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My Best (Low Maintenance, High Return) Flower Friend: Calendula

Of all the plants and flower-friends a girl can have, the BFF has got to be calendula officinalis.

My skin has been a happy beneficiary of calendula since long before I even knew it was a flower...or what it looked like.

And, I’m a little embarrassed to admit, it’s fairly recently that I realised that calendula, also known as Pot Marigold, is *not* the same flower you see in the opulent garlands at your Indian friends’ weddings. Why pot marigold, or English marigold, from the daisy family, would share a name with a flower from a different genus is beyond me, especially since they do look alike. Which is probably why they share a name…

But enough about names, what is important is to know how to recognise a proper calendula officinalis flower because it has SO many benefits besides being pretty, resilient, perennial, low-maintenance, versatile, oh I could go on and on. (Whereas its--let’s call her ‘mean cousin’-- the marigold of the genus Tagetes is only pretty, but toxic to animals and humans to ingest.)

If you are foraging, make absolutely sure you know your calendula from a marigold. Quick tip: the marigold makes straight black seeds with a white tip. Calendula produces brown, U-shaped seeds with small bumps along the exposed surface. (More details on the differences here).

You can easily find dried calendula flowers if you are eager to get started on your calendula DIY projects. But if you can, the best is to grow calendula from seeds. Why? Because it’s easy! And oh-so-rewarding! Even a novice gardener will obtain eye-pleasing bright flowers. You don’t need to worry about soil type or finicky watering needs. Calendula is a perennial in mild climates, but even as an annual (where things get frosty), it can self-sow, or its seeds can be easily collected and replanted. Come sun or shade, out or in-doors, calendula will show up for you.

Also delightful: calendula loves to share her flowers. The more you pick, the more abundant the flowering will be. So pick away, and have fun using the pretty flowers for:

  1. Tea: add 1 tablespoon of fresh flowers (two teaspoons dried) to cold water. Bring to a gentle boil and simmer or allow to steep for about 10 minutes. You can use it to drink to soothe internal mucous membranes, or as a healing warm compress for sunburns, rashes, sores, even eye infections. Refrigerate for up to a week any tea you don’t use right away.

  2. Calendula oil : The anti-inflammatory and antiseptic compounds in the oil are fantastic for wound healing and skin conditions. Fill a sterilized glass jar 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 your 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.

  3. Salve/Ointment: 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 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.

For more on the fabulous uses of the pot marigold, Lovely Greens has an excellent, detailed guide on growing calendula and using it in skincare.

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