How to Grow and Use Calendula Flowers (+ Seed Saving Tips)
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I got my first packet of calendula seeds in the mail a couple years ago. An acquaintance I had met in an online gardening group sent me a pack of seeds she had saved herself, along with a handmade information pamphlet detailing the many benefits of this super plant. Before this, I had never even heard of calendula, aside from seeing it as an active ingredient on various lotions and store-bought remedies. But I figured if I could grow it, I could use it to make my own lotions and remedies at home.
I scattered the seeds in a large pot and watched them grow. With very little effort on my part, the seeds transformed into tall stems with beautiful bursts of orange and yellow flowering out the top. I harvested the flowers all throughout the growing season and more continued to shoot up. Then I hung the fresh flowers to dry in my kitchen as they came on in waves, and at the very end of the season I crumbled the seed-laden flower heads in my hands and saved the seeds for the following year.
I used the dried flowers to create an infused oil which turned out to be a surprisingly effective solution for soothing my newborn daughter’s various rashes, including both eczema and diaper rash. And when the following year finally came, calendula flowers shot up from the pot where I had planted them the previous year.
I also scattered the seeds I had saved in a new location in our back garden where they grew to mingle with poppies and Black Eyed Susans and other wildflowers against a backdrop of purple clematis’. I cut and harvested them, dried them, infused them and now, at the end of the season, I have begun to save the seeds again for next year (and also to collect enough to make up little seed packets to pass on to my own family and friends next spring).
A Triple Threat in the Garden
Calendula has to be my favourite flower to grow. For starters, it’s incredibly easy to grow from seed and requires very little care. Second, it looks gorgeous in the garden. But third and most importantly, calendula is packed with medicinal properties and is an incredibly powerful, natural home remedy.
In addition to all of the above, calendula seeds are super easy to save, and the plants will even self-seed and continue to propagate and multiply themselves year after year. I still save the seeds myself though because they are so easy and fun to break off the flower head and saving them manually allows me to plant calendula in different locations the following year. And, of course, they make lovely little gifts 🙂
How to Grow Calendula
If you’ve never grown calendula before, you will most likely need to purchase your first packet of seeds.
You could also ask if a friend or neighbour is growing calendula and ask them to save you some seed from their flowers at the end of the season. The seeds from just a handful of flowers is enough to get you started the following growing season as each flower can produce between 10 and 20 seeds.
Sprinkle the seeds in the spring and cover with a thin layer of soil. There’s no need to be too particular about planting them as the seeds have a high germination rate and will grow almost anywhere, so just scatter them and cover with a thin layer of soil. Calendula does best in a sunny location, but I have had success growing them in a location that has shade for roughly half the day and they still did great!
Calendula grows well in raised beds, containers or directly in the ground if you would like to grow a large patch. The flowers won’t spread like weeds but the flower heads will drop their seeds (if you don’t collect them all first), and will most likely self-seed themselves for the following year, making calendula a low-input annual plant that acts like a perennial (returning year after year).
Calendula and Its Many Uses
Calendula is an active ingredient in many store-bought lotions and remedies, and for good reason. It is antimicrobial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory, making it an ideal additive in topical solutions for combating everything from rashes to acne to yeast infections. It can be used as an oil, lotion or astringent on the skin and even as an ingredient in toothpaste or mouthwash to help fight oral bacteria and improve tooth and gum health.
Calendula is also an effective ingredient in herbal teas, especially if you’re looking to treat cold or flu. It also works to help treat menstrual symptoms such as cramping and PMS due to its anti-inflammatory properties and by promoting blood flow and muscle relaxation.
Calendula is safe and gentle enough to use on babies as well, and I regularly use it on my own one-year-old daughter (and have used it on her since she was a newborn) to treat all sorts of rashes, including diaper rash. It has been the most effective and least irritating solution at fighting all of her rashes so far.
This wonder flower is also edible on its own or as an ingredient in salads and soups. The natural yellow and orange colours of the flower make a great natural dye as well and can be used to colour everything from food and pantry staples like butter to soaps and body products.
How to Use Calendula At Home
Calendula can be used fresh or dried, however if you’re looking to make an oil infusion to use on its own or as an ingredient in homemade lotion, be sure to dry the flowers out first as any moisture could cause mold.
Fresh flowers can be added to salads and other dishes or can be infused into a neutral base alcohol like vodka to make a tincture or astringent.
Tinctures can be taken orally in small doses and are typically used as a cold or flu remedy or as a preventative measure (like a homemade cough syrup). Astringents are used topically to fight skin problems such as acne where you don’t want to add extra oil to the skin.
To make a tincture or astringent, fill a pint or quart-sized mason jar about ⅓ of the way full with dried calendula flowers (a little more than ⅓ full if using fresh flowers), and then fill with vodka. Shake well and store in a cool, dark place for 4-6 weeks before using. Shake well every few days to help infuse the vodka. After 4-6 weeks (depending on how strong you want it), strain the flowers out and discard, reserving the alcohol.
Store the tincture/astringent mixture in a cool, dark place and use orally to help treat bacteria, viral and inflammatory problems such as cough and cold symptoms, yeast infections and menstrual symptoms. Or put a bit of the solution on a cotton ball or pad and spread over face and neck to treat acne symptoms. This should not be used to treat most rashes as it can be too drying. A lotion or oil is better suited for rashes.
Treating Rashes and Skin Irritations
To make an effective rash treatment, cut fresh calendula and hang to dry. Allow calendula to dry completely (I usually leave mine for 1-2 weeks) and then cut flower heads off (and chop stems and leaves you choose) and place in a mason jar.
Fill mason jar about ⅓ of the way full with dried flowers and then fill jar with liquid oil of choice (I use olive oil, but avocado oil, almond oil or jojoba oil work well too).
You can also infuse coconut oil, but to do so you need to heat the oil and flowers in a pan over low heat and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes until the oil is infused. Then remove and discard flowers and pour coconut oil into a clean jar and allow to cool.
Apply oil to areas affected by rash. I have used calendula-infused olive oil to treat both eczema and diaper rash on my daughter from the time she was a newborn and it has been very effective. You can use the coconut oil the same way.
Calendula-Infused Healing Salve
You can also use calendula flowers in place of (or in addition to) dandelion flowers in this recipe for dandelion healing salve and apply the salve liberally to rashes, skin irritations and dry skin.
How to Save Calendula Seeds
To save calendula seeds, allow flower to go to seed (bright orange and yellow petals will wilt and disappear, leaving a green flower head behind). Then, allow the flower head to dry up until it turns brown and crumbles in your hand when you touch it. The parts that crumble off of the flower head are the seeds.
Make sure seeds are completely dry before storing. Store in a mason jar, small container, ziplock bag or paper envelope in a cool dark place. A paper envelope works well as it allows any leftover moisture to dissipate while a sealed jar, container or plastic bag traps moisture and seeds may mold. But if they are 100% dry, any method should work.
You may also store seeds in the fridge or freezer to extend their life (typically seeds only maintain their germination rate for one year, after which some seeds may not germinate as well). If you do store in the fridge or freezer, however, the same rule applies regarding moisture: Any moisture can cause seeds to go bad, so be sure they are thoroughly dry before storing.
Gather, plant, repeat
Next spring, take out your saved calendula seeds and sow them in an area of your choosing, or make little seed packets to give as gifts to friends and family (They make a great Easter or Mother’s Day gift 🙂
If you save the seeds, you’ll never have to buy them again and will be able to enjoy calendula and its healing benefits in your garden and your home for years to come.
Calendula has become a staple item in our own home apothecary and on our baby change table due to how gentle it is on sensitive skin. It has definitely earned a place in our garden forevermore.
How about you? Have you ever grown or used calendula in your home and garden? How do you make use of it? Let me know in the comments below!
Wishing you homemade, homegrown, homestead happiness 🙂