We value beauty for its own sake, yet many colorful flowers have much to offer beyond their good looks. Some can be used medicinally, others are good to eat, and many provide food and habitat for beneficial insects. Some flowers are threatened by habitat destruction just like birds and other wild things, so growing flowers is simply a good idea. Give multipurpose flowers a bit of space in your garden and prepare to be amazed at what medicinal flowers can do for your health, your palate and your spirits.
Medicinal Flowers: Amazing Annuals
Annuals are flowers that grow from seed to bloom and produce seed in the course of one growing season. Annuals often bloom for a longer period of time than winter-hardy perennials and will do well in new soil that has been dug and amended with organic matter. You can sow the seeds of these plants directly in the garden.
If you’re a new gardener unsure of which little green things are weeds and which plants are flowers, you also can sow some seeds indoors in a small container and use the seedlings as visual guides. These annuals, as well as the perennials discussed later, bloom best if they receive at least six hours of sun each day. See “Woodland Wonders” later in this article, if your planting plans are limited by shade.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
Whether you prefer your calendulas orange, yellow or somewhere in between, all are easy to grow in cool weather and bloom for weeks or months if you remove seed heads before they mature. Many cooks snip a few calendula petals into eggs or rice as “poor man’s saffron,” and chickens fed calendula flowers lay eggs with darker yellow yolks. Calendulas make great cut flowers, but their greatest use may be as topical oils or creams for burned or injured skin. In a recent study of 254 breast cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy, calendula ointment proved superior to the most widely used prescription product for preventing radiation burns. These latest findings are among a growing number of studies that validate calendula’s ability to help heal injured skin.
Want to make your own calendula first-aid oil? Molly Bunton of Molly’s Herbals in Mooresburg, Tenn., suggests drying the blossoms first, then combining them with olive or almond oil in a blender (2 ounces dried blossoms per 1 cup oil). Put the lumpy mixture in clean jars and keep them on a hot, sunny windowsill for two to three weeks, shaking them daily. Pour the infused mixture into a cloth bag and squeeze out the oil. Let the oil settle for a few days before straining it through good-quality paper towels. Bunton suggests keeping it from going rancid by squeezing the contents of one natural vitamin E capsule into every 4 ounces of the oil.