Calendula (otherwise known as Common or Pot Marigold) has got to be in my herbal top five. One of the first edible flowers I supplied for Jamie’s Fifteen Cornwall, I couldn’t believe how easy they were to grow. They romp away giving you beautiful blooms all summer. Once you’ve grown them for one season, they’ll drop their seed and supply you with flowers forever more.
I defy any gardener not to be cheered by their shimmering golden petals that unfurl with the dawn and close at sunset.
Raymond (Blanc) would disown me for writing this, as he found the orange and yellow flowers gaudy! They didn’t fit with his stylish colour palette of blues, whites and mauves in Le Manoir’s flowerbeds. But I sneaked some into the veg garden, and he let them stay because they produce nectar and pollen for bees and attract other beneficial insects.
I often freeze the fresh flowers in ice cubes to add colour to summer drinks, scattering petals through salads (and any other dish that needs prettifying) and when the nights draw in, adding the dried flowers to soups, broths and stews. The petals create a dye, rather like a poor man’s saffron, as well as adding nutrients and a peppery flavour. Traditionally they would have been thrown in the winter stew pot, giving rise to the name Pot Marigold.
In the First World War garden designer Gertrude Jekyll (a total legend in my eyes) set aside a large plot to grow Calendula which were shipped to France for dressings for the wounded and burns victims.
In the Middle Ages garlands of Marigolds hung over the door were said to stop evil from entering the home (including the plague) and the plants could strip a witch of her evil will.
Calendula’s antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties make it a great first-aid kit herb for cuts, scrapes, skin irritations and bee stings. Rubbing a crushed flower into an insect bite or sting can reduce swelling which is handy to know.
If you enjoy cooking, you will enjoy medicine making too. You can make lotions, ointments, massage oils, tinctures and teas with Calendula to get these medicinal properties, but my favourite way is to make a healing salve. As a gardener I get a lot of cuts, scrapes and sore muscles, and it is a real treat for weary skin. This salve makes a wonderful present for someone.
If you are using Calendula you have grown yourself, make sure you dry the flower heads first. Moisture is the enemy to this kind of salve and can encourage mould. Harvest Calendula while blooms are dry and lay out on drying rack with good air flow until papery and dried out. You can also use a dehydrator on the lowest setting. Otherwise buy the organic dried herb. I like using the Organic Herb Trading Company for my dried herbs.
First you need to make an infused oil. Normally you can do this by the traditional 'sun method' which involves filling half your sterilised jar with herbs and half with oil (I like Sweet Almond Oil) so herbs are covered, sealing and letting it sit in a sunny place for at least 2 weeks. Strain through muslin and a sieve and label and date. BUT as I am using Coconut Oil for this salve I recommend using the bain-marie method as Coconut oil will set hard if temperatures drop and may hamper infusion.
Calendula Oil - Bain-Marie Method
Sterilised Jar, tea towel, muslin-lined sieve, saucepan, heat proof glass bowel (to sit in the top of pan), 250ml coconut oil, dried calendula (a few handfuls - enough to cover with the oil).
Put bowl over the simmering water - you want a gentle heat with the bain-marie - you are not looking to cook the herbs! Don't let it touch the water below.
As you are using Coconut oil, heat this first so it becomes liquid. Then put in the Calendula. You want to use as much as you can of the herb, but still making sure it is covered by the oil. Simmer gently, uncovered for 3 hours and keep an eye on the water - don't let it boil dry.
After 3 hours take out the bowl - wipe the underside with tea towel so that no moisture get's into the mixture when pouring into jar. MOISTURE IS THE ENEMY and can make the oil go rancid. Strain through the muslin-lined sieve into your sterilised jar. You can repeat the process at this point by adding more herbs to the oil you have just made. This gives a stronger oil. Personally I never have time to do this but am sure it is worthwhile if you do. The oil should keep up to a year in a cool dark place.
You won't need all 250ml of oil to make the salve (unless you want to make a load in one go) but I've suggested this amount so that you can keep some in the cupboard and make again when you need another batch for yourself or as pressies.
You can now keep your oil until you are ready to make your salve, so you don't have to do it all in one day. You can also use the oil as a massage oil but it tends to get messy so that's why I like the salve.
Coconut Calendula Salve Recipe
25g beeswax pellets (I buy from Baldwins), 125ml Calendula Oil, 20 drops of essential oil of your choice (I like Lavender in this combo).
Before you do anything get your jars or tins that you are using ready for the salve. I buy mine from Baldwins and there are lots of options size wise.
Set up your bain-marie as before. Melt the beeswax and oil gently together. Whisk the mix to make the beeswax melt more quickly. Add a pinch of turmeric to give a richer colour and for extra anti-inflammatory properties. Take off the heat and quickly add the essential oil.
As soon as you take off the heat you need to MOVE FAST or the salve will start to set.
Wipe the bottom of the bowl with tea towel, and pour into a glass measuring jug. This is so that you can easily pour into your jars with no drips.
Then pour into your jars - seal, label.
This is for external use only.
Rub this nourishing, golden salve of plant power into dry or sore skin where you feel you need a soothing boost...warning - it's addictive!