Thursday, 22 September 2011

Poor lasses saffron - Calendula officinalis

Through the wind and rain splattered windows, the Calendula (Pot or English Marigold) petals watched the world woosh past at 40 MPH. Gales again today, bring on the autumn exquinox and our magical disapearing leaves act which happens every year in Orkney, just about now. Maybe when our tree leaves end up in Norway, Iceland or wherever they get to, they become all autumnal and beautiful. It certainly only happens here for a few species who obviously by slealth hold on to their leaves better and do manage a bit of colour! Anyway back to the Calendula, I love the plant - very easy to grow, self seeds, excellent cut flower with a million other uses too, well maybe not a million but you get the idea, versatile. Culpepper (in 1653) wrote of it being almost as effective as saffron (for the treatment of small pox and measles) who would have known, eh? Thankfully we don't need it for that nowardays.,.......!
Calendula officinalis - the  'officinalis' in the name often given to plants with a medicinal use
With severe gales forecast a few days back, (again) out came the scissors and snipity snap the marigolds/calendula had their autumn hair cut. This was done in the wind, comedic in the extreme - if I'd positioned my bucket in the right location I'm sure I could have cut the flower head and it would have nicely flung itself into the goal. However, being a bit of a woose (frightened) I clutched bucket between knees whilst cutting and cursed everytime one flower got away to the other side of the garden. NO photographs, I know, shockingly bad effort isn't it? But bucket between knees, hat tied on head tightly, holding yourself at 45 degrees in the wind, trying to cut a flower head which looks like its moshing to heavy metal music didn't leave a free hand for that 'bound to be out of focus shot' so we photographed indoors. And here we go the petals which I've taken off the main flower head - the whole flower head can be a bit bitter, but the petals are what we really want - so just play a game of  'he/she (use as appropriate) loves me, he/she loves me not' merrily depetaling your flowers. Don't they look gorgeous?
Why such extreme effort in harvesting a few flower heads. Well first off the wind would have done for them and they are one of the few things I've grown in the garden this year. I've read that Mrs Greives in her modern herbal thought of it highly (in 1931)  about using the dried petals of these flowers as a saffron substitute. Record of the plant went back a long way. If good enough for them, poor lasses saffron will do, dead right for me. After that I've been hooked, if theres one flower I'd ever put into any garden which is worth its weight in effort its marigolds (fab more 'modern' link there to a  brilliant plant use database (bible) which I use a lot). 

The Calendula flowers imbide a beatitful honey like taste to cakes and cooking, make a lovely tea, so having used up all of last years meagre stash, I'm drying a lot more this year (you need more than saffron to get the same effect). They can also be used for a fair few cosmetic purposes from imbiding more beautiful tones to red hair (excellent when I go even greyer) and can make great salves (mixed with beeswax) and potions, which are brilliant for the dim witted gardener (like me) who always needs to heal things. Whilst almost all of the plant (leaves included) are edible, (excellent vitamin contents) the taste (of the leaves) to my mind is a bit sweet but salty - which is how they describe it on PFAF. He's a clever chap.
Now with all good experimenting - I initiated drying in a big wooden platter, in a very airy sunny dining room. But whilst it was OK, and looked fab - I had been very exhuberant in my collecting and I've a fair few petals trying to dry. Time for a rethink.

Its an annual  plant, grows in poor soil and in just about any aspect, spreading nicely. However my own one at work on my veggie bed, didn't appear to know its an annual and went through the winter (never seen that before) and was flowering like a crazy deranged beast from late live and learn. The latin for Calendula is derived from the fact elsewhere in sunny climes this plant is supposed to be in flower every calender month - or so Linnaeus thought....(please excuse the links, but the man was a genius - OK I'm a plant taxonomist in disguise.........blame RBGE and OMG I'm on their front page for that can you find me, we were plant collecting in Belize - wierd!)

I've now digressed completely, sorry its fun to look back on earlier growing, and all the lovely info about the plant, but I really need to get back to the drying experiment......

Hmmmmm, now the day after I picked these and left them to dry on the big platter, I'd been doing a shift to fill in for the lovely person who looks after our recycling site steptOZe yard, in the local town. I'd spied a jumper drier in there and hadn't thought much of it. However as the week went on and my petals became a bit sulky at not having enough room to sunbathe properly and dry themselves, I had a eureka moment. A jumper drier - all holes and flat with airy bits - hmmm - think petal drier. Popped to the yard, gave a donation and low and behold my own recycled (don't I feel noble too) petal drier..............................perfect.
Poor lasses saffron - Calendula officinalis
The petals instantly breathed a sigh of releif able to stretch and dry out nicely for me. Brilliant. A bit more recycling and lateral thinking go the perfect thing for the job. I'm really looking forward to using them once they are dry. I've a few recipes for salves, hand scrubs, and of course cooking. But if anyone has anymore I'd happily be advised. The drying calendula are drying nicely, colour is darkening and they are placed on their new drying rack on the table outside the calendula bed which is looking quite battered and broken. It may hang on a bit...............its a hardy little brute. As I do a bit of experimenting with salves and teas and cakes and saffron substitutes I'll update with the results from the good life lab, only fair to share after all.

Remember though if you're not sure what you're about to munch, don't do it. I'm always canny about that one. If in doubt at all, ask someone who knows, or don't eat it if you can't identify it. No dicky tummies on my watch. More about PFAF (Plants for a Future) a most excellent resource of all things botanical based in the UK.


  1. Maybe your leaves reached us in northern Sweden. There always seemed to be just too many scattered over the garden after a blow! Our neighbour used to moan (nicely!) about the fact most of our blew across onto her garden, which she religiously cleared up each Autumn! I'd no idea the humble Marigold had so many uses. Interesting stuff.

  2. They looks so beautiful. I had no idea they were so useful too. Great drying rack, you could use it for garlic too?

  3. That drying rack will come in useful for a number of things I'm sure. Garlic and other bulbs could take a spin on there as well as herbs.

  4. Yes that drying frame was a coup of the first order! I've never used calendula petals-- next year. At least I know it is a flower I can grow!

  5. I enjoyed this post. I wish I had known that marigolds could be used to make "saffron" a few weeks ago when they were in their prime. Marigolds are the most prolific self-seeders in my garden.

  6. Yer actual, that made me laugh, we've all got our own problems! Humble flower indeed, beautiful.

    Janet, drying garlic, now that's a great idea, marguerites so right, thank you both. Herbs too....

    Linnew you can grow it too, awesome - bargain the drying thing, and I'm hoping it will be really useful.....:-)

  7. B-a-g I love that they do that too :-) really beautiful, simple easy flower. What more can we need?

  8. Ooo, I love calendula! I have a big patch of it in my garden, the sunny flowers always cheer me up! I don't dry them on such an epic scale though (I really should do, I love adding the petals to scones & cakes. The jumper drier looks really useful too!
    All the best

  9. I've thoroughly enjoyed this post and learning that marigold can be used as saffron.

    I've used a variety of petals in cakes before as edible decour, but did not know that this one could be an excllent version of saffron, albeit a poor persons sub for saffron. I am bookmarking this recipe for sure, thank you so much for sharing x