The calendula (Calendula officinalis) is a hardy annual with single or double daisy-like blooms of yellow or orange. The 3- to 4-inch flowers open with the sun and close at night, leading the Victorians to believe they could set a clock by the flower. The name "calendula" is from the same Latin word as "calendar," presumably because the flower was in bloom almost every month of the year.
The Anglo-Saxon name for the flower was "ymbglidegold," meaning "it turns with the sun." Calendula has also been called pot marigold and English marigold. It has a long association with the Virgin Mary and is called "Mary-bud" or "Mary-gold" (though it is no relation to French or African marigolds, which are in the Tagetes family). In his play "The Winter's Tale," Shakespeare refers to the plant as "the winking Mary-buds."
The ancient Egyptians used the calendula's petals for healing. In the Middle Ages the plant was recommended for indigestion and for healing bruises and burns. It was used as a treatment for smallpox and measles, and so much of the flower was grown in the Soviet Union that it was known as "Russian penicillin."
Use During War
Calendula was used by U.S. Civil War surgeons to stop bleeding and heal wounds. In her book "In an Herb Garden", author Annie Burnham Carter tells about how during World War I, the famous English gardener Gertrude Jekyll "gave a field on her estate for the exclusive cultivation of pot marigolds ... the flowers which bloomed there were sent in great quantities to France to be used in dressings for the wounded."
As a Kitchen Herb
Calendula has long been used in the kitchen to season broths and salads and to flavor wine. Petals of calendula were used to color cheese and were substituted for the much more expensive ingredient saffron. An infusion of the yellow petals served as a healing compress, a dye, facial cleanser and hair rinse.
Calendula is the birth flower for the month of October. In the language of flowers, the calendula signifies grief, because the flower mourns the departure of the sun as it closes its petals each afternoon. During Victorian times, its implied message was one of sorrow and sympathy and a way to say "My thoughts are with you."