Hot lavender, mints, savory, marjoram;
The marigold, that goes to bed wi’ th’ sun,
And with him rises weeping; these are flow’rs
Of middle summer, and I think they are given
To men of middle age. — William Shakespeare
Grow Calendula flowers for lotions, oils, and soap
If there’s only one skincare flower that you grow in your garden, it should be Calendula officinalis. Known by many as the Pot Marigold, this cheerful and easy to grow flower has a myriad of uses.
The flowers can range in color from a buttery yellow to bright orange and being hardy, they can produce flowers from May right through to the first frost. Best of all, the more you pick them, the more they produce.
In the garden, Calendula is often grown as a companion plant to vegetables that need pollination to produce. The vibrant flowers attract insects that will happily flit over to pollinate zucchinis, pumpkins, and cucumbers while they’re there.
Calendula flowers are edible and can be used fresh in salads, to decorate cakes, and to give natural golden color to savory dishes. They can also be used to naturally tint handmade soap a lovely yellow to orange, depending on the original color of the flowers.
The most exciting use for Calendula is in skincare. The flowers are antiseptic, anti-fungal, anti-viral, and anti-bacterial and have been shown to help speed up the healing of skin. These properties make calendula a great ingredient for soothing, natural skin products.
Calendula at a glance
• Hardy Annual
• Orange to yellow flowers
• Promotes skin healing
• Helps clear acne and pimples
• Promotes healing of broken skin
• Soothes eczema and irritated skin
• Speeds up the healing of sunburns
• Treats chapped skin, lips, and cold sores
• Sensitive astringent
• Naturally colors handmade soap
Though Calendula officinalis is originally from the Mediterranean, its hardy nature has allowed it to colonize the temperate world. It grows well in most soil types and will even tolerate partial shade. The plants do best in sunny positions though, especially on well-drained soil. Plant them there and they’ll reward you with hundreds of flowers.
Sow the seahorse-like seeds in either autumn or spring. Sowing them in autumn will give the plants a head start and you’ll see flowers much earlier. In autumn, sow six to eight weeks before the first frost in modules filled with equal parts seed-compost mixed with peat-free multi-purpose compost. Top dress with horticultural grit, water, and keep under cover in a bright place.
You’ll see leaves emerge after 10-15 days. With protection from both the cold and slugs the plants will overwinter well and can be planted outside after the last frost.
Direct sowing in spring is very easy. Between March and May, and after the last frost, lightly scatter seeds in rows 18” apart. Protect the emerging plants from slugs using beer traps or another organic solution and when the young plants reach an inch tall, thin them to 12” apart. Calendula prefers fertile, well-drained soil so keep this in mind when you sow or plant them outdoors.
Calendula growing tips
These robust flowering plants require very little in the way of aftercare. They’ll begin blooming 45-60 days after germination and as long as you keep on top of picking the flowers, they’ll continue blooming and producing all throughout the summer and autumn.
The flowers themselves will be yellow to bright orange and 2-3” in diameter. There are different varieties of Calendula officinalis with some blooming as single flowers and others with double rows of petals. You can buy calendula seeds as mixes so that you could have single, double, yellow, and orange flowers all in the same row.
Calendula are prolific seed producers and will self-seed around the area they’re growing. The seeds are very easy to collect and save off the plant so once you’ve made the initial investment of seeds you shouldn’t need to buy them again.
As far as pests are concerned, they can suffer from aphids later in the season. Gardeners actually use the attractiveness of calendula to their benefit and it’s often grown to draw aphids away from prized vegetables. If you notice an infestation, you can pick individual leaves off and dispose of them or spray the aphids off using soapy water.
Calendula growing guide
• Suitable for all zones
• Full sun to partial shade
• Most soil types
• Plant height: 18-24”
• Flowers spring to the first frost
Growing Calendula in Containers
Calendula is adaptable and will grow well in outdoor pots, containers, and window boxes. Aside from the harvest of flowers, they’ll also add a splash of color throughout most of the year.
To harvest the flowers, pick on a dry morning soon after the flowers have opened. Use them fresh or dry them for later use. When drying, keep the temperature low or air dry small batches on paper plates out of direct sunlight. For larger batches I like to use a food dehydrator.
Remember to pick the flowers often since the plant will respond by producing even more flowers. Flowers that aren’t picked will produce seed heads that when ripe can be picked and saved for the next growing season.
Calendula flower recipes
On a scientific level, calendula flowers contain polysaccharides, flavonoids, triterpenes, and carotenes. These compounds help to treat various conditions but from a skincare point of view they’re primarily used to heal damaged skin. The best way to make use of them is to first infuse the flower petals into either water or oil. The infused solutions can be used directly on the skin or to create skincare recipes.
To make a herbal infusion, pour one cup (240ml) of scalding water over one tablespoon of dried calendula flowers or two tablespoons fresh. The petals contain the majority of the healing properties but the flower heads are beneficial too. Leave to seep for at least 15 minutes before straining off the plant material. It’s best to use the infusion fresh but you can store it in the fridge for up to three days.
You can also add calendula flowers directly to your bath water. Place up to a cup of dried flowers in a reusable cotton tea bag and let it seep in your hot bath water. Alternatively you can make a pot of strong calendula tea and pour it in the bath.
One of the best ways to prepare and preserve calendula is in oil. When seeped into light oils such as olive or sweet almond, the petals release their healing properties and color into the liquid. You can then use the oil to create lotions, creams, balms, or to use neat on the skin. Calendula is a gentle skin herb and when used externally is ideal for all skin types.
To make calendula infused oil, fill a glass jar ¾ the way full with dried calendula flowers or flower petals. Fill the jar with oil until the flowers are covered by about an inch. Seal and place in a warm, sunny window for 2-4 weeks and remember to give the jar a shake every couple of days. Placing the jar inside a brown paper bag can help protect the oil from UV light.
When the time is up, strain the oil from the flowers — the dried flowers will have absorbed a lot of oil so make sure to squeeze it to get every last drop. Bottle into dark glass jars and store in a cool and dim place. Usually calendula oil is good for up to a year. Make sure to check the shelf-life of the oil you use though first – if it expires in three months then your calendula oil will only be good up until that time too.