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When I think of Calendula, I immediately think of how it’s used on cuts and bruises. In this article I will focus on this yellow to orange colored flower; how to recognize it, what health benefits it has, and how it’s traditionally been used.
How to recognize Calendula
Calendula refers to about 20 species of edible flowers from the daisy family. But take heed: Calendula can easily be confused with flowers from the genus Tagetes, commonly known as Marigolds. The petals of the calendula are edible, whereas Tagetes marigolds are dangerous for both humans and animals to ingest. You have to be entirely sure you’re dealing with calendula before eating it. Make sure to always examine its features by taking the following steps.
The first thing you should check is the seeds. Calendula have brown, U-shaped seeds with small bumps along the exposed surface. Marigolds, on the other hand, have straight, black seeds with a white tip. The very first time I encountered Calendula seeds, I thought they were dried insects! Have a look at the photo below – this is how Calendula seeds look like.
Have a look here to see what the poisonous marigold’s seeds look like.
Secondly, take a close look at the flower itself, starting with the petals. A calendula petal is straight, long and ovular. They come in different colors varying from yellow to orange, but there are also white and pink ones. The flower’s shape is somewhat flat and similar to a wide and shallow bowl. It has a distinct round dot in the center that comes in colors ranging from yellow to brown.
Another characteristic of the Calendula is its height. It might be a good idea to take a measuring tape with you before you harvest flowers looking like calendula! Mature calendulas typically grow between 1 and 2 feet tall, depending on the exact species and growing conditions. In contrast, the many varieties of mature marigold grow between 6 inches and 4 feet tall. If the flower is much taller than 2 feet, it is likely not a calendula.
If you’re still not sure if it’s calendula or marigold you’re dealing with after taking these three steps, don’t eat it. It’s best to ask a specialist if you really want to eat the flower.
Medicinal use of calendula
For centuries, Calendula has been used both internally and topically. Medical preparations include tea, tincture, infused oil, and salves. Calendula is believed to be anti-inflammatory, lymphagogue, vulnerary (promotes wound healing), antibacterial, antifungal, emmenagogue (stimulates the menstrual flow) and cholagogue (stimulates bile). Traditionally, calendula is a remedy for supporting the immune system and lifting the spirits. The edible ray florets of the flower heads are bursting with antioxidant compounds.
How to use Calendula
If you have calendula in your own garden or allotment, make sure to pick the flowers every two to three days. This promotes and prolongs the plant’s flowering season. If you let the plants go to seed, they will stop producing new flowers. For all medical preparations, make sure you use the whole dried flowers, as the medicinal oils are found mostly in the resinous green bases of the flower heads.
Fun fact: Calendula was considered by Romans a plant with magical powers. It would allow people to see fairies, and help women select the right partner. In Greek mythology, the young lady Caltha fell in love with Apollo, god of the sun. She was, however, melted by the power of his rays and in her place a solitary calendula flower grew. As calendula used to be depicted on graves and tombstones, the flower nowadays is often still associated with grief.