January 6, 2006

Calendula officinalis is an appealing herb with edible flowers and makes a great companion plant in the ornamental vegetable garden. In addition to the added color provided by the edible flowers, calendula also serves a useful function in attracting beneficial insects into the garden.

Calendula plants grow quickly and are tolerant of cool temperatures with blossoming continuing well into the fall season. The medium green leaves are highlighted by edible flowers, traditionally yellow or orange in color with dark reddish brown centers. Newer shades include peach, cream, apricot, and bicolor petals.

Growing calendulas is easily accomplished by planting the seeds directly in the growing beds from early spring through mid summer. To get an earlier start the seeds can be planted indoors in containers and later transplanted to the raised beds.

I like to tuck the seeds here and there to fill in empty spaces around the garden, and also plant calendulas between taller plants such as heirloom tomatoes and sweet peppers.

In the kitchen, calendula petals can be added to salads, steeped to brew teas, and used as a food coloring or garnish. The fresh petals are often dried and stored for use during the winter. Calendulas are reputed to have medicinal properties and you can find them commonly included in various salves, creams, soaps, lotions, ointments, tinctures, and teas.

There are quite a few varieties of calendula herb to choose from. Popular selections include: Touch of Red Mix, Pink Surprise, Indian Prince, Déjà Vu, Geisha Girl, Pacific Beauty, and Orange Porcupine.

If you’re already a fan of this edible flower and looking for a new twist, try one of the Flashback varieties. These calendulas offer flowers with beautiful multi-colored petals and burgundy undersides that provide a flashier appearance.

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