Herb of the month for April: Calendula officinalis

The sunny yellow and orange flowers of calendula add colour to the winter garden. But not just that, the petals also have healing properties and are edible, for decorating desserts and salads.

Sow now, directly into the soil or seed trays, for flowers within just over two months (70 days). Calendula grow in ordinary garden soil (enriched with compost) and in full sun as bright border for winter veggies or other herbs. Space plants 25cm apart and water regularly. They also look good in mixed containers with Giant Red Mustard, tatsoi, Swiss chard and lettuce.

For a constant supply of blooms through to early summer, pick off dead flowers and, feed once a month with a liquid fertiliser specifically for flowers.

How to use the petals:

  • As a garnish for salads, sandwiches and desserts.
  • Add to bathwater to treat fungal infections
  • Make an infusion for use as an antiseptic wash for minor wounds, bites, stings and swellings
  • Bathe tired red eyes in an eyewash infusion
  • Make a tea by infusing 2 tsp petals in 750 boiled water for 10 minutes. Strain and drink up to five cups a day as an anti-viral to help clear infections, and detox and balance the digestive system, liver and gall bladder.

Good to know: the best time to pick calendula flowers is in the morning when their water content is at its highest. Use only the petals and cut off the bitter white portion at the base of the petal. Discard the rest of the plant.

Nature’s helperCalendula flowers attract bees as well as beneficial insects such as minute pirate bugs that control thrips, syrphidae (hover flies) that attack aphids, and micro-wasps that parasitize aphids.

Try this: Kirchhoffs ‘Pacific Beauty Mixed’ is a fragrant heirloom variety that Includes apricot, yellow, persimmon and orange-coloured flowers. It is popular for its ability to bloom prolifically. Plants are bushy and grow 40cm high.