Calendula Flower Harvest

When these sweet flowers shine their cheerful faces up at me in the dreary days of January, I can’t help but smile back. This is a flower of many talents. Not only does it bring joy, but it traps aphids, provides nectar and shelter to beneficial insects, the flower petals spice up a salad, and flower heads make a wonderful healing salve for the skin. I have an herbalist friend that includes them in her daily cooking, and adds them to herbal broths that she uses for soup base and other purposes.

This plant is a permaculture darling due to it’s many functions in our garden as well as in the kitchen. So I fling seeds into nearly every vacant spot in my landscape. 

How to Grow Calendula

Fling seeds around and forget about them. 

Seriously, this flower is the easiest I’ve ever grown. However, the fling and forget method does not come with guarantees, so if you want to be sure to get some flowers and find out what’s so great about them read on. 

The Specs on Calendula

Honeybee on a calendula flower.
Taken in February, this was the first honey bee of the season.

Calendula officinalis

  • Family: Asteraceae
  • Life Cycle: Annual, Self-Seeding
  • pH Range: of 5.5 – 7.5
  • USDA Zone: 5 – 9
  • Size at maturity: About 10”-15” tall
  • Bloom habits: One plant can produce many stalks and blooms with colors ranging from light yellow to deep red.
  • Bloom time: In zone 8b, it will flower all year except when they go dormant in the summer heat. Flowers peak in February through June and again October through November.
  • Light: Prefers sun and part shade.
  • Soil: Moist, loamy soil, but will grow almost anywhere.
  • Growth Period: In USDA zone 8b, calendula can overwinter and produce a flush of blooms by February. In colder zones, it will die under snow and hard frosts and will need to be re-sown in early spring. 
  • Spacing: 6”+ apart.
  • Direct Sow: Broadcast seeds from March – May
  • Start Indoors: February – March, then transplant in April – May
Calendula Seed Harvest
Calendula Seed Harvest

To get them established on your property in USDA Zone 8b:

  • February-March: Start 6 or so plants in a paper pot, plastic six pack, or peat pot, indoors with two or three seeds per pot. Broadcast remaining seeds in a few different areas in your yard. 
  • Harden off for one to two weeks. (Late March – April)
  • Transplant outside in April. Plant about 6” or more apart. 
  • Let the best flower heads go to seed and dry on the stalk. Crush seed heads and sprinkle around your property. Also dry some on a tray or screen. Share the joy with friends and neighbors. 
  • Deadhead whatever is leftover to keep the blooms coming. 

Notes on Growing Calendula

Calendula doesn’t like to be crowded. If I don’t thin out the self-sown seedlings they will stay small and seem to be more susceptible to powdery mildew. 

Calendula will die back in the dog days of summer. If you want your garden to be tidy, go ahead and cut the brown stalks back, but leave a few inches of the stem and you’ll be rewarded with vigorous new growth as soon as cool fall weather arrives. 

Allergy Note:

People who have an allergy to ragweed may react to calendula as well. 

Uses for Calendula

Food: Flower petals are edible. The petals have a very slight peppery flavor and add vibrant color to many dishes and salads.

Medicinal uses for Flowers: It is classified as a vulnerary (promotes wound healing). It also has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties and is said to be good for the lymphatic system. 

I primarily use it for topical salves and creams, but the flowers can also be used as food, tea, and as a tincture. I keep a good supply of dried flowers and infused olive oil. I use it to make salves, lip balm, and body butter.

Start with an Oil Infusion

  • Harvest some whole flower heads and allow to dry until crispy. (Moisture will make the carrier oil turn rancid faster.)
  • Lightly pack a jar until ¾ full.
  • Cover with a good quality carrier oil like olive oil.
  • Put on a lid and place in a warm area.
  • Allow to infuse for 4-6 weeks.
    • Give it a shake now and again.
    • Gently warm it once or twice (some people use their crock pot, some leave it in a sunny window)
  • Use a mesh strainer or cheese cloth to remove plant matter and capture your healing oil.

The Salve is Wonderful for:

  • Skin Soother: Rub it on cracked, dry skin, as well as burns, sunburn, cuts, blisters, and other skin irritations. 
  • Deodorant: It has mild deodorizing properties. (My feet don’t get as smelly when I remember to rub it on before getting sweaty in the garden.)
  • Eczema:  It soothes away my husband’s eczema. 
  • Protectant: Rub it on your hands before working in the garden or on chafe points before going on runs or other workouts.

Since all the salve ingredients are natural and nourishing, I feel great about using it on my kids.

Garden Ecology

  1. Trap crop for aphids. Aphids love calendula and will forsake your vegetables for a spot on a calendula plant. Calendulas aren’t bothered by the aphids and will provide a continuous food supply for the many aphid predators. Seriously, aphids are like ocean anchovies. Seems like all the beneficial insects love dining on aphids. If you want beneficial insects to make a home in your yard they need a consistent food source.
    1. Insects that eat aphids: lady beetles, lacewings, soldier beetles, snake fly, big-eyed bugs, predatory midge, predatory mites, among others. (Source 1)
    2. Birds that eat aphids: hummingbirds, chickadees, goldfinch, junco, warblers, bushtit, titmice, among others. (Source 2, 3, and 4)
  2. Insectary & Nectar: Pollinators such as bees and butterflies and beneficial insects such as ladybugs, lacewings, and hoverflies. (Source 5)
  3. Companion Planting: Calendula makes a helpful companion to brassicas, legumes, and nightshades for aphid control and beneficial insect host.
  4. Fruit Tree Guild: Calendula is a wonderful flower for fruit tree guilds. 

Resources & Sources

  1. A Pocket Guide to Common Natural Enemies of Nursery Crops and Garden Pests in the Pacific Northwest
  3. Top Ten Wild Birds for Controlling Insects in the Garden
  4. Audubon.Org Bushtit
  5. Tenth Acre Farm: 7 Reasons to Grow Calendula
  6. Book: Herbs for Common Ailments, Rosemary Gladstar
  7. Book: The Suburban Microfarm, Amy Stross
  9. Book: Healing Herbal Infusions, Colleen Codekas
  10. Book: Insects and Wildlife: Arthropods and their Relationships with Wild Vertebrate Animals by  Dr John Capinera

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