Calendula (Calendula officianalis) is the 2008 Herb of the Year. The International Herb Association http://www.iherb.org/ designates an official herb annually. It is meant to educate the buying public about lesser known herbs, and provides information and materials for plant sellers, nurseries and garden centers to make use of the Herb of the Year information to aid in marketing the plant.
To achieve Herb of the Year status, an herb must fit within two of the three following categories: (1) Medicinal, (2) Culinary, (3) Craft or Decorative. Calendula is primarily a medicinal plant but does have a few, limited uses as a culinary plant.
Calendula is best known for it's healing properties on skin problems. Historically it was used in oil and applied directly on the skin. It's now available in pharmacies and health food stores in salve form, as well as in gels and creams. You can still buy it as "calendulated oil," as well.
The Part Used: It is the petals of calendula that has the healing properties. "Calendula contains high amounts of flavonoids, plant-based antioxidants that protect the body against cell-damaging free radicals. Researchers are not sure what active ingredients in calendula are responsible for its healing properties, but it appears to have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antibacterial effects." (Quoted from the Univ. of Maryland Medical Center website: http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/calendula-000228.htm
Calendula is sometimes taken internally, but only in very small doses. It is generally used as an external application.
Calendula is a cool season annual and grows in almost any garden soil. It belongs to the same plant family as daisies, chrysanthemums and ragweed. Calendula salves, gels and creams are used to speed wound healing on burns, bruises, cuts and hemorrhoids. Homeopaths often recommend calendudla for both burns and severe sunburns. Ear drops containing calendula are sometimes recommended for treating ear infections in children.
Growing Calendula: Calendula is a cool season annual and is grown from seed. There are some newer varieties that claim to be heat resistant, but the simple, old fashioned varieties usually give up and go to seed by late June or early July in the Midwest. Plant calendula seed in spring, after danger of frost. Or plant in late August to early September for fall blooming. Plant in small pots or flats for transplanting later, or plant seed directly where you want them to grow. Once the plants begin to bloom, it's a good idea to keep the seed heads cut off, to encourage the plant to continue blooming. If you don't, most varieties will simply bloom for a few weeks and go to seed and the plant will die.
There are 15-20 varieties to choose from, including: Orange King, Chrysantha Sunshine, Golden Beauty, Dwarf Orange, Balls Orange, Geisha Girl, Pacific Beauty Lemon, Dwarf Golden Gem, Fiesta Gitana, Goldfinch, Apricot Shades, Art Shades, Lemon Coronet, Yashima, Dwarf Orange, Green Crown, Persimmon Beauty and Mandarin. (For a rating of the best varieties, go to http://www.mastergardeners.org/picks/calendula.html).
Pests on calendula include blister beetles, tiny worms that eat the seed heads and mildew.
Can you eat calendula? Yes! Cathy Wilkinson Barash, author of Edible Flowers (Fulcrum, $29.95) and Edible Flowers-Drinks & Desserts (Fulcrum, $16.95) gives several recipes for using calendula flowers. See the Recipes post for more details.
For more information about the Herb of the Year, visit the International Herb Association website: http://www.iherb.org/ and the Herb Society of America site: http://www.herbsociety.org/