Growing, Harvesting, and Preserving Calendula

"Calendula, the marigold, is a joy to the heart and sight of the gardener and nature lover alike."
-– Maureen Rogers, herbalist

Calendula (Calendula officinalis) is an annual herb known for its medicinal, culinary, and ornamental attributes. It is easy to grow and pollinator friendly. There are several varieties of calendula, including single-flowered and double-flowered varieties in varying shades of yellow and orange, and even some new varieties with pink hues. I consider calendula another staple in every cottage and apothecary garden. Calendula has other common names, including common marigold, prophetic marigold, Scottish marigold, Marybud, summer’s bride, ruddles, and throughout-the-months.

Calendula is sometimes called the "herb of the sun" because its flowers open and close with the sun and follow the sun's movement throughout the day, from east to west. This phenomenon is known as heliotropism, rooted in ancient Greek helio referring to “sun” and “tropism” referring to turning of a living organism toward (or away) from an external stimulus, which is, in this case, light.

Beneficial Properties and Common Uses

Calendula is most widely appreciated for its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antifungal properties, making it a popular choice for naturally healing cuts, scrapes and scratches, and to naturally support those with dry skin, eczema, rashes, menstrual cramps, and digestive issues. Calendula is commonly infused in oil and used as a nourishing ingredient in skincare products including creams, lotions, balms, and salves, and is safe to be used topically on children.

Calendula in the Home and Garden

In the garden, calendula is a natural pest-repellant and an excellent garden companion to tomatoes and carrots. Its vibrant colors attract beneficial pollinators, including bees and butterflies.

Calendula is beautiful herb that grows nicely in many herb gardens next to a variety of other herbs, especially bee balm, chamomile, dill, and yarrow. 

My favorite varieties of calendula are Sunset Buff (sometimes called Bronze Beauty), Pink Surprise (sometimes called Peach Surprise), Ivory Princess, Peach Apricot Beauty, and Zeolights.

Around the home, calendula can be used as a natural food coloring and has beautiful ornamental properties, making it a lovely addition to cut flower arrangements.

Symbolizing light, joy and personal power, calendula is a stable for every cottage and apothecary garden. 



Growing Calendula

Calendula is a beautiful and versatile herb that is easy to grow. Start by selecting a sunny location in your growing space with rich, well-draining soil. Calendula seeds can be sown directly into the soil in the early spring, or you can start them indoors 4-6 weeks before the last frost date. If starting indoors, I recommend planting one or two seeds in each hole about ½ inch deep and eight inches apart and cover the hole with soil. They usually germinate in just two to three days on heat (six to nine days with no heat mat.) Once your seedlings begin to grow, make sure to water them regularly and keep the soil moist but not waterlogged. Calendula lives happily in the ground, in garden beds, or in smaller containers. It can reach up to 15 inches tall.

Alternatively, starter plants can be purchased from your local garden center and planted out two weeks after the last frost when the soil and air temperatures are beginning to warm. Calendula grows in USDA zones 3-10.

Find my favorite garden and herb harvesting tools at Barebones Living.


Care and Harvesting Tips

Be careful not to overwater calendula and deadhead the spent blooms regularly to encourage more flowering. Fertilize once a month with an organic balanced fertilizer.

Harvest calendula in the morning, when possible, after dew has dried off but before temperatures rise. You will notice that calendula flowers close up overnight and open again with the sun. Ideally, you want to harvest when the blooms are half opened (or just opened that day) and dry with no drops of water or dew. If harvesting for flower arrangements, cut the entire stem. If harvesting for medicinal or culinary purposes, pinch the flower at the base of the head with your finger and thumb or snip with clean shears. (I prefer to use snips because calendula can leave a sticky residue on skin.) If using fresh, remove the petals from the center, as the center can be very bitter. Harvesting early and often (at least once a week) will encourage continued blooms and bountiful harvests long into the final days of summer. Calendula is an annual and will need to be planted again each year.

If you are harvesting blooms for their medicinal properties, it is best to do so as soon as the blooms begin to open by pinching or snipping the flower at the base of the head. Harvesting often (at least once a week) will encourage continued blooms and bountiful harvests long into the final days of summer. Because calendula is so hardy, it may even live through your first frost or snowfall! Snip early and often for blooms that multiply time and time again.

harvesting calendula

harvesting calendula blooms and seeds

Preserving Calendula

To dry calendula, spread them over a screen or basket that allows airflow and circulation around it. Shake or flip the flowers every few days so all sides dry evenly. The length of time necessary to dry this flower depends greatly on its size and the temperature and moisture of the space you're drying it in. Start with three weeks and then check to ensure they are brittle and dry before storing the heads whole in a clean, dry glass jar tightly closed with a lid until you’re ready to use them. Alternatively, you can use a dehydrator. Calendula can be pressed and used in botanical arts and crafts.

drying calendula medicinal gardening apothecary diy

Calendula-Infused Oil

The first thing I like to do with dried calendula is infuse oil. Once you have calendula-infused oil, you are able to make salves, balms, creams, bath soaks, lotion bars, etc. The options are endless!

To Make

  • I fill a jar with dried calendula. Then add EVOO, filling the jar 1/2 of the way and then fill the remaining 1/2 of the jar with sunflower oil or coconut oil (or even a blend of both).
  • Close tightly (place a sheet of parchment or wax paper between the lid and the top of the jar to prevent the metal from eroding) and store in a dark, cool spot for four weeks. 
  •  Shake the jar whenever you pass by it (once a day if you can).
  • In four weeks, strain the plant material from the oil with cheesecloth and a strainer.

calendula-infused oil

calendula-infused oil

calendula-infused oil

calendula-infused oil

Ready to take your herbal journey to the next level and expand your knowledge of how plants can nourish, soothe, and support? The Herbal Academy has a wide range of top-ranked herbal courses, workshops, resources, workbooks, journals, and so much more.


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