Herb of the Year 2008

Cheerful, bright and a favorite cottage garden flower, Calendula is sure to brighten up your salads with its yellow-orange petals, add a great source of antioxidants to your diet in 2008 and definitely give you something to talk about with family and friends. This flower, which seems to never stop blooming, earns its botanic name, kalends, from the belief that it was always in bloom on the first day of the month. Also referred to as pot marigold, it is part of the daisy family.

The Persians and Greeks used its golden petals to garnish and flavor food; the Hindus used it to decorate temple altars and the ancient Egyptians used it as a rejuvenating herb. The flower’s extract is used in chicken feed to darken the egg yolks and its aroma smells like hops in beer. Known for possessing high amounts of flavonids, plant based antioxidants, it features anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and anti-bacterial effects and is used in curing everything from burns to chapped lips and cracked nipples from breast feeding. In the American Civil War, doctors used the leaves to treat open wounds of soldiers in the battlefield.

In Europe, it’s used to flavor soups and stews and called the “poor man’s” saffron as it’s used as a culinary dye. Use petals lavishly to give a pale yellow color and a light tangy flavor to rice, fish and meat soups, soft cheese, yogurt, and butter. If you really want to impress guests, serve it up with an omelette. Absolutely gorgeous. Garnish meat platters and fruit salad. And after all that cooking, add some Calendula petals to a hot bath, relax and enjoy your new found courage in the garden and kitchen.

How to Grow:

Select a sunny position for this plant. This annual will grow in most soils, but does not like wet conditions. Sow seeds in spring or check out your local herb farm or nurseries as some are already stocked with Calendula plants in 4-inch pots. Plants can grow up to 24 inches. Blooms from early spring until frost. Deadhead the plants for continuous blooms. For the best flavor, pick flowers and petals when they’re young.

Golden Inspiration

Here are a few ideas on how to use Calendula from our favorite publication The Herb Companion.

  • Golden Garlic Mashed Potatoes. When heating milk and butter for mashed potatoes, add a handful of chopped calendula petals along with four to six cloves of minced garlic. Drain cooked potatoes, then mash them with the warm, flavored liquid.
  • Great with Grains Add a handful of coarsely chopped petals to a pot of rice, risotto, millet, or couscous.
  • Pot Marigold Add calendula to stocks, soups or stews. It will turn chicken and dumplings or cream of mushroom soup a rich golden color.

All that Glitters

Use calendula petals to color:

  • Sugar. Combine 1 cup of sugar with ½ cup (loosely packed) calendula petals. Pulse in food processor (or spice grinder, using small batches) to make a golden-flecked sugar for cakes, cookies, breads, muffins or scones.
  • Infusions. Add petals to milk or cream, then use the liquid in baked goods, frostings, puddings, pie fillings, sauces and gravies.
  • Other Golds. Intensify the color of golden or yellow foods, such as cornbread, egg salad, deviled eggs and cheeses, as well as herb and flower butters.