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Calendula officinalis, the properties of the plant and how to cultivate it

Calendula officinalis is a stunning flower plant, easy to grow, attracting beneficial insects in the garden and boasting numerous beneficial properties.

by BioGrow

Calendula officinalis is a beautiful flowering plant with a significant tradition in our popular culture. Commonly known as calendula, it originates from the Mediterranean basin, adapting over time to colder climates. It now grows spontaneously even in temperate regions. Calendula officinalis is an exceptional plant with various uses. Moreover, it’s easy to cultivate from seed. Planted for ornamental purposes in gardens and for attracting beneficial insects in vegetable gardens, calendula flowers also possess rich beneficial properties. For a long time, they’ve been employed in herbal and phytotherapeutic contexts.

Let’s delve deeper into calendula, exploring how to cultivate it and its main properties and uses.

Botanical Identification of Calendula officinalis

Calendula officinalis

Calendula represents a genus of herbaceous plants belonging to the large Asteraceae (or Compositae) family. This genus comprises 12 species, with the most well-known being Calendula officinalis. The botanical name derives from the Latin Calendae, a term referring to the first day of the month. It alludes to the plant’s flowering period, extending from spring to autumn, developing flowers every month. In Italy, calendula officinalis is a native species in almost all regions, from plains to hills, up to 600 meters above sea level. It’s a very hardy species that, in its wild state, adapts to uncultivated fields, borders, and ruderal areas.

Characteristics of the Calendula plant

Calendula officinalis

Calendula officinalis is an annual herbaceous plant, rarely behaving as a biennial. It has a long taproot and numerous small lateral roots. The plant grows as a shrub with an erect and branched posture. It’s covered with a thin, delicate fuzz and possesses glands rich in essential oil. The stem reaches a final height of about 30-40 cm. The leaves are alternate on the stem, lanceolate in shape with serrated margins. The color of the leaves is green-grayish and they are larger at the base compared to the apex. The leaves feature a black gland located at the tip of each tooth. Calendula flowers consist of large flower heads, up to 5 cm in size. Each head comprises a few male tubular flowers in the center, forming a flat disk. Additionally, numerous ligulate female flowers are present at the head’s periphery, arranged in two series. The head is also surrounded by bracts covered with glands, containing essential oil, of which the plant is rich. The flower’s color ranges from orange to dark yellow. Calendula officinalis is a self-pollinating plant. The fruit is a curved achene. When found in the wild, the plant resembles the species Calendula arvensis, which, however, is distinguished by a single series of ligulate flowers.

Cultivation of Calendula

Calendula officinalis is a very hardy plant, making it easy to cultivate. In gardens, it’s ideal for forming borders and ornamental beds. It can also serve well in vegetable gardens because, while not a nectariferous plant, it attracts pollinating insects. Its root system improves the soil and keeps dangerous soil pests like nematodes at bay. Calendula flowers, besides having numerous medicinal properties, are edible and can be used in various ways.

Propagation and sowing period

Flower of Calendula officinalis

Calendula officinalis’ ease of cultivation primarily comes from its seeds’ excellent germination capacity. Sowing is carried out immediately in open fields and can be done in two different periods. Either around March-April, when temperatures exceed 15°C, or between late September and early October. As expected, plants sown in autumn bloom the following year and, with favorable weather conditions, may even bloom in February. Sowing can also take place in winter, but in this case, a heated nursery should be used. The young plants will need to be transferred to the field in spring. However, this operation is not always advisable; it’s better to wait for good weather and sow without the nursery. Sowing is done broadcast, covering the seed with a thin layer of soil. Right after sowing, a light watering should be given. Once germinated, the seedlings should be thinned out, leaving 6-8 per square meter. A higher density results in less plant growth and smaller flower heads.

Soil, fertilization, and irrigation

In nature, calendula officinalis adapts well to almost all types of soil. However, it prefers loamy, loose, and deep soils rich in organic matter. It avoids clayey and compact soils. The soil should be prepared before sowing with accurate surface tillage, avoiding leaving too large particles. For the development of its flowers, calendula requires a good supply of phosphorus and potassium. It needs less nitrogen, which indeed fosters vegetative growth but at the expense of flowers. Therefore, adequate fertilization can be done by distributing wood ash. It is rich in phosphorus and potassium but lacks nitrogen. Irrigation should be quite limited since the plant is not demanding. It should only be done after long dry periods.

Cultural Care

Among the cultural cares, attention should be paid to weeding, especially at the beginning of cultivation. If you prefer not to remove weeds manually, you can use natural mulching.

Harvest

Calendula officinalis flower heads should be harvested when mature but have not yet begun to dry out. The best periods for cutting the flower are April for wild calendula, May-June for autumn-sown plants, and July-August for spring sowings. However, being a plant with prolonged flowering, the harvesting of flower heads will be staggered and repeated over time. The newly harvested flower head should be stored as soon as possible in a dark, dry, and ventilated room for drying. If you let the flower head dry on the plant, you can obtain seeds (or let them scatter naturally over time). This way, you’ll ensure the plant’s natural reproduction for the following year.

Calendula officinalis’ Main Constituents

Let’s explore calendula officinalis’ properties and uses, starting with its main constituents. As we’ve seen, the plant contains essential oil in multiple parts, especially in the flower bracts and leaves.
It is also rich in:

  • Xanthophyll
  • Flavonoids, such as quercetin
  • Carotenoid compounds like lycopene, calendulin, and carotene
  • Polysaccharides, mucilages, resins, and saponins
  • Bitter substances
  • Triterpenic compounds like faradiol, taraxasterol, arnidiol, calenduladiol, ursatriol
  • Vitamin C
  • Salicylic acid

Calendula’s Properties

The main properties of calendula officinalis derive from the elements contained within, namely:

  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antibacterial
  • Antiseptic
  • Healing
  • Decongestant
  • Soothing and moisturizing
  • Choleretic and emmenagogue
  • Hypotensive and peripheral vasodilator
  • Antispasmodic

In essence, we’re talking about a true natural pharmacy.

Uses of Calendula

Calendula officinalis lends itself to both internal and external use. The parts used are dried flowers and leaves.
For internal use, the simplest household preparations are the infusion and the tincture. To prepare a calendula infusion, dissolve 1 g of flowers in 100 ml of boiling water. The infusion should be consumed in the amount of one cup per day. Calendula tincture, on the other hand, is prepared by macerating 20 g of flowers in 100 ml of food-grade alcohol for 5 days. In this case, the intake is 20-40 drops per day. These preparations are excellent for promoting menstrual regularity or thinning bile and alleviating abdominal pain. For external use, in addition to the flowers, the leaves can also be used by preparing decoctions. The dosage for calendula decoction is 6 g per 100 ml of water, boiled for 15 minutes. This is applied using cotton pads. The decoction is beneficial for the skin in case of bruises, redness, dilated vessels, chilblains, and calluses, sunburns. Externally, the tincture can also be applied in rinses and gargles. This is useful for treating mucosal affections in the oropharynx, upper airways. It is used, for example, in cases of gingivitis, periodontitis, tonsillitis, and pharyngitis. Moreover, there is also a cosmetic use, namely: the preparation of a warm bath with dried flowers. Calendula officinalis, in this case, will have softening and moisturizing effects on the skin. If you do not have the possibility to prepare the remedies illustrated at home, a series of herbal products based on calendula officinalis can be found here.

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