Calendula is not the prettiest flower ever; not the most graceful of shapes, just a mere daisy. A somewhat weedy, sprawling habit, a cheerful color that veers dangerously close to garish, though some might call it, more fondly, cheerful. Though it is now bred in a rainbow of paler, more refined colors, its essential nature is a brilliant monotone of florescent tangerine orange, without shading or subtlety; an open floral disc that allows pollinators easy access to pollen, surrounded by rays of bright, slender petals. It reseeds generously but not generally to the point of becoming invasive. It comes up early in the year, often on its own, from a seedbank replenished every summer the flowers are allowed to set seed. It is a low, common blessing, whose medicinal properties have been known and celebrated for centuries.
Despite the raucous color scheme, the medicinal qualities of this plant, and particularly the flower, are meant to soothe. One of our favorite ways to use this plant is also one of the simplest, a slow infusion of flowers into oil. Over time, the green-gold olive oil picks up more and more of the warm orange glow of the calendula flowers, until the jar of oil becomes a warm, rich color, like the thick golden light that hangs over a mountain range at sunset. Like honeycomb held up the the sun, dripping. This oil is a vital piece of color therapy, as it infuses on the counter; I always leave mine near the bathtub as it infuses, so I can take in that warm, deepening color as I bathe. Brilliant flowers floating in golden oil, a practical and aesthetic bit of self-care decor. Just looking at it seems to soothe. Having it near the tub means that I can always pour off an ounce or two into the bathwater, to check on the progress of the infusion, especially after a long day of being in the sun.
Yes, the weather is warming, and the hours spent in the sun, whether that be in gardens, mountains, or beaches, is also on the rise. While it feels so good to soak in all that rich Vitamin D after a winter of gray pining, sometimes, in these early days of the year, especially, we forget ourselves, and wind up with a skin that turns another, less desirable shade of sunset hue; redder, less golden and more lobster red. Calendula comes to the rescue, smooth and soothing, slippery and healing, a golden balm for too much sun. Aloe cools and soothes, but calendula helps the skin to heal and mend. She is also a wonderful herb for healing other skin ailments, soothing irritated skin and helping scars to heal. A recent blast of liquid nitrogen was applied to a spot on my nose whose cells were behaving badly; I applied calendula oil to the sore spot, and soon it was gone, healed back over, as smooth as I can expect it to be, after all these years spent outside, under the bright sun of this world.
With my hands in the dirt, I weed around calendula, using the hori-hori digging knife to pluck weed roots and grasses from the soil. While calendula is a tough little cookie of a plant, I like to clear the denser growth from around her, so she can soak up the sunshine that she will later help our skin to heal from. She is worth that small offering of effort, though she might survive just fine without weeding. I am grateful to calendula for her unassuming ways, for her generous production of flowers. She does not put on airs, she does not pretend to be what she is not. She will not stop your heart with her beauty, but in her care, your own beautiful skin is restored, soothed and healed, knit back together, reminded but not blinded by of the warmth of summer sun.
When the dirt is cleared around a single, sprawling, blooming calendula, I spread used straw bedding around the base of the plant, to feed and soothe her roots as she feeds and soothes our skin. This is a vital relationship, this connection between kingdoms, a reciprocal cycle of care and appreciation. We nourish each other, we soothe and are soothed. We make space, we heal, we take time, we are grateful. Sometimes in this fast-paced world, we miss that connection, or get to thinking that we can buy it, or facilitate others to create it for us. There are plenty of calendula oil products on the shelves, intimating an extension of youthful suppleness, often positioned as a restorative serum that heals and disguises ge, pollution, and sun damage. Calendula has these properties, and whether you buy the salve off the pharmacy shelf, or grow and make your own, the medicinal benefits are real and appreciable, if not miraculous. But the slower, deeper, truer medicine comes from relationship. Even if you do not pluck and dry and infuse the flowers in oil. Even if you do not grow the plant yourself from seed. If you are drawn to products containing calendula oil, or drawn to the cheerful, garish color of her blooms, if you have known or loved or used calendula oil, take a moment sometime to thank her. If you are not in the habit of talking to plants, do not worry, I assure you that it gets easier. You don't even have to say the words out loud, but you can think them in your head. Just try it, and soon you will drop self-consciousness, you will stop feeling silly or not good enough or awkward. Just thank her. Run your hands on her bright, unassuming petals, her rough, plain, vigorous leaves. Run your thumb over the center rays, feel the velvet texture and smell the grassy, herbal oils. Tell her thank you. Tell her you see her. Tell her you appreciate how she shines, how she gives, how she lets go, how she helps us heal. Tell her yourself, and see how it feels to speak those words in your heart.
Happy Mother's Day, to everyone that came from a mother, and special thanks to all the good Moms out there. May you all enjoy a bath, may you allow yourselves to be celebrated and soothed and delighted in.
By Jessica Tunis