultivation, medicine making, and therapeutics.

-

118 thoughts on “Calendula’s Herbal & Edible Uses: How to Grow, Gather, and Prepare Calendula as Food and Medicine

  1. I am wondering if I have a different type of calendula? When eaten the yellow or orange petals initially taste nice, then have a very strong very bitter aftertaste. Is this typical? Thank you for the web site; lots of great information here.

      • I’m not sure what you mean by “investable,” but you can find calendula available for purchase. Unfortunately, it’s often sold as just the petals rather than the whole flower head. If you can find the whole flowers, that would be ideal! I’m not sure how easy it would be to find an oil infused with calendula, but you could definitely make your own with the dried flowers.

  2. Good post on Calendula and I appreciate it when someone sees the opportunity nature provides. We got too much focus on pharmaceutical products. However, I could not get my marigold to bloom this year. I think they do require a lot more water than I thought.
    All the best,
    Jony

  3. Thank you so much for posting this interesting information on the Calendula officinalis flower. I grow many in the summer, and will be drying them this summer for sure!

  4. Alicia beverage says:

    Hello! Thanks for such a great post. I have a ton of calendula flowers blooming right now. I was curious as to what you use the oil for and how you prepare it. I noted that you said it’s always in your fridge!

    • Calendula is great for all manner of skin issues. The infused oil is a great base for a salve, which can be used for anything from diaper rash to psoriasis! The simplest way to make an infused oil is to put some herbs in a jar, cover them with oil and then cap the jar, and let it macerate in your pantry for about a month.

    • Christine Borosh says:

      Calendula officinalis is the species that we have experience with and recommend. It is so easy to grow and adds such a vibrant color to the garden!

      • Thank you! I have a lot of calendula arvensis growing in my yard and was wondering if anyone has experience using it and can testify to it’s medicinal properties/uses. Thanks!

  5. Thank you for this informative post. I am rebuilding my garden after a fire and flood in 2016/17. I’m excited to get lots of herbal and medicinal plants in there and really appreciate your blog for helping me make good choices.

    How does calendula interact with peri-menopause, as it is menses stimulating?

    • Christine Borosh says:

      Glad you are enjoying our blog and good luck rebuilding your garden!

      On the spectrum of herbal emmenagogues, calendula is on the mild side. There are other emmenagogues that are much stronger in this action. In the case of calendula, I don’t think there should be any issues with someone taking it in menopause in the given dosages.

  6. Kathy Dowling says:

    Can calendula oil be substituted for dandelion oil to be uded with a magnesium oil salve for leg cramps? It’s not reallh the season right now for dandelion flowers here in east TN, but I xo have dried calendula.

    • I don’t think that using calendula topically will have much of an impact on your magnesium levels, but it is an anti-inflammatory and it’s possible that it could help your leg cramps in that sense. In any case, it certainly couldn’t hurt! Calendula makes a wonderful infused oil.

  7. Nancy Cusumano says:

    After you dry the flowers, is it best to pull the petals off the heads? Or use them whole? I would be using for tea and for infused oil. Thanks! Love your site
    and want to take the course.

    • Christine Borosh says:

      Use the whole flowers!

      We hope you can join us for one of our courses soon! Our Back to School sale is running through September 7th, so now is a great time to enroll 🙂

  8. Calendula is one of my favourite garden plants. It pretty much grows throughout the year where I live in England. I’m aware of its medicinal and nutritional properties but since my neighbourhood is urban and quite polluted I think I’ll stick to just enjoying the view.

    Some lovely photographs by the way.

  9. But wait–do you use the tagetes marigold medicinally as well? Doesn’t it have the highest concentrations of lutein and zeaxanthin?

    • Juliet Blankespoor says:

      Marigolds in the Tagetes genus are commonly sold as garden ornamentals. Mexican tarragon is Tagetes lucida, which is used medicinally as a digestive aid and enjoyed as a pleasant beverage tea, especially by the Mayan people in Guatemala. However not all Tagetes species are medicinal, and none can be used interchangeably with calendula.

  10. What variety (ies) of calendula officinalis do you grow? Looking for a variety that is very resinous. Want to making calendula cream and oil.

      • Hello! I have been growing and using calendula for 30 years. I love this plant friend. It re seeds it’s self here in Minnesota and haven’t planted new for years.
        My question is do the white flowers also contain medicinal properties? I am drawn to the vibrant orange but many are now pale yellow and white.
        Thank you for the great info you’ve posted!

        • Christine Borosh says:

          As long as you have the Calendula officinalis species, then you can use the flowers medicinally. There can be many different flower colors within this species. I prefer to use the bright yellow and orange flowers as they seem to have the strongest medicinal effects. Happy summer 🙂

  11. I am wanting to make an antifungal spray for my dog and I want to plant my own calendula but I need to know if any marigold seed will work or does it have to be a specific one?

  12. how exciting!!im all new to this herbs and so in love with this!just bought my own calendula flowers,so i can grow them at home!first flower project!!thanks for being :)!!

  13. Can you share some links to the recipes for food with calendula? We have a ton growing in our garden and our girls are just eating the petals plain all the time (I introduced them to edible flowers and now they always want to eat them!) but I’d love to incorporate into more meals for them. Thanks!

    • Juliet Blankespoor says:

      So glad your girls are having fun nibbling on calendula blossoms. I don’t have specific recipes for this flower, but the petals add a nice flair to most any dish – scrambled eggs, salads, soups, the sky’s the limit!

    • Juliet Blankespoor says:

      Glad you enjoyed it! Maybe you’ll have some self-sow; they always come back for me if I don’t mulch too heavily.

  14. Sabine Williams says:

    Calendula (both infused in oil, and as petal additives) makes a beautiful soap, as well, and unlike many other botanical additives, calendula petals hold their color, in cold-process soaps.
    It’s the one herb I grow in a pot on my window-sill, every fall/winter.

  15. Allice Haidden says:

    Thank you so much, this is such a rich posting….matching beautifully the magnificent plant that have brought me so much joy even into this warm November.

  16. Are there various types of Calendula, and if so, are they all medicinal? I was given about 10 plants from a kind neighbor, and the flowers look different than what I have grown in the past. The leaves and stems are the same, yet the flowers look different.

    • Without seeing your plant, I can’t say if its Calendula officinalis. There are plenty of cultivated varieties and they are all medicinal, although some are more resinous than others. I would search seed catalogue sites for Calendula varieties, and see if you can find yours there 🙂

  17. Pingback: Calendula! |
  18. Thank you for this post which is as beautiful as it is instructive. We just moved to a farm where I feel to add to the already beautiful medicinal herb garden. Oh, how I would be glad for someone like you to be my neighbor.

  19. When I want to focus on this calendula for it’s herbal usage, does it matter this calendula officanlis come from any cultivars? Like Pacific Beauty or Art of Shade? Thanks for your sharing…

    • Fransisca,
      I don’t have any direct experience with either of those varieties, which are Calendula officinalis cultivars (cultivated varieties), but if the green base of the flower head is resinous (sticky and bitter) – they will be good medicine. All of the Calendula officinalis varieties are medicinal and edible, but some are more resinous than others.
      Hope that helps!
      Juliet

  20. Christen Vargas says:

    I am 12 weeks pregnant, and not knowing much about calendula, I ate about 1/4 flower (petals only) offered to me by a well meaning friend as an interesting edible flower. Is it likely that this small amount of calendula intake can have an effect on my pregnancy? I have been trying to find out info on potency, but the only things I found were general warnings that suggest that you “avoid it during pregnancy.” Now I’m a bit worried…

    • Pl. Don’t worry quarter of a flower will do no harm. Just avoid taking it further. Hope the baby will be as sunny as the flower. Good luck..
      Sid

  21. Thank you, again, for providing such extensive information. Your Facebook post on 10 Medicinal Herbs brought me here. I am ever delighted by your blog, your knowledge, and your generosity. I’ve only added herbs to my garden for the last couple years, but try to share with my kids the information I learn from wise people like you.

  22. After a whole day in bed feeling bad with, I don’t know what it was, I ended up vomiting, and today I had terrible indigestion. right now I am drinking a cup of calendular and chamomile tea. I found your blog by searching if calendula was edible. I am growing mint, chamomile, calendular, lemonverbena and lots more in our garden. Thank you for giving me much more than the answer I was looking for. I am hoping to be able to get back to work tomorrow with the help of mint, chamomile and calendular tea.
    Love your photos too:)

  23. Hello Juliet,
    I found your site through google. I am just learning about calendula and found your information to be very helpful. This is a great post with beautiful photos.

  24. I have just found your site whilst researching the calendula plant. I am part of a Community Share Associate (csa) plan for Sweegrass Herbals of Sterling, MA and I was given this small plant and it is growing; has two budding marigolds as they are so lovely. Anyhow, in adding the photo to my blog; I decided to find if there was a blog on the calendula plant; indeed it led me here. Your photos are so lovely; as mentioned by another comment-er. Thank you for sharing!

  25. Well This is very interesting post, i am surfing around your blog and getting very handy information. Keep sharing like this. Actually i am doing research on different type of plants and seeds to make medicines and this medium help me a lot.

  26. Thank you for all of the information presented in such a lovely and beautiful way.

    Do you have any recipe suggestions for making a Calendula cream? I’ve been collecting & drying Calendula flowers all summer. I have EVOO, glycerin & beeswax, but could use some help on the ratios or ideas for better base oils.
    Thank you.

  27. Julie Setzler says:

    Juliet,
    Thank you for brightening my day with these beautiful photos and the enriching info! Will definitely have to grow this herb.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>