On the farm in March and April, apart from the seasonal spring-cleaning of the barn, we begin to plant the calendula seeds, pushing them into trays of rich organic compost. Later, when the seedlings are robust enough we pot them on.
We grow calendula between other plants. It's a fast growing annual so it grows, flowers and self-seeds in one year. We love it between the roses, the orange and reds look so beautiful together and we feel that it supports the other plants around it.
We also grow a big strip of it in the main field. When it’s in full flower it is visible from the very top of the field 500m away as a long, meandering orange river.
Picking Calendula is a pleasure, in common with most other annuals, the more you pick the flowers, the more it produces. We harvest constantly from May right through to September before we allow it to set seed.
The scent is fresh and green, bright almost. It makes me feel well and the colour infuses me with sunshine. The flowers feel silky to the touch but sticky too. By the end of a row they will have covered my fingertips in a viscous, tacky resin that makes the flower heads glue to fingers. We are often to be seen comedically pulling them off each other’s hands. It is this resin that makes them so precious as a vulnery.
A cheery circle of orange petals gives this plant its Latin name, (Calendula officinalis), 'little calendar or clock'. Their circular nature is reflected in other ways too: as the flowers die back, they produce a seed head with a perfect circle of rounded seeds almost like a sea urchin. To separate the seeds the head is broken allowing the curved, rough seeds to spill out in a beautiful scattering of almost scaly half moons. It is utterly satisfying to save the seed for use next year. And it is these seeds that we are now potting in the warmth of our polytunnel at Ashurst Organics, beginning another new cycle of life.
The flower petals of the calendula plant have been used for medicinal purposes since at least the 12th century. Calendula is native to Mediterranean countries but is now grown as an ornamental plant throughout the world. However, it is not the same as the annual African marigold plant that is often grown in gardens.
Calendula has high amounts of flavonoids, plant-based antioxidants that protect cells from being damaged by free radicals. Calendula appears to fight inflammation, viruses, and bacteria. It has been shown to help wounds heal faster, possibly by increasing blood flow and oxygen to the affected area, which helps the body grow new tissue. It is also used to improve skin hydration and firmness. The dried petals of the calendula plant are used in tinctures, ointments, and washes to treat burns, bruises, and cuts, as well as the minor infections they cause. Calendula also has been shown to help prevent dermatitis or skin inflammation in people with breast cancer during radiation therapy.
Dried calendula petals are one of the therapeutic ingredients in our Bio Active Mineral Powder, a deeply cleansing facial exfoliator. To demonstrate the process, in our window this month we have displayed the raw ingredients, which, through a series of stages, are reduced to a fine, rich powder that has remarkable benefits for your skin.
You are very welcome to come into the shop to try it for yourself!
If you have any medicinal, therapeutic or culinary uses for calendula, we’d love to hear about them.