Friday, February 1, 2008


Calendula, or pot marigolds, were one of the first plants suggested to me when I started my garden last summer. I didn't buy any, mostly because I couldn't find seed and couldn't be bothered going to look for plants, but they're going in the earth this year.

They are Wisconsin's Herb of the Year, a title bestowed by the Master Gardeners, who have apparently run out of "real" herbs recently. (2005 was the Year of the Scented Geranium - ack.) There's lots of cultivars, but they're almost all orange-yellow and cheerful looking. The flowers are also edible; Monsoon Wedding has marvelous scenes full of (what might be) calendula, including a rapturous devouring.

They're also supposed to be good for cuts, scrapes, bites, and burns. With the possible exception of the last, the garden is precisely the place where all that happens. Most of the sources are mysteriously vague about whether the leaves or flowers or roots should be rubbed on the skin (or made into ointment, or boiled into tea), but it's worth a try. I am Tasty Meat as far as biting bugs are concerned. I'm not sure about the USDA's stance on organic producers that slather themselves in DDT (perhaps I should email them?) but I prefer to stay as pain-free as possible.

The other interesting thing I found is the shape of the seed pods. Check this out. They're sort of cashew-shaped. (Much thanks to the Wisconsin Master Gardener's Program, from whom I yoinked the pictures.) Why a cashew-shaped pod would be a reproductive advantage, I can't quite figure out. Would they catch more wind like that? Protect the seeds better from slugs and snails? Stay more intact? Perhaps it's all just an interesting coincidence - one random mutation that didn't hurt, and gradually became a feature.

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