Summer is a busy and a beloved time for any herbalist - the plants are out in full force and it is time to garden, grow, harvest, process and preserve the abundance of fresh herbs for use throughout the rest of the year. It is a time that I always eagerly await, but it is also a season that passes very quickly. Many plants have a short window of time that is optimal for harvesting, and even if I plan on collecting certain herbs, sometimes I don’t get to everything on my list. The rhythm of the seasons is an important teacher, and I always keep in mind the line of poetry, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying….”
To help you gather your rosebuds and other delightful plants while they are still in their prime, here is a quick list of five of my favorite herbs to collect and use at this time of year. Take a look around your neighborhood and see if you can spot any of these wild or cultivated beauties:
Red Clover blooms abundantly throughout the summertime. Look for flowers that are vibrantly colored, and skip those that look wilted or tired. To dry, place the blossoms on a window screen so that airflow can reach all sides of the flower; also make sure the flowers do not touch one another. Use dried red clover blossoms in nourishing tea blends; it mixes well with other herbs like nettles, burdock or dandelion.
Calendula is a prolific garden bloomer throughout the whole growing season, hence it’s name, which relates to its ability to flower in every calendar year (if grown in a warm environment). Collect the flower tops when they are freshly opened, and be sure to keep the resin-filled green sepals which surround the petals. Save dried calendula flowers to throw into your fall and winter soups for an immune-supportive addition.
Mugwort can be found growing in disturbed areas and along roadsides (but be sure to avoid collecting near traffic-laden roads.) Clip the tall stalks so that you are harvesting the upper third of the plant. The best time to collect mugwort is right before its very tiny flower buds open. Hang a bundle of the stalks upside down to dry. Use mugwort leaves in bedtime teas to stimulate vivid dreams (really!), or blend with herbs like mint, sage and fennel for a nice digestive tea.
Mullein is another wild-growing plant, and one of my favorites. I love spotting its fuzzy leaves and tall, majestic stalks throughout the cityscape. Collect the basal leaves from first or second year plants (mullein is a biennial), or patiently collect the lovely yellow flowers as they emerge. The leaves can be dried on a screen or on brown paper bags and used in an old-fashioned steam to support respiratory health. The flowers are traditionally infused in oil to alleviate ear aches.
Dandelion leaves can be collected throughout the growing season. As the summer wears on, the leaves will become more and more bitter, but I find them delicious at any time of year. You can either harvest fresh dandelion leaves to dry and use for tea or you can incorporate them into your food. I love to sautee fresh dandy leaves with some onion as a lovely and nutritious side dish.
If you are new to harvesting herbs here are a few tips to get you started:
I hope these tips inspire you to do some of your own herb harvesting this season. I’d love to hear what you are collecting - please be in touch! To learn more, consider joining me in one of my upcoming herbal classes. Happy harvesting!
Medicinal Plants and Herbs (Peterson Field Guides) by S. Foster & James A. Duke
Edible Wild Plants (Peterson Field Guides) by Lee Allen Peterson
A City Herbal by Maida Silverman
Edible and Medicinal Plants by Steve Brill
Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast by Peter del Tredici
Calendula is a quintessential summertime herb – its flowering reaches its peak during the warmest months, and its orange and yellow blossoms look like small suns. Which is exactly why calendula is such an agreeable herb for this time of year, when we all could do with a bit more sunshine, warmth, and color amidst our dark New England days. In the depths of winter, calendula flowers are a saving grace with their brightly colored petals, and their virtues steeped in hot cups of tea.
Like many of our commonly used herbs, Calendula officinalis originates from the Mediterranean region. But due to its hardy temperament, abundant seeding habits, and lovely flowers, it is grown wherever there are gardeners and herbalists familiar with its qualities. Its genus name Calendula relates to its prolific blooming habits, where in the right climate, could produce flowers in every calendar month. Although it is technically an annual plant, this past fall I brought my potted calendula inside to continue its growth under grow-lights, and it has continued to amaze me with its vigor. It has put on new growth and bloomed throughout the whole winter, showing no signs of letting up.
The second part of its scientific name, officinalis, denotes that it is a plant that has an established history of use in herbal medicine. Indeed, calendula is still known and loved for its healing qualities by the modern herbalist. As a lymphatic herb, it stimulates lymphatic drainage, and increases the elimination of waste products from the body. A healthy lymphatic system corresponds to a strong immune system, which is especially important during a long winter, when we are all more prone to colds and flu. Last winter, for instance, I experienced a long-lasting cold that I just could not seem to shake. I took elderberry syrup and rosehip tea, drank bone broths and chicken soup, and slept a lot. But this time, I felt that something else was needed… So I turned to my herb cabinet to locate some summer-dried calendula flowers and steeped them for a long while in a pot of water on my stove. I drank this dark-hued, golden tea, feeling as if it were liquid sunshine, a brew so strong it was almost bitter. My body seemed happy for it, the cold went away shortly, and indeed my mood – after a few melancholic days – lifted.
It was a ray of light during a time of sickness and the winter blues.
Calendula mixes nicely with other herbs, but I would recommend trying it on its own first. Or, you can add a handful of the flower heads to pots of soup or broth as it simmers, which is a traditional way to boost the immunity during the winter months.
Beyond its internal applications, calendula is also renowned for its use as a topical wound healer and balm for the skin. The orange petals have been shown to help wounds heal faster, and increase blood flow and oxygen to the damaged area, helping the body grow new tissue. It has been used with great success as an infused oil or salve in cases of skin inflammation and eczema. A poultice or balm of calendula petals can also help reduce the pain of insect stings and swelling.
If you are growing calendula in your garden, save the dried seeds in the fall to sow the following spring. In the summer harvest the newly-opened and vibrant flower heads and notice the sticky resin covering the calyx, where much of its medicinal goodness resides. Dry these flowers on a screen or on brown paper bags for a few days until completely dry, then store in a glass jar out of the sunlight to use throughout the autumn and winter months. It’s like bottling up the energy of the summer sun to use during darker days.
How to Use:
To make a simple Calendula tea, steep 1 Tblsp. of the dried flowers in one mug of boiled water, covered, for at least 10 minutes. Strain and drink.
To use Calendula in soups or broths, simply add a handful of the dried flower blossoms to any broth or stock that you are making and allow the petals to infuse while the broth is cooking for at least an hour. Strain and use in any soup recipe.
Please Note: Calendula is a member of the Aster (Asteraceae) plant family, which may cause allergic reactions in some people. If you are allergic to Chamomile or other Aster plants, use calendula with caution.
Winter Gladness Tea
This is a perfect mid-winter blend, because it is uplifting, gently aromatic, and full of cheery colors! Sometimes I will add in other herbs such as elderberries or orange peel, but the basic recipe is below - use it as is, or get creative and adjust to your own taste.
This recipe will make 8 - 10 servings.
4 Tbsp. Holy Basil
2 Tbsp. Rose Petals
1 Tbsp. Hibiscus
1 Tbsp. Rosehips
1 Tbsp. Calendula
Use 1/2 - 1 Tablespoon of this tea blend per mug of hot water. Let steep at least 10 minutes, covered. Strain and add honey if desired.
Calendula & Rose Skin Salve
Adding beeswax to an infused calendula and rose oil creates a beautiful salve that can be used topically on dry, winter hands, minor cuts, or patches of eczema. If you add essential oils to your blend you can also create a wonderfully aromatic salve that makes for a lovely gift.
There are a few different methods for making infused herbal oils, but the crockpot method is my favorite and seems to produce the best oil extractions.
1 cup dried calendula flowers
1 cup dried rose flowers (pink or red)
3 cups organic olive oil (or other cold-pressed oil)
~ ¾ cup beeswax pellets
Place the dried calendula and rose petals in a small crockpot. Cover with the oil. Turn the crockpot to low and let steep for at least 4 hours. If at any point the oil starts to simmer and bubble, turn the crockpot off to allow the oil to cool down, and then turn it back on to low. I often do this over the course of 2 to 3 days, turning the crockpot on and off repeatedly, to allow for maximum extraction of the herbs without over-cooking them in the oil.
Strain out the herbs and measure the remaining infused oil. In a double boiler on the stove, mix together the oil and beeswax pellets, combining over low heat. The general rule of thumb is to use ¼ the amount of beeswax to oil, but this can be adjusted according to how soft or hard you want the final salve to be. Check for consistency by placing a spoonful of the combined oil and beeswax in the freezer – in a few minutes you will be able to check its texture; if it is too soft, add more beeswax, if it is too hard, add more oil.
Remove the mixture from the stove and add in 40 – 80 drops of your chosen essential oil(s). Carefully pour into tins or glass containers and allow to set.
This post was originally published on the Cambridge Naturals Blog.
Calendula blossoms are like small suns. Especially as they open up in water, their petals extend outwards from the center and uncurl into yellow rays. Likewise, in the depths of winter, calendula flowers are a saving grace with their cheerful faces, with their medicine steeped in hot cups of tea.
Recently I experienced a long-lasting cold that I could not seem to shake. I don’t get sick often, but when I do it tends to be significant – a signal from my body to ease up and simply rest. In these instances I try to curb my activities and slow down. I take elderberry and rosehip tea, drink bone broths and chicken soup, take hot showers, breathe in essential oils, sleep a lot. But this time, calendula spoke to me, quietly and persistently…. So I rummaged through my herb cabinet to locate some summer-dried flower heads and steeped them for a long while in a pot of water on my stove. I drank this dark-hued tea, feeling as if it were liquid sunshine, a brew so strong it was almost bitter. My body seemed happy for it, and indeed my mood, after a few melancholic days, lifted.
Calendula is known as a lymphatic herb, one that helps the lymph from getting stuck or stagnant. This is a useful thing during a long winter, when a bit of sunshine and movement are much needed. Calendula mixes nicely with other herbs, but I would recommend trying it on its own first. Or, you can add some of the flower heads to pots of soup or broth as it simmers along – a traditional way to avoid cold and flu during the winter months.
Calendula is a very prolific grower and blossoms almost continuously through the growing year, one of the reasons for its name, which comes from the fact that in many locales it flowers almost every calendar month. Save the dried seeds in the fall to sow the following spring. In the summertime, harvest newly-opened and vibrant flower heads and notice the sticky resin covering the calyx, where much of its medicinal goodness resides. Dry these flowers on a screen or on brown paper bags for a few days until completely dry, then store in a glass jar out of the sunlight to use throughout the autumn and winter months. It’s like bottling up the energy of the summer sun to use during darker days.
On this snowy, cold weekend I was inspired to cook-up something that would be colorful, nourishing and full of sunshine. This far north, we could all use a burst of cheer at this point in the winter season. So after a walk down to the local farmers' market on Saturday morning (the always wonderful Somerville Winter Farmers' Market) I came home with a beautiful butternut squash and a hankering to make some soup with it. What follows is the recipe for my sunshine soup - so called because the theme was yellow, and the secret ingredient is calendula petals!
(* I never measure things when I cook, so the recipe below is my best guess-timate! Enjoy creating your own version using this as a reference...)
large butternut squash
beef stock (preferably homemade - can also use chicken or vegetable stock)
one large yellow onion
1 tsp. thyme
1 tblsp. turmeric
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground pepper
handful of dried calendula petals
a couple cloves of garlic
lemon to taste
- Roast the butternut squash until soft, let cool, scrape out the flesh and blend on high speed with about a cup of beef stock.
-In the meantime, chop and saute the yellow onion with the salt and spices. Add the calendula petals last, with another cup of stock, let everything simmer together for a few minutes.
-Blend this onion mixture with the squash mixture, then return everything back to the pot.
-Add in some finely chopped or pressed garlic and some fresh lemon juice to taste.
-Heat back up and serve.
-Know you are eating lots of yellow goodness and be happy!