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.
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 ointment 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. Wait for the tincture to dry then apply a light coat of calendula ointment.
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. 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.
For more information on the conditions best helped by Calendula, see the topics in Conditions.
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. Do not let your calendula soak for more than 3 or 4 months or it can go bad on you.
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 preservative like vitamin E oil makes sense for this herb.
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. 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.
For more information on basic herbal preparations, see the topics in Herbal How-to.
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 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, salty flavor to the petals
Odor: Slightly sweet, fresh scent with a musky back odor
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. Collecting calendula for drying is a fussier process. Only get the flowerheads without much stem for drying. Be sure to toss a few flower petals on your salad to dress it up.
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 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 as well.
Chickens enjoy nibbling on calendula. The carotiene 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. A lotion made with calendula and milk offers a soothing finish to facials for all skin types and helps banish blemishes to boot.
For more recipes and ideas for using calendula, see the topics in The Practical Herbalist Recipes.
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.
For more information see our History, Folklore, Myth and Magic page on Calendula.