Weeding Our Neighbor’s Garden, Part 1 (Calendula)

Our friends who happen to live behind us (see very first blog entry) have a ‘weed’ problem in their vegetable garden. We need Calendula for our homemade salves, lotions and lip balms but have a hard time growing it. What does one thing have to do with the other? Everything. Each year as the rains fall in our gardens we all get edible, useful and medicinal plants without even trying.

For a hundred years or so our two houses have been here and our backyards have been joined. Over that span of time much of our topsoil has been washed by rain into our friend’s backyard down slope . We are left with clay soil filled with river-rolled pebbles (and lots of broken glass). Many years of compost has now been added to our soil but it has a long way to go to match the silty soil next door. With the two different soil types we get different types of weeds.

I’ve planted Calendula officinalis (pot marigold) in our garden over the years and it grows but doesn’t thrive. Next door, no one plants the smaller, wilder Calendula arvensis (field marigold) and it happily grows everywhere without effort.

Each year before they pull it out to give their veggies some room I go over with my basket and harvest. This year I had help. The kids happily dove into the process. At first there was talk of spiders and bees and ladybugs and then eventually silence. They were engrossed. “Snip, snip”, “buzzzzzz…..”.

As we were finishing up our friend came home with his little daughter. She saw us and quickly grabbed her big plastic ‘trick or treat’ jack o’ lantern and began filling it with the small orange flowers. Her Dad pitched in saying, “You remember that oil you like? It comes from these flowers”. Then, with baskets brimming with color we finished the harvest. “Look! The sun is in our baskets!” one of them said. Sure enough. They glowed like they were lit from within. Our hands sticky and smelling of warm Calendula we headed back to the house to prep the flowers for drying.

We then laid the flowers out on trays for drying in the greenhouse. We really just needed them wilted and not completely dried. Because we were putting them directly into olive oil and not storing them for use at a later time we just needed a lot of the moisture out to keep the oil from spoiling. The warmth of the greenhouse had them ready in no time.

We got out a big Mason jar and packed it with our flowers. Olive oil was poured over the flowers so that it covered about a half an inch above the flower level. We checked it later and the flowers had absorbed the oil so we had to top it off. I keep the jar in the side of our old oven where I store my cast iron pans. That way it gets warm from the pilot light in the other side and I can check it each day when I get out a pan. In June the kids and I will strain out the flowers and make our favorite Calendula Healing Salve. They put it on all of their bumps and scratches. One of the girls uses it for her eczema. I’ve given it to friends with babies and they swear it’s the instant cure for diaper rash. I use it every night on my lips before bed. Its magic.

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