It might be September, but thanks to diligent harvesting of the blooms all season, my calendulas are still going strong! Like many flowering herbs, calendula responds well to frequent harvesting. Pinch off the flower head as soon as it fully opens to encourage the plant to bloom again and again, maximizing your herb harvest and keeping your garden full of happy yellow and orange flowers as long as possible.

Probably best known for it’s topical skin-soothing and wound healing applications, Calendula officinalis is also a wonderful internal workhorse as an anti-inflammatory and detoxifying herb (via the lymph). Its vulnerary, gut healing properties make it a wonderful ally for those with poor digestion, ulcers or leaky gut. Basically, what it can do for wounds on the skin, it can also do for your insides.

Important! Although they are related and calendula is a type of marigold, not all marigolds are calendula. Make certain you’re sourcing from the genus Calendula and not Tagetes (African marigold) which neither medicinal nor edible.

Calendula is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of typical culinary herbs, but maybe it should be. Not only does it brighten up any dish it touches with its vibrant orange petals, it’s also quite the nutritional powerhouse. Ounce for ounce, calendula is one of the best sources of the provitamin A carotenoid beta carotene you can get. In fact, they’re so rich in carotenoids, that marigolds are an important commercial source of beta carotene, lycopene and lutein extracts. Perhaps this is the reason for the old (French) wive’s tale that if you stare at calendula blooms for a few moments every day that your eyesight would improve – ha!

With a mildly tangy and peppery flavor, calendula petals are a natural choice for adding color and flavor to leafy salads. Or try it as an elegant garnish on pasta, rice and vegetable dishes, compounded in butter or even sprinkled on top of biscuits. In fact, calendula’s common name of “pot marigold” is a nod to its historical use as a common ingredient in traditional German soups and stews. Calendula is also known as “poor man’s saffron” — a significantly cheaper alternative to the expensive spice.

Keep reading for a fun recipe for a rice pilaf from Fresh Herbs that showcases calendula’s culinary versatility. Have you cooked with calendula? What’s your favorite way to use it? ??