Calendula-The Other Marigold Flower

Once upon a time calendula flower was commonly known as the marigold or Pot Marigold. It was grown throughout Europe, both as a medicinal plant and as an ornamental. Then the other type of marigold was discovered in the New World, the bedding plant that Americans commonly refer to as the marigold. It was confusing to have two common garden plants with the same name, so now we use the name marigold for the species Tagetes and calendula for the wonderful, but almost forgotten, plant formally known as the marigold.

For a long time the beautiful little calendula has taken a backseat in ornamental gardens as the other marigold was developed into hundreds of varieties and sold by the millions in every garden center. Calendula is finally getting some attention from plant breeders, and new varieties that are coming on the market are sure to spark interest in it's use as an ornamental.

Growing calendula
Calendula is extremely easy to grow. The seeds are usually planted where they are to grow, but they can be started inside. Outside, plant seeds two to three weeks before the average last frost in your area. If planting inside, start them about six weeks before your expected last frost. Cover the seeds lightly and keep them moist. They bloom quickly from seed, often as soon as six weeks after planting, in clear shades of orange and yellow. The flower is daisy-like and two to four inches in size.

Calendula flowers open in the day and close at night or in bad weather. They prefer cool weather and tend to sulk or die in hot humid weather, which may be why the other marigold became so popular. Breeders are working to make calendula a more heat-tolerant plant, and there are some new varieties that will bloom in warm areas. Calendulas also need to have the flowers picked off as they fade, or they will quit blooming. They are an annual plant, but they will reseed freely in the garden, and you will get new plants each year if you let some go to seed. Calendula grows to about 18 inches high and branches freely. You can plant calendula seed in early July, as well as early spring, and have beautiful early fall flowers. Calendula prefers full sun and average soil moisture. Little or no fertilizer will is needed.

Choosing varieties
Calendula flowers seem to glow or shine, the colors are so vivid, and they are wonderful in flower arrangements. For a long time calendulas were always a solid color, but recently plant breeders have introduced varieties with blends of colors.

Good ornamental varieties of calendula are Citrus Smoothies, double flowers in pastel blends of apricot and lemon with a light outer edge; Orange Porcupine, which has a quilled look to its bright-orange petals; Geisha Girl, which is a another deep-orange with a very full look, almost like a small mum, and Neon, a deep-orange edged in burgundy. The Flashback strain has maroon on the back of each flower petal and the front of the petal is a contrasting color, including peachy pinks. The Pacific Giant strain has been around a long time and is a blend of many shades of yellow and orange. It has some resistance to heat. There are other improved varieties of calendula and new varieties are coming on the market every year.

Using Calendula
Calendula flowers are edible and can be added to salads for a colorful touch. The petals of calendula have long been used to impart a golden color to soups, egg dishes, rice, cheese and even butter. Calendula flowers are fed to chickens to make egg yolks a deeper yellow and to give the skins of broilers a golden color.

Calendula can be used as a tea for stomach upset by steeping five teaspoons of fresh flower petals in hot water. If this mixture is allowed to cool, it makes an excellent mouthwash, especially for sore and bleeding gums, because of it's antiseptic properties. Crushing a calendula flower on an insect sting will ease the pain. Calendula is used in soothing salves, foot baths and facial care products. If you want the variety used for most commercial herbal preparations, look for Erfurter Orange.

If you use calendula flowers in food, make sure they have not been sprayed with any pesticides. People who have hay fever should use caution when they begin to use any herbal preparation, and stop using it if they develop symptoms.

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