Friday, February 18, 2011

Calendula officinalis

"The yellow leaves of the flowers are dried and kept throughout Dutchland against winter to put into broths, physicall potions and for divers other purposes, in such quantity that in some Grocers or Spicesellers are to be found barrels filled with them and retailed by the penny or less, insomuch that no broths are well made without dried Marigold." ~The Countrie Farme

I grew and dried a lot of calendula last year.

In The Earthwise Herbal Matthew Wood writes, "As an 'immune tonic' European peasants gathered the flowers throughout the year and threw them in soups in the fall and winter to warm and protect against wind and chill. In this regard it is an analog to astragulus. It prepares for the stress of winter by removing old lymphatic congestion and lingering infections."

Being of sturdy, European peasant stock myself, I see no reason not to reclaim this old tradition, so I keep a jar of dried flowers in the kitchen pantry. It is such a pleasure to stand at the stove in bleak midwinter and pluck bright orange petals and meditatively toss them into the pot.

Last night the petals went into a squash and pasta dish, along with garden grown sage, rosemary, thyme and garlic. I added crumbled stinging nettle leaves too. The squash I got at the farmer's market last fall. It has kept so well for months. The oyster mushrooms were grown locally. The onions came from somewhere in Quebec. The brown rice pasta came from far, far away. I do the best I can.

Point is, I really enjoy cooking this way. By with what is available. Not by what is dictated in a recipe. It stretches my imagination and makes me creative. I cook by feel and sight. Is that the start of soft spot on the delicata squash? It's on the menu tonight. I scan my shelves and see a flash of colours. Orange, green, yellow, purple. Use me! the jars say. Yes! I respond.

This morning more calendula was added to stinging nettle and red clover flowers, this time for an herbal infusion. It will steep all day today and later I will have a nutrient rich drink targeted to my lymphatic and immune system.

I love when the lines between food and medicine blur and disappear. In fact, why we're so hell bent on isolating and separating the two, I'll never understand.

All the herbs mentioned here are easy to grow (or forage for in the case of nettles and clover). Containers on a sunny windowsill or balcony will serve if you don't have a patch of land. If you're planning your garden for this season, I highly recommend growing calendula.

(Awesome food photos I do not take. I live in a dim basement and my camera is a hand-me-down (for which I'm most grateful) pocket sized affair, whose most notable feature is that it is hot, metallic pink. Whatevs. This isn't Saveur or Food and Drink. However, if there were such a thing as smell-o-net and taste-o-net, I'd win you over with that pasta dish. It was tasty!)


risa said...

How timely; I knew I would be drying calendulas this year, and now I know why! :)

Amber said...

Hi Risa! Calendula is such pretty and cheerful flower 'to strengthen and comfort the hart', with sooo many uses as food and medicine. Every household should have some! I'm sure you will enjoy yours.

Pamela said...

I bought a calendula plant... one lonely plant, at the Lansdowne market last spring. I thought it was just so darned pretty, I decided to collect the seeds for the 2011 garden. I wanted a huge patch of the flowers.

Not that natural beauty is not a good enough justification for growing the flowers, but this winter I discovered this was not just a pretty flower! WHOOOOOOHOOOOOOOO!!!

I agree that relaxing the line between medicine and food seems pretty reasonable. Over a year ago, the kids convinced me to get farmer's honey instead of white sugar. Amazingly, last summer -- not one allergy pill was needed!