Calendula officinalis, a.k.a. Pot Marigold
Calendula is the last ray of sunshine in the garden. This tough herb can survive chilling frosts and battering winds. It’s a surprisingly rugged plant for its delicate appearance and shares its durability with those who use its medicinal powers.
Calendula is ideally suited for healing wounds and burns. It was considered a soldier’s herb because of its quick efficacy in the battlefield. Not only does calendula encourage healing to the skin, it has antimicrobial constituents. This allows the skin to heal safely under the guardianship of calendula’s watchful eyes.
Medicinal Properties of Calendula
Calendula flowers have a high percentage of flavonoids, saponins and triterpenes, which work together to both ease swelling of inflamed tissue and stave off infection.
Calendula also has carotenoids and polysaccharides. This combination helps rebuild skin cells and stabilize mucous membranes.
Calendula is often used in topical and internal formulas for fungal or bacterial conditions and for conditions that include swelling. Calendula’s astringent nature helps with reducing swelling, including that of the digestive system. It’s a boon to the immune system, helping fight off or clear microbial invaders, like fungus or bacteria, while also clearing away inflammation and helping lymph move properly.
Calendula is also a potential women’s medicine, helping gently get menstruation moving when it’s stalled. This is helpful for women in early adolescence who yet need to stabilize their cycle as well as those in perimenopause who are seeing their cycle beginning to break down. It’s also helpful for the times in-between when the menstrual cycle has been disrupted and needs a gentle push to move into the bleeding phase again.
Conditions Best Helped by Calendula
Chapped skin, infected wounds, diaper rash, and eczema all relax under calendula’s care. Most herb lovers have made a simple salve or lotion with calendula in it. Reapply the salve frequently throughout the day to keep skin irritations at bay. Remember when treating any skin problems to stay properly hydrated.
Both varicose veins and hemorrhoids do well with topical treatments of calendula. It’s best to combine this herb with witch hazel tincture applied with a soft washcloth or as a spray. Wait for the tincture to dry then apply a light coat of calendula salve.
Periodontal diseases respond well to calendula’s antimicrobial powers. Combining calendula and sage make wonderful tooth polishes and mouth washes. Calendula strengthens bleeding gums and balances the bacterial load in tender mouths so beneficial bacteria can do their stuff. Coffee drinkers benefit from a daily rinse of strong calendula tea or a few drops of calendula tincture in water after brushing.
Calendula vinegar makes a soothing treatment against the ravages of sunburn. Calendula tea can be used similarly. Simply soak a soft cloth in the liquid and dab on the burned area or spritz it on with a spray bottle. Calendula speeds relief to the area and heals the damage.
Conjunctivitis can be treated with a few drops of sterilized calendula tea. Other eye problems like puffy eyelids or black eyes respond nicely to a soft washcloth soaked in calendula tea. For best results, wait for the tea to cool to lukewarm before placing it on the eyelid.
List of Calendula’s Medicinal Actions
Anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal, antisposmadic, vulnerary.
Calendula tincture is best made with scotch or vodka. Brandy tends to overpower the flavor and this makes it difficult to tell by tasting if the tincture is ready to be strained. This herb quickly turns into tincture. If you used fresh calendula, do not let your calendula soak for more than 3 or 4 months or it can go bad on you. If you used dried calendula to make your tincture, you can let it stand longer, but that isn’t necessary.
Calendula oil is best made with cold pressed oils like almond or olive oil. The high moisture content of this flower makes it susceptible to spoilage. Make only what you need for a year. Calendula can be made with either dry or fresh flowers. Use heat to process this oil to be sure to get the full range of constituents from the herb. A anti-oxidant like vitamin E oil makes sense for calendula to help prevent oxidization and degradation of the oil.
Dry calendula petals to add visual interest to teas. Dried calendula is great as a mid-winter poultice for burns. Be sure to throw a helping of flower heads in the food dryer or lay them out in a dark warm place to dry. Check the flowers for signs of mold frequently. Proper air flow is the key.
Calendula can be preserved in apple cider vinegar for use in douches or mouth rinses. It also makes a nice addition to salad dressings and marinades. Place fresh, clean calendula flower heads in the vinegar so the entire plant is covered. Let it soak for several weeks and strain before use.
Gardening and Gathering
Calendula is a hardy garden herb native to southern Europe. It acts as an annual or biennial depending on the climate. Like most southern European herbs, calendula prefers full sun and can manage in sandy soils. This plant’s flexibility adds to its charm for herbalists. It can even brave a winter indoors in a sunny window.
Calendula is a great companion plant for tomatoes as it deters tomato hornworms. It can also be planted near asparagus patches since asparagus beetles steer clear of it as well. I have noticed this herb attracts white flies. As an organic gardener, I use this trait to my advantage. I plant calendula in a separate bed near my vegetable beds. The calendula draws aphids and white files away from my more tender veggies. It plays the same role for my roses.
Calendula self seeds easily. It also has a high germination rate making this herb an excellent choice for children’s garden’s. The hardiness of calendula makes it a perfect choice for drought gardens. Be sure to give calendula a little extra compost in the spring, and it will thrive on neglect for the rest of the summer.
Quick ID tips
Appearance: Calendula’s fleshy green leaves are sticky and resinous. The flower petals can be either yellow or orange, arranged like a mini-sunflower. Open sepals grow in a ring around the flower’s center.
Taste: Oddly bittersweet, petals have a salty flavor
Odor: Slightly sweet, fresh scent with a musky back odor
Gathering, Harvesting, Wildcrafting Calendula
Calendula blooms all summer and well into winter so it can be harvested frequently. Cut the flowerheads before they lose their petals. A few leaves in calendula tincture is just fine, but it’s best not to include them when drying calendula. Collecting calendula for drying is a fussier process. Only get the flowerheads without much stem for drying. You can run your fingers from the flower head down the stem toward the base and clip the stem just above the bud that’s closest to the open flowerhead. That’ll encourage the plant to put more energy into the next bud in line. Then, we generally clip the stem right at the flowerhead and leave it in the field before adding the flower head to the basket.
Calendula that’s full of medicinal power is also sticky. A few flower heads won’t leave a lot of resin on your fingers, but a basket full sure will. Be sure to bring along a little rubbing alcohol to clean your hands if you’re wildcrafting. Be aware, too, that your basket may pick up a bit of resin, too, as will any tools you use, like scissors. Clean those as makes sense.
Using Calendula to Care for Animals
Our feline friends, too, would be wise to use calendula with caution; calendula contains small amounts of salicylic acid, which is potentially harmful to cats. Small or infrequent internal use of calendula, in all likelihood, can prove quite helpful to cats, but longer-term usage could be problematic. Topical treatment with calendula is highly recommended however. Wounds as minor as flea bites or scratches disappear quickly with a dab of calendula oil or salve.
Calendula is a pet lover’s best friend. It’s recognized as generally safe for most animals and can be used in much the same way as we use it ourselves, externally for wounds and fungal conditions, internally to aid in digestion and to help reduce swelling in the lymph nodes and move lymph. As with humans, calendula has been known to stimulate menstruation and thus should be avoided for animals in early pregnancy.
Chickens enjoy nibbling on calendula. The carotene in the petals turn their egg yolks a deep orange. I let calendula reseed wherever it wants in my backyard so the chickens can eat it whenever they wish. I also love how wild pollinators are drawn to calendula flowers. Wild birds enjoy eating the seeds in the winter too.
Household Formulas, and Non-medicinal Uses
Calendula vinegar makes a terrific cleanser and a good fabric softener. If I intend to use my calendula vinegar for cleaning and laundry only, and not for medicine or cooking, I make it using white vinegar as white vinegar is less expensive than cider vinegar.
Calendula vinegar also makes a lovely hair conditioner. The vinegar helps hair follicles to lay flat after contact with soap or shampoo, and the calendula gently lightens hair color.
As a beauty treatment, calendula has been used to ease acne, lighten freckles, and generally lighten and brighten the skin. For acne and blemishes, calendula pairs well with yarrow both as an internal blend (tea in tincture for instance) as well as a topical toner. A lotion made with calendula and milk offers a soothing finish to facials for all skin types and helps banish blemishes to boot.
Cautions for Calendula
Calendula has trace amounts of coumarins, which, when taken internally in large quantities, can block vitamin K absorption. Discontinue use of calendula if you notice an allergic reaction. Pregnant or nursing women should only use calendula internally under the advise of a qualified health specialist.