Growing Calendula officinalis for Year-round Sunshine

Growing Calendula officinalis for Year-round Sunshine

By Emily Glover, Master Gardener Intern

You will always find Calendula officinalis growing in my garden. I included calendula in my first garden on a whim without realizing it would become one of my favourite plants of all time.

I love a little chaos in my garden so I let it self-sow wherever it pleases — little canary yellow, tangerine, and amber stars haphazardly settled between the tomatoes, cucumbers, and beans in my vegetable plot.

Calendula is a powerhouse plant in both the garden and home and can be beneficial in your life even outside of our short growing season.

In the garden

Calendula. Photo: Emily Glover

Calendula, sometimes referred to as its less glamorous common name pot marigold, is a member of the Asteraceae family. Despite the name, calendula is not the same as the other common garden plant marigold (Tagetes spp.) It has a long history of cultivation, going back to at least the 12th century. Because of this, its exact origins are unknown but are believed to be southern Europe and the eastern Mediterranean.

In zone 3, you can expect self-sowed calendula to start popping up sometime in mid-spring with blooms in full effect from July to as late as October, depending on the weather. Calendula is easy to start indoors and transplant if you’re eager for earlier blooms.

It is an incredibly easy to grow annual and can tolerate many growing conditions but prefers well drained soil in a sunny or partly shaded location. Volunteer seedlings that show up where you don’t want them can be transplanted throughout your garden spaces or into pots.

Calendula. Photo: Emily Glover

Regular deadheading encourages consistent flowering throughout the summer; however, I pluck about half of the heads in their prime to dry and use throughout the rest of the year. I always make sure to let several heads from each plant go to seed in preparation for the next growing season. Despite calendula’s tendency to drop seeds, it isn’t considered an invasive plant and will generally stick around the area where it was originally planted.

Not only does calendula offer stunning colour for the entire season, it’s also a trap crop. A trap crop, sometimes referred to as a sacrificial crop, is a plant that attracts pest insects to keep them away from your more valued plants. Aphids happen to love the resin calendula produces, which gives the added benefit of attracting lady bugs.

Lady bugs aren’t the only beneficial insect that will show up because of calendula. Bees and butterflies also love the brightly colored blooms, making it a great companion plant in your garden.

In the home

Calendula’s petals and leaves are edible. The leaves make a great addition to salads and the petals can be used to add a pop of colour to just about any dish. In the past, calendula has been referred to as “poor man’s saffron,” helping to add colour and even flavour into things like butter and cheese.

Calendula has been well known for its medicinal properties since at least the 12th century. In fact, the officinalis in its scientific name denotes plants and herbs that have use in medicine. In the distant past, it has been used to treat various ailments such as upset stomach and menstrual cramps. There is little scientific evidence that taking calendula solves these issues; however, it is still a common ingredient in some homeopathic treatments.

Today, it is most often used topically to treat skin problems. Calendula produces a resin that has been shown to reduce wound healing time. You’ll find calendula in many commercially available skincare products, but it is easy to incorporate your home-grown plants into your routine with just a few ingredients.

I personally collect the heads of the flower to dry them for a skin healing salve. I simply infuse oil with the dried flower heads for several weeks and then slowly melt beeswax into the oil to create a balm that is perfect for dry skin and that helps to heal basic wounds like scratches and irritations. I’ve gotten positive reports from friends who have used my homemade balm on irritated new tattoos and eczema spots.

You should always check with your doctor before using any herbs that may be a contraindication to medications you are taking or will affect any allergies you have.


In spiritual practices, calendula is associated with the sun, light, and fire and is commonly used as an offering to the gods of those elements.

Calendula has been used by many ancient societies in both culinary and medicinal ways. In the Middle Ages, it became popular with Europeans who nicknamed it “Mary-Gold,” dedicated to the Virgin Mary, which is possibly where the common name pot marigold came from.

It is often included during winter solstice celebrations as a reminder of the return of the sun and light. In magical and witchcraft circles, calendula is used in spells for prosperity, luck, love, dreams, truth, and confidence. Garlands of calendula hung in doorways are thought to ward off back luck and energies.

Calendula officinalis’s long and varied history of use in all areas of life highlights its powerful nature. For those many reasons, along with how easy it is to grow, I’ll never stop singing the praises of it and encourage all garden lovers to give it a chance!