The Calendula Project as its been called, is a wee lockdown hobby I’ve been enjoying in my herb garden. It’s a flower I’ve always grown in the garden as it’s such a good companion plant for the herbs, salads and vegetables I grow. Calendula Officinalis is also an invaluable herb in its own right.
Calendula is renowned for excellent skin care properties and these include being anti inflammatory, anti fungal and anti bacterial. There are many good calendula oil and cream products available commercially and for me it’s an essential part of skin care and a staple for skin first aid. Complementary therapies have played a huge part in our family life and in the 80s and 90s when I was at home with my boys, I trained in Aromatherapy. Using essential oils, carrier oils and herbs sits perfectly with my ‘look after your health rather than your illness’ and ‘let food be thy medicine’ approach to life. And, it feels good to be actually producing my own therapeutic oil.
Apart from the therapeutic qualities, Calendula or Calendula Officinalis to use the botanical name, makes a welcome and colourful addition to summer food when the flowers are in plentiful supply and I regularly add to salads. The tangy flavour of the petals makes a good substitute for saffron in paella, bringing the bright yellow colour to the rice. The petals make a good food dye for colouring foods such as dairy produce, omelettes and use the fresh flowers to decorate celebration cakes.
I’m drying the flower heads and macerating in almond oil to make calendula oil. Maceration if you’re not familiar with it, involves steeping the petals in oil and leaving on a sunny windowsill for a few weeks until the volatile oil from the calendula is extracted. The finished oil will contain the healing and therapeutic qualities of Calendula. The infused oil can be used as a skin care product or mixed with other ingredients to make a range of skin products such as creams, salves and lip balms.
This is the first time I’ve dried calendula and although it’s not rocket science, admittedly it’s been a bit of a learning curve. I started off using an electric dehydrator and despite the machine running for an incredibly long time it didn’t dry the flowers well enough. A more efficient way has been to spread the flowers out on the dehydrator trays to dry naturally.
The pop up hanging drier I bought looked much smaller in the picture and in the bag when it arrived. However, when it popped up I discovered each section is almost the size of a tv satellite dish. Just so impractical for using in the house. It’s now hanging in my shed and doing a great job of drying the flower heads.
Theres been no shortage of flowers for picking and it’s true that the more you pick the more flowers the plants will produce. The flowers are best picked in the morning and before midday as the hot sun will evaporate the plants volatile oils. This is much the same for any edible flowers and herbs as you really want to get the very best qualities, when using therapeutically or in food.
The first jar of petals is currently macerating in sweet almond oil and It will take 2-4 weeks for the oil to be ready. The next stage will be strain the the oil to remove the flowers for bottling. This jar will yield around 1 pint and should keep for a a year.
For the next jar of oil, the plan is to macerate the whole flower head as a comparison. I planted around 40 organic calendula plants and I’m finding that there’s no shortage of flowers for drying. With this quantity I can also leave plenty growing on for the bees and other pollinators that frequent the garden.The jar is filling up nicely with the dried heads and hopefully in a day or 2 there will be enough to add the oil for macerating.
Check in with me in a few weeks time to find out how I got on with my first jar.