Calendulas for cheerfulness


There are times when I could almost give up on organic gardening. Sigh.

I dug the second spud patch; it had blight too. The whole garden is a slug café. Snails have been practising climbing on the beanpoles. My nasturtiums are being eaten by blackfly, but I don’t mind that too much; in defiance of the seed packet, they’re not remotely trailing, even though they are pretty. Were pretty. Next door’s cat has killed and decapitated something large and left it by the dustbins, not that this has anything to do with organic gardening as such; it’s just another irritation. Grr.

I’d almost give up, except for these:

I love, love, love marigolds.

I seem to have grown them forever – I’m pretty certain they were part of the garden I had as a child – and value them as a herb and companion plant; they attract the pests away from my beans. This year the beans are very late and the blackfly are busy elsewhere, and the marigolds are flourishing. (Calendula officinalis, that is; I’m not over-fond of Tagetes myself.)

In the sunshine, the deep orange ones almost seem to reflect blue – not surprising, really: blue is the complementary colour to orange, so that makes sense.

They’ve been used as a colourant, which possibly isn’t surprising given the amazing range of colours, but you don’t get the same intensity. Even with an alum modifier and deep orange petals, you get a pale lemony yellow. Pretty, but pale by comparison.

They’ve been used all over the world, all through history – from India to Arabia, in Ancient Greece and Rome, in monastery herb gardens – for their medicinal properties. They’re good for healing, reducing inflammation, and have long been used in creams and ointments. They even have antiseptic properties combined with low toxicity.

And they’re beautiful, of course.

In the Middle Ages, they were used for intestinal problems, and for all sorts of other things – like smallpox (!), jaundice and snake bites. One Spanish king wanted his subjects to wear marigolds, picked when the sun was entering Virgo – sorry, the sign of The Virgin – wrapped up in a bay leaf with a wolf’s tooth, but I’m not quite sure why. Because he was a medieval Spanish king, perhaps, and they were an eccentric (for want of another word) bunch. Marigolds and wolves’ teeth evidently did nothing for the effects of inbreeding.

Externally they were – and sometimes still are – used  to treat burns (that’s as a lotion or compress), and the leaves were used against warts, corns and callouses. Maybe I’ll give that one a go on my feet – you’re supposed to rub the leaves on your hard skin morning and evening. They’re also recommended for chilblains, and make great skin and hand creams.

As a tea, they’re used by herbalists to soothe stomach disorders, including ulcers, and are supposed to work for period pain (I find drinking half a bottle of gin while banging my head against the wall more effective, myself). They’re used in cooking, too. Petals can be used to colour butter and cheese as they are being made, and if you soak some petals in warm milk before using it in baking (sieve them out), they add a gentle warm yellow colour to cakes. They have been used as a saffron substitute, often without the purchasers realising what they’ve actually bought.

For myself, I use the petals to add colour – if not fragrance – to pot pourri. And almost every surface is covered at the moment:

It’s been a good year for lavender, too. Very, very strong scent – so maybe I will stick with the organic thing as then I can use my herbs for anything. Oh well, I’d not really stop, not even if the biggest blackfly in the world came and knocked on my door, demanding nourishment like the Bug in Men in Black.

It’s dark, it’s late… why on earth did I conjure up such an image?


20 Comments Add yours

  1. Ruth says:

    When I was little I loved their sticky scent…we licked our finger nails to glue the petals on, bright orange talons!

    For babies a mixture of marigold and elderflowers in lanolin made the best nappy rash cream I have ever used.

    The marigolds you brought me lasted just long enough for Frida Kahlo’s birthday. Thankyou.

    1. kate says:

      Like the fingernails! I shall rush out now and stick some on ready for work!

      (I’d heard of the nappy rash cream – do you know a good hand cream recipe? I had a fab one, but I can’t find it…)

  2. hillwards says:

    Love calendulas too – they seem to glow in the twilight. And it’s great to grow something beautiful that the slugs and snails don’t feast on…

    1. kate says:

      Isn’t it just?!
      I’m waiting for the blackfly to notice, mind you – but happily they’re being very slow on the uptake this year. And no mildew on the calendulas either!

  3. Oh I love marigolds! I always have some in my veg plot, nothing is quite so cheerful. Thanks for all the interesting information too.

    1. kate says:

      They’re so happy, marigolds. I can’t be sad about the garden (I’m obviously having one of those years when lots of things go wrong with veg; it happens) when I look at the marigolds…

  4. Don’t like the look, but I always have calendula cream. I remember my husband’s aunt had jars in the making lined up on a sunny windowsill.

    1. kate says:

      I’ve been googling calendula creams and I’ve found several – must give it a go again. Sunny windowsill… hmmm….

  5. Cathy says:

    I swear by calendula gel for my stoma… nothing keeps the irritation and pain down the way that does! As for your slugs and snails, can you get diatomaceous earth where you are? That is the best stuff – it’s a fine powder that you sprinkle, totally harmless to bees, fish, animals, and humans, but it will solve your slug problem. You can’t use the formulation that they make for swimming pool filters… you need the stuff that is food or agriculture grade. Inexpensive and very effective.

    1. kate says:

      How interesting about the calendula gel. And much gentler than alternatives, I bet!

      I’ve not come across diatomaceous earth before — I’ll google it ASAP and find out. I’m almost at the stage of going out in the dusk, picking them up and transporting them to the other side of the little stream in the wildy bit next door. (Things have to get fairly bad before I contemplate that – picking up slugs. Ergh… and their bright yellow slime.)

  6. I love Pot Marigold too. They self seed from year to year in polytunnel and garden. Their colour would lift the gloomiest mood.

    1. kate says:

      Aren’t they fab? I’ve had some real surprises this year, as I discovered when I started taking photos for Bloom Day… such a joy!

  7. Me three, I love calendulas too. Though this year mine are very late. So sorry about your blight and snails and slugs and… But so lovely to have the flowers. I keep sowing more bean seed in the hope that some will survive. Oh, and we’ve got rats in the compost bin at the allotment. And the slugs are destroying my cabbages. Sigh. For me, its the sweet peas and the offer of some free Purple Sprouting Broccoli plants (now planted) that are keeping me going.

    1. kate says:

      And I thought I had problems! Rats!!
      What you need is my brother’s cat, Garfy. He is extremely good at catching what my brother persists in calling ‘big mice’ (yeah, bro, that’s exactly what they are – not). Mind you, he does then have a tendency to leave them lying about the place… lovely.

      It’s got to be a good year for some things – and my sweet peas are great too. The PSB looks as though it will be good, and I’m clearly going to be living on kale this winter. Beans? Well, perhaps I should have chosen a different blog title!

  8. Time I grew some of these again- would go well with the nasturtiums in the herb garden – and all the flowers could go in the salad!

    1. kate says:

      And they do! I’m all for the old-fashioned flowers, especially when they’re versatile as well as gorgeous…

  9. Harriet says:

    Once again your reference to gin along with head banging and eccentric Spaniards, made me roar with laughter!
    Great marigolds. Yeah, ******* slugs!

    1. kate says:

      At least the ******** slugs don’t seem to like marigolds! Hah, no taste whatsoever…

  10. I planted a few last year in the veg garden, now they are everywhere – a cheap way to get lots of colour.

    1. kate says:

      Me too – at least 50% of mine are self-seeded, and they grow really well. I’ve tried cutting the seed heads off, but I always seem to miss a few. This year I transplanted some of them – and they took really well.

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