Saturday, October 20, 2012

Happy Birthday October Babies- It's Calendula Time


Natural Mother's Network

This month's flower can get confusing. Some  sources say October's birthday flower is the Marigold, others say the Calendula, and still others say the month's flower is the Cosmos, all of which bloom beautifully during the autumn. But Marigolds, of the Tagetes family, and Calendula, of the Asteraceae, are not the same flower. Cosmos are a commonly accepted alternative flower. Marigolds are native to the Americas and are the commonly grown French Marigold that Americans use as a bedding plant. Calendula are related to daisies, sunflowers, and asters. I'm going to go with the Calendula as it seems to be the more frequently sited flower for October babies. Besides, I'm an October baby so I get to pick!

French Marigold. Pretty but not our gal this month.

Calendula, native to northern Mediterranean countries, get their name from the Latin words "kalendae" for "first of the month", a reference to the fact that it is usually blooming by the first of each month. Once call "Pot Marigold" to distinguish it from Marigolds of the Tagetes family, the name referred to the fact that calendula were used for cooking. In a cooking pot. Get it? A much more budget friendly substitute for saffron, calendula leaves and chopped petals can also be added to salads or other raw vegetable dishes. The petals, with their slight aromatic bitterness can be used in fish and meat soups, and are frequently used as a colouring for cheese and butter. The whole flower was used as a garnish in medieval times. And chopped fresh marigold flowers can be scattered over rice dishes and even used in sweet dishes like custard or baked puddings.

But it is the calendula's medicinal uses that have given it a reputation of healing. Sometimes called "the mother of skin", it has a long history of use as a wound healing agent and has known skin-soothing properties. Generally used topically, calendula can reduce the inflammation of bee and wasp stings by rubbing a fresh flower on the sting. It has antiseptic properties and has a high concentration of flavinoids which act as anti-oxidants. Calendula has antimicrobial and antiseptic properties as well and is often used in facial toners. The list of medicinal and topical uses for our October flower goes on and on.  In the 1600's the healing properties of calendula were attributed to magic, though today we know that it is the chemical properties of the flower that are the real "magic". It has been used for almost every ailment imaginable for the last 1000 years, from scabs that won’t heal, eczema, athlete’s foot, acne, or even herpes sores. In Russia it was used to treat smallpox and measles, so much being grown in that country that it was once call Russian penicillin. It is one of the earliest known herbal medicines. Calendula blossoms in wine are said to ease indigestion.  I am not an herbalist and am not advocating the use of calendula- I'm just sharing some of the uses of calendula. And be sure that you use the correct plant-Calendula officinalis. The French marigold does not have the same healing properties. The term officinalis refers to the alchemist's workshop, where it was believed that metal could be turned to gold and the skin-soothing properties of calendula were thought to be able to return one's skin to the days of its silky-smooth babyhood. Be aware that some folks do have allergic reactions to calendula so be sure to do a small test patch if you plan to use it topically.

The lore and legend of the calendula is also extensive. It has been used over the ages in love potions and charms as well as for prophesying, psychic energy, seeing magical creatures, attraction, and renewing personal energy. A fresh flower can be worn to court for a favorable outcome of a trial. If you place blossom in your mattress, you will have prophetic dreams... and if you place it under your mattress it will make whatever you dream come true. If you dig up some soil where your lover has walked and use that soil for planting calendula, myth says that your lover would forever by faithful. Add calendula to baths to win respect and admiration. If you’ve been robbed, it will give you a vision of the thief. Simply looking at calendula will draw out "evil humours" as well as strengthen your eyesight.

There are many other uses as well:

  • Yellow dye can be extracted from the flower, by boiling.
  • It's a good companion plant as it discourages pests in the garden.
  • In Asia it are mainly used to make garlands and for adorning buildings and statues of spiritual significance
  • An infusion of the petals can be used as a rinse to lighten and brighten hair.

Porcupine Creek Farm

The colors of the calendula flower, yellows and oranges, are said represent the path of the sun throughout an autumn day. It is thought that the flower holds all of the sunlight of autumn. Those with an autumn birthday are said to be warm, friendly and easy going. You can even use calendula to predict the weather as the blossoms are said to close before a rain.

Calendula Soap. Love In The Suburbs

As for the language of flowers, our calendula has a variety, even contradictory, range of meanings depending upon when and where you are. The hidden message of the calendula during  the Victorian era was "My thoughts are with you" or to symbolize "winning grace". The flower has also been used to symbolize saddness, grief, mental anguish, or despair and is known as the flower of death in Mexico because it is believed that the flowers sprung up from the blood of natives that were killed by Spanish invaders. Calendula is used to adorn gravestones on the Day of the Dead in Mexico. But my favorite meaning of the calendula is for joy. Like I said, contradictory.

Yellow Tomato and Calendula Salad. Prospect: The Pantry
Generally a prolific and easy growing plant, calendula are grown from seed. Though they prefer rich, well-drained soil, calendula will tolerate average garden soils. Yes, they like plenty of sunshine and the blossoms will follow the sun over the course of a day, just like to sunflowers to which they are related. They do well grown in a pot, whether a cooking pot or a garden pot. They bloom from June through the first frost but you may notice a decrease in blooms during the very hottest part of the summer. No worries- they'll start up again when the weather cools. Deadhead for repeated and increased blooming. Though annuals, calendula reseed prolifically. I have seen that there are some "moderately" perennial or biannual calendulas. Strongly attractant to butterflies, the main pest of our gal is the aphid.


And there you have it- Calendula officinalis!

Happy Birthday October Butterflies!
(Happy Birthday Big 'Un)

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