Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Calendula Harvest

This is my first year growing my own calendula - usually I just buy the petals for my salve. But seeing as how many people regard it as a weed, how hard can it be to grow?

It's a sort of tallish, spindley plant, with one big flowerhead on each spindle. It's also known as pot marigold (some of my readers (you know who you are) will be disappointed, as it is neither pot nor a proper marigold).

The official name calendula is Calendula officinalis, and it is not related to the common marigold, but instead to the daisy or chrysanthemum.

But, just like pot, it is edible - you can actually pick those petals and add them to soups or mashed potatoes (along with garlic) to give them a beautiful golden color. The flavor is similar to pumpkin or squash. A handful of petals goes a long way in rice, carrot cake, chicken and dumplings or cream of mushroom soup.

Calendula can be directly seeded with the mature plants growing from 8" to 18" tall. Don't be afraid to cut the flowerheads, as this only encourages more budding. If flowerheads are left, it will self-seed, but generally doesn't become a nuisance. Calendula (the name just rolls off my tongue) is an annual, or a very short-lived perennial.

Petals can be used fresh or dried (NOTE: Dry the entire flowerhead, but only use the petals themselves in your recipes). Harvest in the late morning, after the dew has dried. To dry the petals for later use, spread the flowerheads in a thin layer in a dry shady spot, until they reach a thin papery consistency. Store in an airtight glass container.

Those of you who know me in real life understand that cooking is not my forte -I'd just as soon order out - so my calendula is destined for my herbal salves.

Calendula is loaded with carotenoids which means it's great for healing damaged skin and regenerating skin cells. Think gardening hands, diaper rash, dry skin, skinned knees, burns, etc. Out of all the recipes I found on the net, not one includes rosemary - but mine does, for several reasons: while calendula is an anti-inflammatory and an antibiotic, I like to err on the side of cauion by including a double dose of antiseptic - and rosemary is the best. This way, while the calendula is rebuilding skin cells, the rosemary is cleansing the wound.

Calendula Salve

2-3 cups Calendula Petals

1 cup of rosemary needles

Olive Oil (also antibacterial)

2 oz. Beeswax (slice into chips so it melts easily)

For those who prefer scented salves, add several drops Rose or Lavender Oil

To make your salve creamier add 1 oz. Lanolin or 1/2 oz. Glycerin

* Recipe can be proportionately increased if you need larger quantities *

To start, put calendula petals and rosemary needles into glass container, cover in olive oil. Cap tightly and let sit for two weeks.

After letting the petals and needles soak for two weeks, pour through a strainer into a small crock pot ($10 at the big box store). This removes the plant matter, leaving only the infused oil.

With the crock pot on the highest setting, slice the beeswax into slivers and small chips. Stir as it melts. If you choose to add lanolin or glycerin or essential oils for fragrance, do it now.

After the beeswax has melted, test the consistency of the mixture by putting a small amount in a milk cap, or a bottle cap,and then setting in the freezer - this will harden it within a few minutes and you can try it to see if it's creamy enough. To make it creamier add a little extra olive oil *or* lanolin *or* glycerin (for the love of god do not add all three, or it will never solidify again).

Run a second "creaminess" test if needed, and while it's hardening in the freezer, get your containers ready. Over the years I have discovered that while I have many beautiful large glass jars, the best salve containers are the tiny glass ones that are shallow and can be thrown in my purse and handed out to friends.

When pouring the salve into the containers BE CAREFUL. This mixture is HOT. When the containers are full, cap tightly and set in the frig or freezer to cool.

That's it. All the benefits of calendula are now yours.

For more salvemaking info, with photos, here's a previous post from last year's comfrey salve session.

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