Gray January days are normal in Western Washington. And you could get depressed if it weren’t for Nature dealing with the gray in her own very subtle ways. Such as an incredible array of shades of green. Or … well, have a look into your garden or your neighbor’s. Because I’m pretty sure somewhere there is a dash of hope for spring already. Like these little buddies that have been blossoming well into the beginning of January in mine, took a short break, and are putting their own little sunshine into my garden bed just now!
Calendula is a miraculous little flower indeed. And once you have it planted somewhere in your garden, it spreads all by itself. It belongs to the marigold family, and its flowers are actually edible. Which is why they are sometimes used for salads or as saffron ersatz. (Not that I ever tried them myself.) They are also used to dye dairy products such as butter or cheese. But this specific kind of marigold, Calendula officinalis, has also medical powers. A friend of mine actually used to come and gather as many of the sticky little wilted flowerheads as she could whenever I told here there were a bunch. As far as I know she used to make an ointment from this.
In the late Middle Ages, calendula was used for ailments of the eyes, but also against poisoning (I wonder what kind of poisoning that might have been …) and even the pest – we know how well that went. But modern medicine discovered its real effects and has long since made use of them. Actually, the homeopathic industry has long been using calendulae to inhibit inflammation to heal wounds. Internally, it has been used against gastric ulcers. So, basically the flower is used for tisanes, essences and tinctures, extracts and ointments. And probably people more adept with household remedies have a lot more purposes for this tiny flower that is often just taken for granted in a garden, as it sprouts like weed.
Just for the fun of it I checked some websites about calendula officinalis, as usually with healing plants you have a lot of old folklore coming along. And indeed – who would have thought what kind of magic this specific kind of marigold is said to be able to perform?!
Farmers used calendula for weather forecasts. I don’t think that is too much of a coincidence. Calendula derives from the Latin word “calenda” and means, you may have already guessed it, “little calendar” or “little clock”. If the blossom didn’t open between six or seven in the morning, there would be rain. Though, if you picked a calendula, you might cause a thunderstorm. Literally. I try to imagine this and I wonder how anybody could come up with such a story. Fascinating, right?
Allegedly, calendula officinalis is also used for predicting whether you are loved by somebody. Yes, indeed, I always thought it was a daisy that would do the job, but it’s the marigold that really tells you whether “(s)he loves me, loves me not”. No wonder I was failed by the daisies. And there are some recipes for ointments not further specified that – provided you pray to St. Luke in addition – are said to make you dream of your great love.
Anybody who has read my book “Wordless Wishes” will of course have wondered whether the Victorian flower language also applies to our little garden flower. And indeed, it does. Marigolds in general stand for passion and creativity. Depending on what kind of marigold you look at and which country you are from, they can mean anything from patience or simplicity to jealousy and grief. (Which tells me you better know the mindset and the cultural background of the sender of marigolds until you even begin to interpret their message.)
Looking at my little flowers in my front yard, I feel that ordinary as they look, they come with some mighty stories. And with a big message: Spring is just around the corner. In a way that teaches me never to underestimate the tiny things in life.