August 24, 2019
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Make this soothing, natural cream from a plant you can grow in your backyard

Summer here in Maine is a charmer. Our state becomes more beautiful under the bright sun, bodies of water sparkle more enticingly, and the warm air draws us happily outside after a long winter.

Summer brings us every color imaginable, often in a riotous symphony of flowers in gardens everywhere. Things are no different here at Ridge Pond Farm, although with this being our first year here we benefit more from past residents’ green thumbs than our own, while our gardens get established.

Pink musk mallow, orange daylilies, and yellow elecampane, mullein, and St. John’s wort in the herb garden are painting our first summer’s palette. One of the brightest spots on the farm is the calendula patch.

The first variety to open has been the fantastically orange ‘Radio’ variety. An heirloom variety from the 1930s named for the invention of the radio, it is fully and electrically orange. It’s a joy to see the pop of orange these flowers bring to the landscape.

Calendula (Calendula officinalis) is often also called pot marigold, but please don’t confuse it with the strong smelling French marigold (Tagetes) many of us put in the tomato patch, as Tagetes is not edible, nor does it have the same medicinal properties as calendula.

Calendula will produce flowers over a long period if you continually pick them, which is perfect for collecting lots of flowers for various herbal preparations. Calendula flowers can be dried for use in tea; and fresh petals are lovely tossed in summer salads and whole flower heads infused in oil for skin care.

Beeswax

I primarily grow calendula for use in body care products, as it possesses many skin benefits. Calendula flowers have been shown to be good for inflammation and irritation, dry skin and cell repair. They are antiseptic, used for bruises and burns, contain high levels of carotenoids, and can be healing, antifungal, and antimicrobial.

Infusing oil with calendula is arguably the easiest yet still highly effective method to extract calendula’s anti-inflammatory and healing properties for the skin. I tend to use extra virgin olive oil as the menstruum (the liquid the herb is soaked in to extract its healing properties), but other oils can be used.

After picking the flowers, done easily by popping the heads off the stems, it’s best to let the flowers dry a day or more to allow excess moisture to leave the flowers, as water will promote mold in the oil while the flowers are infusing.

After a couple or more days of drying, fill a jar with the flowers and pour in oil to cover, stirring to remove any air pockets in the jar. Cap the jar with a lid, and let the flowers infuse in the oil for anywhere from a week to many weeks, depending on your patience and when you plan to use the oil.

If you’re worried about moisture in your flowers, check the oil periodically for signs of mold. When the oil and calendula have infused to your liking (six weeks is common), strain the herb out from the oil and use the infused oil. You can also use commercially purchased dried calendula to make infused oil if you like the quality of the dried herb.

A useful item to have in your home remedy supply is calendula salve for calming irritated skin. For every cup of calendula-infused oil, add 1 ounce of grated beeswax and gently heat in the top of a double boiler. Once the oil and beeswax have melted completely, pour the liquid into containers (glass, ideally; metal is also fine), and when cool you have calendula salve.

Calendula salve was my introduction to homemade skin care products. My sister Jane provided calendula-infused olive oil she had made several weeks earlier, and together with my sister Anna, we combined the calendula oil with beeswax for a hard, healing calendula salve.

Since that day many years ago, I have experimented with different proportions of oil and beeswax to find the right consistency for me. I credit that experience with my sisters with starting me on my path to having an herbal products business.

Jojoba oil

Another influential person on my herbal journey has been my good friend Michelle. We once spent a fun day at her apartment in Portland making different homemade herbal face creams; since then I’ve been making my own body care products for my family and now for sale.

Michelle recently gave birth to her second (adorable) child, and I wanted to make something special for her. With this summer’s first flush of calendula in the gardens, I dried a few handfuls to make a calendula-infused jojoba oil salve as a gift.

I used jojoba oil because it absorbs so well into the skin and because of its bright yellow color. When infused with calendula flowers, it lends the salve a happy orange hue. I source my jojoba oil locally from The Jojoba Company, based in Waldoboro. The quality of their jojoba is outstanding, and I’m always happy to buy from a local company when possible.

I used proportions similar to olive oil-based salve, and the end result is a happy pot of orange salve perfect as a colorful, skin-soothing moisturizer for my friend.

Calendula is easy to grow from seed if direct-sown in the garden in the spring. If you’re interested in using the flowers for herbal remedies, look for varieties with high levels of resin. Both Fedco and Johnny’s Seeds sell Resina Calendula seed, a well-known high-resin variety.

Even if you don’t grow calendula for skin care, it makes a beautiful cut flower for bouquets, as well as a delicious, beautiful addition to food, and brightens the flower patch with its color, assuring us that for another day at least we can revel in the colorful delight that is summer in Maine.

Cari Balbo runs Ridge Pond Farm and Herbals in Palermo with her husband. She writes about their life in an 1830 farmhouse and starting a new farm business at www.ridgepond.com. As a longtime student of herbs and their many benefits, Balbo’s mission is to inspire others to integrate more herbs into their daily lives.

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