Marigolds provide a pop of color to any garden or vegetable plot. They range from creamy pale yellow to bright yellow, orange or variegated reds and orange. When planted with your vegetables, they help protect against certain pests and attract valuable insects, including bees necessary for pollination.
Marigolds help protect your tomatoes against nematodes, slugs and hornworms, are low maintenance and add color and beauty.1 They may also help protect your vegetables and garden area against mosquitoes and aphids.2
At the end of the season, turn the marigolds under so the roots decay in the soil and provide organic matter for the following year. Before adding them to your garden and your salad plate, be sure you get the right species. What you want is Marigold (calendula), native to Europe, not the French Marigold (tagetes), an American plant in the daisy family, as they are not interchangeable.3
Pick Calendula for Medicinal and Health Benefits
Not all marigolds are created equally. While both types offer some of the same benefits to your vegetable garden, they don’t have the same health benefits. The tagetes varieties are often purely ornamental while most of the calendula variety delivers health benefits.4
Although both go by the same common name, and species of both may have medicinal value, they cannot be used interchangeably. For instance, Tagetes lucida is Mexican tarragon and used medicinally as a digestive aid, especially by the Mayan people in Guatemala.
However, Tagetus is a large genus of plants and not all species will have the same medicinal uses.5 For instance, Tagetes erecta is another species common to Mexico but causes short-lived dermatitis from phototoxic thiophene derivatives found in all parts of the plant.6
If you’re planting marigolds in your garden to eat, ask for calendula seeds or pot marigolds. The seeds can be planted outdoors directly in the soil a few weeks before the last frost in the spring. They may also be started indoors in small pots and transplanted after the soil has warmed, or may be grown easily in containers.
The seeds take approximately two weeks to emerge from the soil and enjoy full sun to partial shade. Calendula plants are annuals that are easy to care for and may bloom throughout the summer.7 The flowers are deer resistant and attract butterflies. Deadhead the flowers and pinch them back to keep the plant from becoming bushy. If flowering dwindles in midsummer, cut the plants back severely for regrowth.
Calendula Comes in Several Varieties
Calendula flowers readily self-seed, are noninvasive and work well as cut flowers in your centerpiece or as edible landscaping. While there are several different varieties, those with single petals have the best flavor. Cornell University shares this list of varieties:8
Dwarfs — Color variations (apricot, cream), brown centers, single and double form flowers.
Art Shades Mix — Flowers are bright variations of yellow and orange, in single colors or as bicolors. Showy dark brown centers provide an interesting contrast. Tolerates poor sites well.
Bonbon Series — Very dense, pom-pom-like flowers in shades of yellow and orange on dense, compact plants. Flowers earlier in the season than most calendulas. Good for container growth.
Touch of Red Mix — Flowers come in shades of yellow and orange with red tipped petals.
Calypso Series — These compact, dense plants are good for container growing. Flowers are double, and come in shades of orange and yellow. The flowers have dark colored centers.
Pacific Beauty Series — These flowers are heat tolerant and bear flowers in shades of yellow and orange on long, strong stems.
Prince Series — The best for cut flowers. Shades of yellow and orange flowers on long, strong stems. Heat resistant. Prolific flowers.
Kablouna Series — This series is mildew resistant with flowers in shades of orange and yellow. Petals are arranged around tufted and pronounced centers.
Greenheart Orange — Orange petals are arranged around a large, lime green tufted center. Very different from typical Calendula flowers. Showy plants are 1 1/2 to 2 feet tall.
Radio Extra Selected — Very unusual cactus-like blooms are orange, with quilled petals. The plants grow from 1 1/2 to nearly 2 feet tall.
Prolifera — These flower heads resemble hens-and-chicks.
Harvesting Marigold Flowers
The flowers need to be picked every couple of days in order to prolong the flowering season. Use screens or large area baskets in a ventilated warm area to dry the flowers. By tossing them several times a day, you promote even drying throughout the plants and reduce the risk of mold development.
The colorful flowers can be eaten fresh or dried for later use. The flowers are more flavorful than the medicinal tasting green base. Once dried, the flowers can also be rehydrated for use in salads, salsas, scrambled eggs and frittatas, adding color, flavor and health benefits.
Dried flowers can be added to soups and stews in the winter. They were also once added to breads and syrup in medieval Europe. In one account written in 1699, the author wrote:9
“The yellow leaves of the flowers are dried and kept throughout Dutch land against winter to put into broths, physical potions and for divers other purposes, in such quantity that in some Grocers or Spice sellers are to be found barrels filled with them and retailed by the penny or less, insomuch that no broths are well made without dried Marigold.”
The bright colors of the flower make a wonderful addition to ice cubes and can be used to cool down ice tea along with a sprig of mint for contrast. The flowers may also be made into tea or added to a sugar scrub to leave your skin soft and glowing.
Enjoy These Health Benefits Using Calendula From Your Garden
Calendula has been used for centuries in homeopathic remedies to treat or prevent a number of conditions. The flowers are high in flavonoids, carotenoids and fatty acids.10 The plant is also rich in potassium, magnesium, calcium and iron and a rich source of amino acids.11 Each of these contributes to a host of health benefits when using the flower or oil you can make at home.12,13,14
Skin health — Calendula may help reduce the risk of radiation dermatitis15 and reduce the pain caused by radiation.16 It’s been found to reduce diaper rash17 and improved a skin condition causing dry peeling lips.18 In a cell study, calendula essential oil reduced oxidative stress, helped prevent skin aging and protected against sunburns.19
Wound and burn healing — In a study of 111 women following an episiotomy during childbirth, the study found those using pot marigold ointment experienced decreased swelling and improved healing. It’s also been shown to help heal diabetic foot ulcers20 and burns.21
Oral health — In a study of 240 people with gum disease,22 a mouth rinse with pot Marigold twice a day for six months reduced dental plaque and improved gum disease. Another study23 using participants with oral inflammation and mouth wounds, the researchers found pot marigold gel decreased the size of the wound within one month. Oral mucositis from radiotherapy24 responded quickly to pot Marigold mouth rinse.25
Menstrual cramps — Calendula mint oil topical application was found to reduce menstrual cramps and pain,26 including the need for painkillers during menstruation. In animal studies, pot marigold soothe muscle cramps and reduce pain in the gut and stomach, believed to be the result of blocking calcium channels and decreasing spasms.27
Lower oxidative stress — Calendula has been shown to lower inflammatory cytokines, block inflammatory Cox-2 enzymes28 and prevent cell injury.29
Diabetes — In an animal study, calendula improved diabetes-induced impaired learning and memory and helped the animals to lose weight.30
Cardiovascular — In another animal study, calendula helped reduce blood pressure and decrease total and LDL cholesterol.31
Urinary tract infections — Calendula has nephroprotective activity and may help in the treatment of urinary tract infections.32
How to Prepare Calendula
Calendula may be used in a variety of ways at home. Apart from adding the bright flowers to your table centerpiece, there are several techniques that may be utilized in your daily routine so you may enjoy the health benefits of these flowers:
• Decoction — Decoctions may be used to ease dizziness and headaches. This is a method of extracting active ingredients of a plant through heat. The common dosage is 3 teaspoons taken three times a day. However, to be sure you’re taking the right amount for your condition, it’s best to consult a health practitioner.
• Infusion — Consider adding dried flowers to your tea cup and steeping for 15 minutes.33 Strain off the flower and use immediately or drink within two days after being stored in the refrigerator. You may also rinse your mouth with the infused tea to help canker sores, herpes and other mouth injuries heal, including sore gums after dental procedures.
The tea may be added to your homemade diaper wipes to help prevent and soothe diaper rash, or as an antiseptic face wash to help prevent and treat acne. Soaking your feet in the infusion may help treat athlete’s foot and rinsing your hair may help reduce itchy scalp conditions.
• Topical solutions — Sometimes you need a topical application with a bit more body. Calendula oil or salve may be used to treat ringworm, sunburned skin or chapped lips. The antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties make it an excellent treatment for minor burns and insect bites.
Make Your Own Calendula Oil and Salve at Home
Calendula oil is an active ingredient in lotions, soaps and creams because it has such a positive effect on your skin. You can opt to use a homemade infusion, ensuring you are using organic ingredients. Although the oil may be made using a hot infusion, the cold process is recommended to avoid damaging the calendula.
- Dried organically grown calendula petals
- Carrier oil (olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil or almond oil)
- Clean lidded glass jar
- Put your desired amount of dried calendula petals in a clean, dry glass jar.
- Cover the flowers with the carrier oil of choice by an inch.
- Place the jar in a paper bag to protect the oil from UV light and place in a sunny window to infuse for four weeks.
- Give the jar a good shake a couple of times a day.
- Drain the petals from the oil and store the oil in a container with a lid for up to one year.
• 4 ounces of infused oil (recipe above)
• 1/2 ounce beeswax
• 25 to 50 drops of essential oil such as tea tree, frankincense, lavender or chamomile
- Heat the beeswax in a double boiler.
- Once melted add the calendula oil.
- Allow the mixture to stay over the heat for 60 seconds until thoroughly mixed.
- If adding essential oil, stir it in.
- Pour into a clean dry container and allow it to cool.
- This recipe makes enough to fill three 2-ounce tins.
Consider These Precautions Before Using
Before you start using calendula, it’s best to consult a health practitioner for the right dosages. However, if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, the product should be avoided as there is a lack of study in this area and the plant has been known to prompt menstrual periods.
People who are allergic to plants in the daisy or sunflower family, such as ragweed, chamomile and echinacea, should avoid marigold products as it may trigger a serious allergic reaction, such as anaphylactic shock.36
Calendula has a calming effect and may induce sleepiness, so taken together with a sedative drug may trigger excessive sedation. In rats, it lowered blood pressure, so combining with blood pressure lowering medication may lead to very low blood pressure. Combination of blood sugar lowering drugs may further lower blood sugar to dangerous levels.