TIRANA, September 17
Calendula, a widely cultivated flower in Albania for decoration or commercial purposes, ranks among the top exported Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (MAP) over the last years. Although not talked about enough, the yellow-orange flower tops the export’s list of Albanian MAPS along with sage, oregano, and wild mountain thyme. The versatile plant has been used for centuries both internally and topically for its herbal properties.
Scientific name: Calendula Officinalis is a genus of about 20 species in the Asteraceae family.
Also known as Pot Marigold in English (not to be confused with Marigold), in Albanian, it can be found with these names: verdhashkë, nargjileçkë, and kumak.
The annual plant is native to southern Europe, more specifically to the Mediterranean region, but its precise origin remains unknown. However, it can be cultivated both in cold regions in Northern Europe and warmer areas such as northern Africa due to its tolerance to high and low temperatures. This feature, their sweet aroma, and their bright bloom make calendula a common flower in gardening.
Calendula Officinalis has been historically coveted for its medicinal properties. This makes it a widely cultivated crop for its dried flower, leaves, seeds, which are used in medicinal products or the textile industry as a natural dye. The flowers have several applications in the cosmetic industry and personal care products. Given that it is an edible flower, Calendula has been used orally in traditional herbal medicine for its skin health properties.
Nowadays, ingredients derived from Calendula including its seed oil, whole-plant extract, flower extract, and flower oil are found in formulations of face and hair care products, lip balms, soaps, lotions, and other body care products. The flower has skin conditioning and fragrance properties, which make it popular in the cosmetic industry.
Edible flowers are an excellent option when you want to add a pop of color to a nutritious dish. While some flowers like broccoli stir up debate on the table, others add a dash of elegance, layers of flavor in savory dishes, and appeal to the senses of smell. Calendula is among them. Its petals are used to add color when raw and as a spice for natural seasoning and flavoring when dry.
It can also come at handy to fancy up creative dishes and beverages. Calendula was traditionally used to add color to butter and cheeses. The sunny appearance of the petals can brighten up a wide range of salads, paellas, frittatas, etc. Not to forget their high content of carotenoids, such as auroxanthin and flavoxanthin. However, those who are allergic to plants and flowers in the Aster/Compositae family such as daisies and chrysanthemums may be more likely to have an allergic reaction.
Moreover, pregnant or breastfeeding women are advised to avoid calendula products.
Tea is the most common traditional use of unprocessed dry calendula flowers. It has soothing, antifungal, antimicrobial, and ascribed therapeutic properties for various issues including intestinal and stomach problems. The high presence of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds may help with a sore throat, oxidative stress, congested lymph nodes, inflamed gums, itchy eyes, anti-tumor effects, skin healing, gastric ulcers, itchy scalp, menstrual cramps, and oral health.
Tea may be also applied to help clean and heal skin issues and minor wound in pets and farm animals.
Calendula essential oil
Calendula essential oil can be obtained by seeds and flowers. Creams and ointments containing calendula oil may help soothe wound healing, burn injuries, sunburn, insect bites, itchy scalp and skin, swelling, bruising, acne issues, eczema, psoriasis, diaper rash, etc.
Calendula is an easy plant to grow. The seeds are sown directly in the ground in mid-spring. Germination takes between five to 14 days. Seeds in good condition can last up to five-six years. The plant blooms 40-50 days after germination. The plant will continue flowering throughout summer and autumn as long as flowers (20 to 50 per plant) are continually picked every third day (deadheading).
Calendula seeds are rather strange-looking. They are shaped like curled spines. Some say they have an apostrophe-like shape. Seeds must be organic or in the absence of organic seeds, conventional seeds can be used as long as they are derived from pesticide-free plants.
Calendula flower processing
The process of calendula flower and petal drying must be fast (50-60°C) to obtain a product with a high carotenoid and carotenoid content and to preserve the color. In the meantime, humidity must be below 10 percent, otherwise, the flowers may go bad.
Based on the data provided by a USAID survey, Calendula is a profitable crop. The price range is Lek 700-800 per kg. The average yield per hectare is 500-800kg. The total cost is estimated at Lek 40,000 to Lek 80,000 per hectare. Meanwhile, the average income per hectare is estimated at Lek 400,000 to Lek 640,000.
These numbers prove the economic advantage of Calendula cultivation in areas where it’s not possible to cultivate other medicinal and aromatic plants. Currently, in Albania, Calendula is cultivated in Korca and other regions by small-scale farmers.
Calendula environmental benefits
Helps save the bees and other pollinators
Calendula is a pollinator’s friendly plant. It benefits ecosystems as it attracts beneficial insects such as bees, butterflies, ladybugs, hoverflies, lacewings, etc. Pollinators worldwide are in trouble due to habitat loss, pesticide use, invasive species, parasites, etc. Calendula cultivation helps save the pollinators as it is a pesticide-free crop and differently from most cultivated medicinal and aromatic plants in Albania, it flowers for a long period.
When planted next to other crops and fruit trees, Calendula helps pollination.
Pest repelling plant
One of the reasons why Calendula is a pesticide-free crop is because it can keep bugs away on its own. This is the reason why many people grow calendula for its role as a garden trap crop. It serves for controlling pests naturally.
An option for crop rotation for sustainable farming
Given that calendula is not recommended to be cultivated in the same plot two years in a row, it can be a good option for those applying crop rotation practices. The latter helps to improve and maintain good physical and biological conditions of the soil without specific inputs.
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