As an herb lover, it’s always hard to pick a favorite. Mine varies from week to week, but during the spring and early summer months, it has to be calendula. I would hate to live without calendula. First of all, they are just absolutely beautiful. Available in cream, through yellows, apricots, deep orange, and bi-colors, they also range in height from 8″ to 24″ and come in singles and doubles. Calendulas are annuals, although they often self-seed. They prefer cool weather, and as the heat of summer arrives, the flowers become smaller and fade more quickly. If you look at the yellow flower on the very bottom left, you’ll notice that it is starting to fade. There are a couple of orange ones closer to the center and center right that are fading, too. That’s when I harvest them, when a few petals begin to shrink. First pull the petals free, and then snip the head from the plant’s stem. Snipping off the head helps the plant use its energy to produce more flowers. I drop the petals into this handy drying trug, or spread them on screens (keeping them out of direct sunlight in a dry, airy location) until they are totally dry.
Then I store them in an airtight jar like this one on the right. The dried petals can be added to tea for sore throats, added to homemade soap, stirred into sugar cookie or scone batters, or any number of projects or recipes.
Often, I simply take a jar out to the potager and fill it with plucked petals. When it is full, I add enough olive oil or sweet almond oil to cover and store it in a dark place for at least a week.
Here’s the first jar of the season, but I’m making more. You can see the second jar in the prior photo behind this first jar. The oil can be applied as is to scratches, bug bites, scrapes, minor cuts, rashes, dry skin, and other skin ailments, or it can be the main ingredient in healing salves and lotions.
Right now, I have a monstrous case of chiggers, a gift from helping weed a neighbor’s garden. From neck to knee I am covered with red spots (sorry, a photo would be just too embarassing!) which would be itching terribly if not for the liberal application of calendula salve. So, obviously, right now calendula is definitely my favorite herb! In fact, I think I’d better go pick some more petals!