Flowers always make people better,
happier, and more helpful:
they are sunshine, food and
medicine to the soul.
After the post on how and why to grow Calendula, many of you asked for tips on processing the abundance of fresh flowers. So today we will learn how to harvest, preserve, and infuse this amazing medicinal plant…and tomorrow we should probably talk about recipes!
Harvesting Flowers and Seed
In order to harvest Calendula flowers and petals for medicine making, it’s best to pick them at their peak — and pick them frequently. Begin harvesting the Calendula as soon as the first flowers open fully and then continue throughout the spring and summer season.
Trust me when I say…you can’t pick these often enough, the more flowers you pick, the more flowers your plant will produce. Usually — in ideal growing conditions and peak season — this means you should be harvesting every 3-4 days.
Harvest mid-day, when the flowers and foliage are dry, and after the dew from the morning has evaporated. Then cut the stems, as close to the flower head as possible.
Remember: You really can’t over pick these flowers! Harvesting the beautiful flower heads forces the plant to send out more buds. In fact, under harvesting will cause the flower heads to go to seed and stop producing quickly.
If you don’t harvest the flowers they will dry and wilt on their own and then you will see the flower head start going to seed pretty fast. There are a couple different options at this point:
- Collect the flower heads. If you are attempting to control the spread of the plant in your garden, you’ll want to collect the flower heads. Otherwise, Calendula will reseed itself and spread rapidly throughout the garden. When collecting the seeds, allow them to turn brown. Don’t gather the green ones! Let them to dry on the plant, but watch them carefully. I love to collect the seeds and give them as gifts.
- Allow the seeds to do what the will. In my garden, I have allowed nature to control the process. I prefer this method, as the stray plants are easy to pull from the ground, and it hasn’t been that difficult to maintain. Over the years — by allowing the flowers to reseed on their own — my Calendula garden keeps getting better and better.
Just as we preserve (i.e. can, dehydrate, freeze) and store common foodstuffs — we must learn to preserve medicinal herbs and flowers. Drying, tincturing, and freezing are all effective methods of preserving herbs and flowers.
Drying Calendula is the most common way to preserve the medicinal properties of the flower. Not to mention, harvesting and preserving Calendula during the spring and summer, when the flowers are in abundance, will help keep your costs low throughout the year.
Here are your tips:
- Upon harvesting the flowers, bring them indoors — away from direct sunlight.
- Do NOT wash the flower heads.
- It’s good to dry in small batches, immediately after harvest.
- Dry in a dark, well-ventilated space by spreading the heads out on a drying screen (i.e. an old window screen), cheesecloth, or re-purposed sheet. Note: Using a dehydrator is an option so long as the temperature does not exceed 95 degrees fahrenheit as Calendula is heat sensitive.
- Store the dried flowers — once they are crispy dry — in air-tight glass containers.
- Keep the flowers as whole as possible and store them in a cool, dry, and dark place. They will keep fresh approximately 6 months.
Calendula-infused oils are an excellent way to utilize all of the powerful healing properties that are contained within the plant. It promotes the regeneration of new tissue, and provides soothing relief for damaged or injured skin when used in lotions, creams, and salves.
The best part is, making a Calendula-infused oil is about as simple a project as it gets — it almost makes itself. To prepare the infusion follow these simple steps:
1. Choose your menstrum, or base. Basically, you need to choose an oil. A variety of good quality oils work well with Calendula. I love a nice, organic olive oil, but sunflower, sweet almond, grapeseed, apricot, and jojoba are all great too. It just depends how you will use the oil and the properties you’re looking for. Generally olive and sunflower are good in salves. As sweet almond, grapeseed, apricot, and jojoba are wonderful for creams and lotions.
2. Choose your infusion method:
- Cold Infusion or the Sun Method
Place the dried flowers in a glass mason jar — enough to come a few inches below the rim of the jar — and then cover them with a good quality oil (i.e. olive, grape seed, jojoba, almond). Stir to combine well, and allow oil and herb mixture to steep for 4-6 weeks in a warm, sun-lit area — shake daily. Note: This is the preferred method due to the delicate nature of Calendula.
- Hot Oil Extract
In a hurry? Prepare a glass jar just as above, then place the jar in a pot on the stove, or in a crock pot, filled with a few inches of water on lowest setting (Be sure to put a towel on the bottom of the pot.). Infuse the oil and herbs on a super low setting for 4-8 hours, a day, or up to 3 days. Note: Watch the pot and add water as it evaporates.
3. Strain. Once the infusion period is complete, strain the oil and plant material through a cheesecloth or tea towel. Fear not, there will always be some sediment from the Calendula flowers…it’s natural and good.
4. Add a “preservative.” I know that word has a negative feel, but I’m not talking about crazy chemicals here 🙂 Adding a little vitamin E oil (which adds nourishing properties), benzoin essential oils, or grapefruit seed extract will work to naturally ward off any mold or such. Note: This is not absolutely necessary…especially if you will be using the oil soon after infusion. A good Calendula infused oil should keep, without added preservatives for up to a year.
5. Label and date your jars. I always say I’m going to remember and I never do, so I’ve learned to date and label my jars upon shelving them.
And there we have it!
Looking for products mentioned in this post? Mountain Rose Herbs is my go-to for all my herbal and essential oil needs!
Please share your tips and experiences with harvesting, preserving and infusing Calendula! Or are you new to the whole thing? Are you ready to try it this season? What questions do you have?