Today's post is a relatively new addition to my roster of tasks when it comes to putting up my harvest every year. I dabble a bit more every year in the business of growing biodynamically in my yard, adding whatever I can to my toolkit as time and energy allows. I learned a few years ago of the magic of companion planting: see, I have been growing food crops in my little patches of back yard along the way since a basement apartment off St. Clair in Toronto some 14 years ago. Everyone else had a balcony but us, and so I rallied to dig up a patch of mint-bedraggled-grass in the courtyard to which our landlord at the time agreed. Before this, my first attempt as an independent grownup gardener, I helped tend our backyard plot and our 2 acres of rows at our farm in Fabre, Quebec (some people have cottages, we had a farm. How cool is that. Never appreciated it enough back then. Sorry Maman et Papa. Making up for lost time!) and learned from my parents the ins and outs of growing our own food organically before it was such a term, and how to put up the harvest for winter times. Companion planting came about as I was interested in growing without the use of 'plant food' and low-grade pesticides for home use. Never did use pesticides, but I had one year of particularly bad bugs at a house we rented in Edmonton. It was time to hone up on alternative ways to grow my own vegetables.
I discovered the beauty of companion planting and adding flowers to the vegetable patch as a means to help control the bug infestations, and it encouraged me to grow beyond the traditional notion of rows. It was here that I fell in love with marigolds, violets, nasturtiums and the bold and beautiful Calendula flower. These flowers help trap bugs that can wreak havoc, they can also attract beneficial insects that will feast on those critters that can induce heartbreak on some of your favourite crops with their destructive ways. Imagine my delight when, two years ago, I discovered you can actually eat calendula flowers!
I throw these babies in many different things from mixing it in with cream cheese and chives for a yummy spread or dip for vegetables; I have added petals to pestos and scattered them on top of salads. You can also make teas with it, mix it with lavender and epsom salts to make a soothing and calming bath soak, and is a good ingredient to make a skin-saving and inflammation-curbing skin salve. When next I make a batch of sauerkraut, I'll be adding some petals to it in order to impart further anti-inflammatory properties.
As my dehydrator is seemingly turned 'on' for the majority of the time these days, I thought to throw in an extra layer of these petals in order to tuck them in the pantry for whatever use strikes my fancy over the coming winter. I plucked the flower heads from the stems (which, bonus, encourages the plant to flower some more!) and washed them to get rid of the little bugs mingled in, and pulled the petals off of the heads, scattering them on my dehydrator screen. It took a few hours at the lowest temperature to get them all shrivelled and ready for their glass jar. There's something so satisfying about seeing all these little glass jars lining up on my shelf with my dehydrated bounty, inspiring winter projects with my little lady when the time comes.
You can harvest all kinds of flowers from your garden, so when you're planning your seed buying for the year ahead, I encourage you to think of throwing in some edible flowers in the mix. I do a yearly purchase from these fine folks out on the west coast every year. If you're curious to read a more complete version of a botanical write-up on this mighty flower, make your way to Plants for a Future. And one more place, if you're looking for more ideas on what to do with your calendula petals is the gal at Joybilee Farm.