Article: Elizabeth Dangerfield (Canberra Organic – Summer 2020)
Photo: Harish Kumar

The pot marigold, or Calendula officinalis, lights up our winters with its bright yellow and orange daisy flowers when everything else is dank and lifeless. The ability of pot marigolds to keep flowering all year round has earned them their official title — calendulae from the Latin meaning throughout the months or first of the month or even little clock. In Canberra they flourish when many tough flowering plants are overcome by the cold. In the dark mid-winter when it is too miserable to sally forth out of the house you can leave them alone for weeks only to find that they have been flowering away throughout your absence.

Calendula officinalis (Photo:Harish Kumar)

Pot marigolds are native to the Mediterranean. They were first recorded in 3rd century bc. The Romans and Greeks used the flowers for garlands and crowns for ceremonial purposes and the flowers are sacred in India where they have been used to decorate statues of Indian deities since ancient times. However, for the last 350 years Mexican marigolds have taken the place of the humble Calendula in Indian garlands. They are a bit more robust. These newcomers belong to the Tagetes family and were sacred to the Aztecs.

Pot marigolds were recorded in gardens in France in 5th century ad and seemed to have reached England by the beginning of the 13th century. It seems the plant is no longer found in the wild, although it doesn’t seem fussy about where it grows as long as it gets lots of sun. It is easy to grow from seeds.

For a humble, often neglected plant, it is one of the most useful. It has been used for centuries for medicinal purposes, for cooking and other practical uses. It turns up in herbals and medieval paintings of gardens. Calendulas were used by country folk for remedies for inflamed lymphatic nodes, duodenal ulcers, inflammatory skin lesions, for treating leg ulcers and as an eye lotion for conjunctivitis. It is mainly the flowers that are used. Calendula tea made from the petals is drunk for its health benefits and Calendula oil is used as an anti-inflammatory and to help wounds to heal.

Like other medicinal herbal plants, marigolds have become associated with rather miraculous claims over the years. Unfortunately, pot marigolds do not protect you from scorpion bites and sleeping on a pillow stuffed with them does not tell maids who they are going to marry. Walking barefoot through a patch of marigolds does not help women to communicate with birds and they don’t save you from highwaymen and robbers. This last idea probably comes from the legend that when Joseph and Mary were escaping to Egypt, they were set upon by robbers who took Mary’s purse only to find it was full of golden flowers and not money. Hence Calendulas were known as Mary’s Gold or marigolds as we know them today.

A large number of pharmacological substances can be extracted from the petals including a range of glycosides; triterpene, a volatile oil; gummy, mucilaginous calendulin; and soap-like saponins. All of these are said to aid bile secretion and promote wound healing.

Some pharmacological studies do suggest that extracts from Calendula flowers have some antiviral, antigenotoxic and anti-inflammatory properties in vitro. There is some scientific evidence for the effectiveness of Calendula ointments to treat skin problems. Randomised trials show that Calendula cream or ointment is effective in treating radiation dermatitis. There is evidence from in vitro studies that Calendula flower extract can help with cramps and constipation. There is also some experimental evidence that it could have anti-tumour properties. Like so many herbal plants used in the past for medicinal purposes, a lot more research is needed on the efficacy of different Calendula preparations used to treat a range of medical conditions in people in order to verify the accumulated folk wisdom about the use of the plant.

In the home, people used dried petals to flavour soups and stews and to colour them (instead of using very expensive saffron) hence the common name — pot marigold. In fact, marigold petals make an excellent yellow dye and have been used to colour cheese and butter (yes even in those days there were additives) and fabric. You can also add the petals to salads and omelettes and use them to make a delicious tea. They also make excellent cut flowers. Pot marigolds are very versatile and underrated plants.

Homemade golden Calendula oil

Article and photos: Nataša Zaric (Canberra Organic – Summer 2020)

Calendula (Calendula Officinalis) oil is very easy to make and have so many health benefits. I have been making my own oil for quite a few years, but in the past, I used organic petals I was buying from a wholesaler. Since I started growing my own Calendula flowers, the oil making became a real passion. 

Calendula Oil (Photo: Nataša Zaric)

Here are just some of the potential benefits that you will get from using Calendula oil:

  • Helps with damaged skin of all kinds (safely used on all parts of the body)
  • Assists with irritated and dry skin
  • Helps with healing minor wounds and cuts
  • Known to soothe eczema
  • Relieve diaper rash
  • Can assist with inflammation and pain
  • It also has antibacterial and antifungal properties

It is easy to grow Calendula plant from the seed or buy the seedlings from the local nursery. It is delightfully easy to grow!

  1. Once the plants flower, pick the flower heads as they bloom.
  2. Place the flowers on a cotton cloth to dry. I use only petals as I love detail, but you can use whole flower heads as well.
  3. When they are completely dried (3–5 days approximately), fill a clean, sterilised jar with the petals and press them in to fill as much as it possibly can fit.
  4. Slowly pour in organic extra virgin olive oil while tapping the jar on a hard surface gently to make sure that it fills all the space in the jar.
  5. Leave the lid off for around half an hour and pour in more oil if needed to completely cover the petals. There will be air bubbles coming out.
  6. If you have some Rosemary essential oil on hand you can add a drop, that will help to preserve the oil.
  7. When that is finished, close the jar and place on a sunny windowsill. Every now and then shake the jar a little to redistribute the oil through the petals.
  8. In 4-6 weeks strain the petals and pour oil into a dark bottle (I use an amber bottle). And it is ready to use!

A couple of notes

You will get a beautiful golden colour when extracting, a little bit also goes a long way!

You can also use almond or walnut oil instead of the olive oil, however, they are more fragile and may expire sooner.

With the olive oil, you can macerate on the sun. With the almond or walnut oil, it has to be in a dark, cool place. If you are in Australia or Europe, Aldi (aka Hofer) has a nice inexpensive organic olive oil.

If you like lavender, you can add a layer of lavender flowers to it as well. For my personal use, I am currently making a mix of Calendula, Red Clover, Lavender and Chamomile.

Enjoy making this beautiful oil that will nourish your skin!