Calendula – make a date
You might find the name of this flower a bit confusing as it is also called Pot Marigold or English Marigold, without actually being a marigold at all. I like to grow calendula in my vegetable garden; it adds a nice splash of colour and seems to readily self-sow. Calendula petals make a great addition to a salad; the brilliant orange contrasts beautifully with the greens of rocket and lettuce. Just pull the flower petals from the flower head and wash and dry before use.
Once upon a time, this flower was a standard orange but now it is available in a variety of colours including cream, apricot and yellow. Rub a petal between your fingers and the brilliant colour it stains makes it easy to understand why the flowers were traditionally used to colour butter and cheese. I don’t do anything this complex at home currently, but do use it instead of saffron to colour rice and soups. For dishes like this, you get a better colour by gently heating the petals in a spoonful of oil and then adding stock or water. The petals have a mildly bitter taste but it is really mainly about the visual appeal. Very pretty as a garnish on a cheese or antipasto platter; I also like them frozen in ice cubes to jazz up a jug of homemade punch or cordial.
If you are interested in making your own beauty products, calendula is a great one to grow; it has healing and antiseptic qualities. A simple preparation is:
- Pick a kilogram of flower heads; remove the petals from the bases.
- Wash the petals, dry well and leave to wilt overnight. Wilting the flowers reduces moisture and helps concentrate the oil.
- Add the clean, dry petals to a sterilised jar, cover with almond oil or apricot kernel oil and leave in a sunny place for a couple of weeks.
- Strain off the oil into a clean bottle. Store out of bright light and use as a skin treatment for scratches, mild rashes and sunburn – lovely!
It is possible to dry the petals and store them for up to a year but around here in South-East Queensland, it has a pretty long growing season providing you are regularly picking or deadheading the flowers. I like that it also makes a long lasting cut flower, particularly if you change the water every few days, and that it is flowering here in Queensland during the winter dry season when I may not have a huge range of blooms to choose from. You can buy calendula seed from Green Harvest. (Celeste – guest blogger)