Calendula – Calendula officinalis – is a hardy and prolific short lived perennial flowering plant. You can eat both the flowers and the leaf – although the leaf can be very astringent.
The flower petals are an interesting alternative to Saffron and can be used to to add colour to sauces and other food items where you would normally use saffron – such as Rice dishes.
They can be very decorative also pressed into tea cakes or with cheese.
The taste it imparts can be distinctive and I have found a few people who don’t like it.
They can be used for dying fabrics and other items as well.
You can dry the flowers and use them later and they still retain that colouring capability for many months. A fresh flower grown in optimal conditions and with maximum oil content should last after being cut for up to two weeks. Ideally pick them in the mid morning – midday when fully opened and dry and when the oil load is at it’s most intense. In some cases you will see the oil exuding on the stem around the base of the flower and the flowers will be quite sticky to the touch.
It has a long history of medicinal use in a lot of cultures – especially for skin conditions and reducing inflammation.
It grows in virtually any soil and climate except it tends to die back in either very hot summers or very cold winters.
It will self seed fairly easily if left to do it’s thing and grow undisturbed.
There are many different varieties and cultivars. I have found the simple species type flowers with the minimal number of circles of petals to have the best taste.
The colour can vary between a light yellow and a deep gold – almost brown.
Drying them is just a matter of leaving them laid out for a day or so and then storing them in a covered container. If they have a high oil content they will take a long time to dry out – possibly up to 6 months.