I’ve been growing calendula for years. I love its vibrant orange color, its slightly repellent smell, and its semi-sticky foliage. Although the more distant relatives, the marigolds, have similar properties (and some key differences), Calendula can withstand cooler temperatures, whereas the more traditional French Marigolds cannot.
A harbinger of warm weather, Calendula is a timely reminder to get the spring garden planted. I can’t imagine a late winter garden without the cultivated variety of calendula (Calendula officinalis), which I allow to seed wherever it can take hold in my backyard. Yet, I’ve had my fill of the diminutive wild cousin (Calendula arvensis). Like others in the Asteraceae family, this composite flower is a sneaky seed spreader. This season, it has completely taken over the school garden!
I challenged my after school ecokids to solve this weed problem. They formed teams of four, and devised a plan to pick as much Calendula as they could in a set amount of time. I showed them how to sever only the flower heads from the stems as not to disturb the microbial network below the soil. They worked fastidiously to gather hundreds of the tiny flowers, creatively using tools and vessels they found in the garden. After at least 30 straight minutes, I gathered them together for the weigh in.
First, I demonstrated what a balanced and calibrated produce scale looks like. Next, we selected one bucket to use for the weighing. After placing it on the scale, we recalibrated it. The first team used the paper that lined their collecting tray as a funnel and filled the bucket halfway. The kids were surprised that it only weighed 8 ounces! They were even more surprised that every team picked the nearly the same amount. We had a lively discussion about whether or not it made a difference if some teams picked stems (it didn’t) and calculated how many ounces per person (two). We reflected on strategies that made teamwork more or less successful. Then, we talked about how Calendula can be used.
Although Calendula is edible, its uses are more medicinal than culinary. Ever since wild calendula started showing up in the garden, one creative teacher has been making a topical salve. Aged in shelf-stable oil, mixed with melted shea butter and beeswax, and infused with essential oil, it makes an antiseptic for bug bites or burns. This year, she taught the school garden committee the recipe and they can’t wait to try it themselves!