Once you see calendula blooms, you will never forget their golden ray-like petals that resemble the light of the sun. Seventeenth century botanist, herbalist, and astrologist Nicholas Culpepper linked Calendula officinalis with the astrological sign of Leo. Often associated with the lion, this zodiac sign represents the fire element and the embodiment of a strong heart. Perhaps this is why some use the blooms symbolically to mend a broken heart and as an offering to the grieving. From juices, soups, salves, tinctures, and herbal teas to sacred altars, these sunny blooms brighten up all kinds of herbal rituals.
It’s no accident that calendula resembles daisies, as they are both a part of the same Asteraceae family. Many believe this annual is native to Southern Europe, but it has a long history of cultivation in southern Asia, North Africa, and the Mediterranean region. While this species prefers full sun, it can still tolerate partial shade, and it isn’t picky about soil type. Gardeners know calendula to be a great source of pollen, a useful pest deterrent, and a magnet for attracting biodiversity to gardens. Keep the plant in continuous bloom by removing the flower heads, or deadheading. We suggest buying seeds from Strictly Medicinal Seeds and sowing them directly in early spring. This Oregon seed company has been cultivating organic medicinal seeds since 1985. Their original hand illustrated catalog was sent out with a drawing of a radiant calendula flower, a species they have now been cultivating for over 30 years.
Traditional cultures recognized the sacredness of calendula, as it was said to bloom continuously on the calendae, an ancient Roman way of saying the first few days of the month. In India, you can find calendula adorning altars of sacred Hindu deities. Some Christians call calendula “Mary’s Gold” and believe the blooms are a living memorial to the Virgin Mary and that its golden petals represent the rays of holy light that surround her. In addition, some refer to calendula as “poor man’s saffron” or “pot marigold” when making soup and stews to bring cheer into the dead of winter. While French marigold (Tagetes erecta) serves similar ritualistic functions, “pot marigold” (Calendula officinalis) is entirely different.
Beyond its radiance, herbalists prize calendula for its edible flower, which offers bright notes to herbal butters, cocktails, and salads. When harvested fresh, the orange and yellow flowers leave a sticky resin on the collector’s hands. Flowers abundant in resin are believed to be more medicinal and can be infused into olive or sweet almond oil as a base for a skin-soothing salve or lotion—which is why it is so prevalent in cosmetics today. When infused into oil, it becomes liquid gold that will make any complexion glow! For a simple preparation, try it as a tea to promote the health of the skin and the respiratory and digestive systems.*
You can get to know calendula more by trying it in a homemade cream or medicinal salve. Calendula’s history is as rich as its golden color, and the flower can be used in an abundance of ways. To learn more about plants, their uses, and the ancestral traditions surrounding them, check out the Plants section of our Plant Power Journal.