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Growing herbs indoors is practically impossible—at least for me—so I always look forward to spring, when I can grow fresh basil, chives, parsley, cilantro and oregano in pots on my terrace. I like to grow culinary herbs, but after talking to Carol Brzezicki, an herbalist who works at the Sage Mountain Herbal Retreat Center and Botanical Sanctuary in Barre, Vermont, I think I may start growing a few medicinal herbs, too.
Among the herbs we talked about, calendula interested me most—partly for its sunny yellow-orange color, but mainly for its ability to soothe the dry, irritated skin, which is often a problem for me. “Infused in oil, it’s great for calming rashes or for cooling off hot spots on pets,” Carol explained. According to a post on OrganicToBe.org by Cathy Wilkinson Barash, author of Edible Flowers: Desserts & Drinks, calendula has been scientifically proven to promote the reconstruction of skin tissue and reduces scarring from burns and abrasions. But, Wilkinson notes that the flowers also have a long culinary history, dating back to ancient Rome.
“The use of saffron (the powdered stigmas of the exotic saffron flower, a type of crocus) was a sign of wealth and power,” she writes. Common people, who couldn’t afford to buy the golden saffron, discovered that powdered calendula petals were an excellent substitute. The flower petals became known as “poor man’s saffron” and were used by cheese makers to impart a golden color to their products. Derived from the Latin calens, meaning the first day of each month, calendula was called marygold or marybud by Christians because it bloomed at all the festivals celebrating the Virgin Mary. Having been raised as a Catholic, this little tidbit of information fascinated me, too.
Named as one of its Herbs of the Year by the International Herb Association, calendula is also known as the poet’s marigold or pot marigold, and brightens garden beds, flower arrangements and culinary dishes from spring to frost with its sunny flowers. For organic recipes using calendula visit the Herb Companion Web site. To make a soothing calendula infusion for the skin, try following this formula given to me by Carol Brzezicki:
Clip fresh flowers, which are resinous and sticky, and let them wilt in a bowl for a day. Place them in a jar and pour in enough olive oil to cover the flowers completely, then add an extra inch or so of oil. Cap the jar and place it in the sun for about two weeks. Strain the flowers and use the oil to soften or heal the skin. A quicker option is to place the flowers and the oil in a double boiler and simmer for an hour, let cool and strain.