Plant snobs may not grow calendula because it is ordinary and gaudy, but they are wrong. Known as pot marigold, Calendula officinalis has an odd taste, but its bright-yellow/orange flowers have been used as a dye for butter and cheese, and a few petals can be a colourful addition to plain cakes. Do not confuse calendula with French, African, Mexican marigolds of the Tagetes genus.
Calendula has been used as a medicinal herb for centuries. Philip O'Bryan, of Claron Park in Cootamundra, brings edible sauces to farmers' markets in Canberra (claronpark.com.au). He also has a range of natural skin products that he brings to the Southside Farmers Market in Phillip on Sunday mornings and, for Christmas, pure calendula soap handmade in the shape of a rose.
These will also be available at Yass Farmers Market on November 21 and the Canberra Environment Centre's eco-friendly market on December 4 from 5pm to 9pm, Donna O'Bryan says.
The O'Bryans grow calendula on the property. Philip usually dries the petals, but recently found that they give a colourful and remedial effect when used fresh. Every ingredient in the soap – coconut and sunflower oils, vegetable glycerine, cocoa butter, salt, macadamia wax and calendula extract and flowers – is edible, he says.
Christmas came early for Canberrans at recent farmers' markets with the appearance of the wise woman from the south-east, Christa Rehwinkel. She comes from a property at Wandella in the Bega Valley, where No Dig Gardens runs courses in farm skills, fencing and livestock breeding (nodiggardens.com.au). For the South Coast Producers Association, she will be holding a course in plant propagation by seed, cuttings and division on November 28 from 10am at the Cooma Community Garden. To register, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A tomato seedling specialist, Rehwinkel had 28 varieties on offer at the markets, and gave away a bonus surprise tomato to customers. However, my purchase, which amused coffee-drinking shoppers, was a bag of camel dung. Christa grew up with camels when the family had the animal park in Macs Reef Road, and has eight camels on the farm at Wandella, where willing workers on organic farms bagged the manure in well-broken-down lots that can be composted before use. My bag of manure did not smell, so I planted bean seeds and dwarf snow pea seeds in large pots filled with camel manure, compost and potting mix, and the plants are bounding away.
During August at a London East End brewery bar, unwisely calling itself a gastropub, I saw samphire on the menu, so I ordered the dish of sea bass. The samphire came in a little dish, pickled. Jamie Oliver and Heston Blumenthal have influenced its currently fashionable status, but there is some confusion among chefs between rock samphire, Crithmum maritimum, or marsh samphire, Salicornia europaea. The former grows in rock crevices high on the sides of cliffs, so may be the species mentioned by Shakespeare in King Lear Act 4, scene 6, set near Dover.
In Canberra, rock samphire is growing in the chef's well-tended garden at A. Baker in NewActon. It has blue-green antler-shaped leaves. The plant came from the Diggers Club at Dromana in Victoria, where it is available to members for $8.50 plus postage (diggers.com.au/shop). The club says the plant will thrive in coastal gardens, forming a tight ground cover in rocky cracks and sandy soils.
From tomorrow, the Diggers Club will be in partnership with the Heritage Nursery in Yarralumla, which will be offering Diggers memberships, with a 10 per cent discount on the plant range, Diggers seeds and publications.
Sandra Nanka, of the Mudbrick Cottage Herb Farm in Queensland, has one rock samphire plant left in her current stock for $6.50 plus postage (herbcottage.com.au). She has used rock samphire in potato salad, in sushi and with fish and eggs, and says it has a slightly salty taste with a hint of parsley. She propagates it from cuttings.
Susan Parsons is a Canberra writer.