Calendula: magic, medicine, and folklore

A popular garden plant, grown for its beautiful golden and orange flowers. Often used to cure skin irritations, strengthen psychic powers, and see through illusions.

Calendula officinalis.
Also known as: Marigold. Pot Marigold. Ruddles. Summer’s Bride.

Family: Asteraceae | asters
Habitat: warm and temperate, widely cultivated in gardens
Size: 30—60 cm
Life cycle: perennial or annual
Foraging: flowers and leaves
Flowers: yellow to orange, May—September
Leaves: light green, slightly hairy

Illustration from Herbalist’s Primer by the author.

Description

A herbaceous, flowering plant, often growing in dense pillows. On long, rigid stems grow spirally placed light green, slightly hairy leaves and flat yellow and orange flowers. Calendula attracts many insects, from aphids to ladybugs, butterflies, and bees. The petals have a characteristic, sunny scent and a delicate, peppery taste.

Habitat and Cultivation

No evidence of wild, natural habitat of calendula has been found. It is commonly cultivated as an ornamental, medicinal, and edible plant in gardens and pots. It grows best in sunny exposition and rich, well-draining soil. In temperate climate, it is an annual plant, easy to propagate and cultivate from seeds; calendulas are self-sowing if left to their own devices. Remove deadheads to encourage reblooming in the same season.

Foraging and Preparation

Collect leaves and flowers once they fully open, in mid-afternoon on a sunny day. The resin content is then the highest, which strengthens the medicinal and magical properties of the herb. Use calendula fresh or dried. Dry whole flowers or just the petals—they can be easily removed from the head and dry much quicker that way.

Culinary Properties

The whole plant is edible, but only leaves and flowers are commonly used. Put fresh leaves in a salad with spinach and other dark greens. Use flower petals as a dash of color in soups, rice dishes, salads, and confectionery as edible decoration. If finely chopped or dried and crushed, calendula is almost as good food colorant as saffron.

Medicinal Properties

Calendula has antiseptic, antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties, making it a treatment of choice for all kinds of skin irritations, acne, wounds, bites, and infections. A marigold salve treats diaper rash, bruises, and tender breasts. Calendula can be used topically or internally as a tincture or tea, but should not be ingested during pregnancy or if the patient is allergic to plants in the aster family.

Magical Properties

Calendula is an important herb in all kinds of light, fire, and sun magic, giving strength to spells and enchantments. As a sun herb, it brings confidence and respect, especially if added to the bath before important meetings or worn as perfume.

Seeds sown at the doorstep help to solve misunderstandings and encourage affection between the lovers. The petals are commonly used during marriage ceremonies, as they bestow luck upon the newlyweds and protect them from the effects of other people’s envy.

Use calendula flowers in divination, prophecy, and dream magic, either burned at the altar or kept in a bag under the pillow. They help access the psychic powers, help in lucid dreaming, perceiving auras. Fey creatures are often drawn to calendula; fresh flowers are a valuable offering in deals with the fairy folk.

Mixed with rosewater, hollyhock, hazel, and thyme, calendula flowers make an ointment allowing to see invisible creatures and look through illusions and fey glamours.

Additional Context

The Romans, who named the plant, thought it funny to pretend that calendulas bloom on the first day of each month, ie. on the kalends. While it is obviously factually wrong, calendulas do flower almost constantly if they are kept in a mild climate and regularly deheaded before setting seed.

In almost all cultures, calendulas have some connection to the sun. Greek mythology mentions a story about four wood nymphs who fell in love with the sun god, Apollo, to such degree that they forgot their duties to their goddess, Artemis. The annoyed goddess turned the nymphs into dull-white marigolds. Apollo, after learning what had happened to those who loved him, took pity over them: he sent down his brilliant sun rays to paint the flowers gold. As opposed to, for example, actually helping. His job there was done.

Calendulas are often used in love magic or as an aphrodisiac. An European legend says that if a maiden steps on it with her bare foot, she will understand the language of birds, which was empirically tested by the author about fifteen years ago and deemed unlikely; it is possible that local birds were being difficult on purpose and only pretending to tweet as usual.

Nevertheless, the medicinal properties of calendula are mostly scientifically proven. The plant is antiseptic, astringent, promotes wound healing, and does reasonable wonders to sensivitve, irritated skin and chapped lips. An easy salve can be made from calendula-infused oil mixed with beeswax. It keeps well and helps with scratches, rashes, and dry skin. Very early in vitro tests show it has some anti-genotoxic properties, which has made certain people call it a herbal remedy for cancer. Do not trust those people.


Do you love plants, green magic, folklore, and ethnobotany?

Find more of it in our current project, Herbalist’s Primer – an illustrated guide to real-world magical plants. Learn more and support the project on Patreon!

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