Calendula flowers can benefit soil, repel pests, and aid healing. I’ve been growing Calendula officinalis–also called pot marigold–throughout my garden for years, and can hardly contain my excitement to tell you all about it! Here are some of the many reasons this herb is frequently grown in the permaculture garden.
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Calendula will help reduce garden maintenance while yielding an abundance of useful flowers by doing the following things.
1: Protects Soil
Calendula grows especially well in the cooler seasons of spring and fall, though it will grow all summer long in mild climates, too. Since it has thick, fibrous roots and grows in thick patches, it can be used as a cover crop or as a living mulch to protect the soil. Just sow calendula seeds in the fall for a spring cover crop/mulch, or sow seeds in mid-summer for a fall cover crop to protect the soil throughout the winter.
Calendula will grow thickly and die back on its own, enriching the soil with biomass. Or it can simply be pulled in time for planting and composted. I leave calendula planted on the perimeter of my crops as a trap crop (see #2 below).
The benefit of growing a thick crop of calendula is that it can also be used as a cut flower. Calendula bouquets are a beautiful sight.
2: Repels Pests
One late summer a few years ago I noticed the stems of my calendula plants covered in aphids. I was alarmed and naturally worried that the aphids would be attracted to the crops around them. When I inspected the crops, I couldn’t find a single aphid–they were all on the calendula!
This herb truly lives up to its reputation as a trap crop–“trapping” pests such as aphids, whiteflies, and thrips by exuding a sticky sap that they find more appealing and delicious than nearby crops.
3: Attracts Beneficial Insects
Calendula flowers provide nectar and pollen that attracts pollinators such as bees and butterflies. The nectar–along with the pests that it traps–attracts beneficial insects such as ladybugs, hoverflies, and lacewings.
They even stay to mate and increase the number of beneficial insects in the ecosystem! (They will mate and stick around where there is abundant food.) As a matter of curiosity, did you know that ladybug mating can last up to two hours???
Here is what I found on the calendula in my garden recently (warning: beetle sex!):
4: Enhances Fruit Tree Guilds
For all of the reasons mentioned above, calendula is an excellent multi-functional plant for the permaculture garden. In fact, Gaia’s Garden suggests using it in fruit tree guilds.
5: Dazzles the Edible Landscape
Rosalind Creasy, in Edible Landscaping, encourages the use of calendula in the edible landscape because it brings such a bright, cheery flash of color. I’ve used calendula for years in my landscape, and I love it because it is both beautiful and low-maintenance.
6: Aids Healing
Calendula has powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and anti-bacterial properties, and is often used to soothe a long list of skin ailments including–but not limited to–cuts, scrapes, bruises, bee stings, insect bites, fungal infections, eczema, and rashes. That’s why I use calendula flower petals to make a healing calendula oil and a soothing salve.
Calendula is hypo-allergenic, so it is often used in personal care products for sensitive skin. In fact, I used to make a “gentle skin” soap with calendula oil.
According to The Backyard Homestead, calendula petals also make a delicious medicinal tea. The petals are easily dried and stored.
Here are 14 other medicinal remedies using calendula.
7: Adds Color to Culinary Creations
Calendula flower petals–fresh or dried–will spruce up salads, cream cheese, or cooked vegetables.
According to Homegrown Herbs, calendula is also used as a natural food coloring for common foods such as cake frosting or broth. It can substitute for high-priced saffron to make golden-colored rice.
How to Grow Calendula
Calendula is an annual herb that is hardy to USDA zone 3, but it will easily self-seed in most climates.
I collect dried seed heads each season so I always have a supply of seeds.
Here is where you can buy calendula seeds. Sow seeds any time simply by sprinkling them on top of the soil and watering them well. If you can’t grow as much calendula as you would like, you can buy dried calendula flowers for your medicinal and culinary needs.
Calendula is such a joy, and I love sprinkling it around the garden each season.
Would you like to learn more about using flowers to improve the biodiversity of your garden, reduce maintenance, and increase yield?
You’ll find loads of information just like this in my book, The Suburban Micro-Farm.
How do you grow and use calendula?