Calendula officinalis, also called pot marigold, is a flowering annual plant that is different from common marigold (genus Tagetes). Tagetes marigolds are great for looking at and to ward off pesky garden bugs, but Calendula officinalis is also a medicinal plant with many uses for the home and plenty of value-added product potential for your small farm. Calendula self-seeds readily and grows from 1 to 3 feet tall. Flowers are orange or yellow. The whole flower or just the petals are used, fresh or dried, for herbal medicine. Salve, lotion, tincture, soaps and oil are all popular uses for calendula. It's great for the skin, so you'll find it in this application most frequently. It is also used as a dye for food and fabric and its petals are edible and look great sprinkled atop a fresh salad. Finally, it soothes gastrointestinal problems and can be used fresh or dried in a tea for this.
Calendula can be started indoors three to four weeks before the last frost or sown directly in the garden after the last frost. It matures in roughly 80 days so can be planted from early spring into summer.
Sow calendula's gnarled, large seeds 1/4 inch deep and pat down the row. Keep weeded. Thin to six inches to one foot apart.
Calendula is very tolerant of poor soil and will grow in partial shade or full sun. It does require regular watering. Calendula is very adaptable to container gardening. If left to go to seed at the end of the season, calendula will readily re-seed itself, leaving you with another crop ready to go next year.
Pests and Problems:
Calendula actually deters many insect pests, making it a good border flower for the garden. It doesn't have any known issues with pests or diseases! This is one wonderfully hardy flower.
Water, cultivate, and side dress with compost throughout the season. Deadhead calendula blossoms to encourage continuous production of flowers.
Harvest calendula regularly by snipping off the flower heads when they are half open. It's best to harvest in the morning, after the dew has dried on the plants. You may want to trim the remaining flower stalk back to the first set of leaves to discourage rot. Storage and Preservation: Calendula flowers are usually preserved by drying. An electric dehydrator is a handy tool for this and almost essential for farm-level production of calendula. But on a smaller scale, you can simply spread the flower heads on screens to dry in the shade. Turn the flowers daily. Once the flower heads are fully dry (even the dense, green part of the head), you can store them in glass jars or plastic bags. For making calendula oil, you may wish to use only the flower petals, not the heads - it's up to you. If so, after drying the petals can be plucked from the heads all at once.