Calendula is an annual in the aster family (Asteraceae) which is native to south central Europe North Africa. Today, calendula is planted throughout the world. Calendula has sunny yellow and orange flowers that open in the morning when the sun rises and close as it sets, inspiring Culpeper (1653) to call marigold “an herb of the sun.” Indeed, calendula holds the warmth and spirit of the sun in its flowers.
The flower heads of calendula are one to three inches across and have a central cluster of tubular flowers surrounded by several rows of ray florets (Foster, 1993). The stalk supports many branching stems and oblong medium green leaves from 3 to 6 inches long (Foster, 1993). The plant grows up to 24 inches tall. Calendula joyously blooms nearly continuously from spring through fall (as long as you continuously pick the blossoms), and then produces fat, crescent-shaped seeds that are easy to collect and save for planting next year’s crop. With its bright, uplifting flowers and prodigious bloom, it’s a lovely addition to any garden!
The fresh flower heads are harvested and the ray florets are removed and dried for tea, extracted in a tincture, or infused into oil. The florets are a lively addition to salads and soups. In reality, it’s very time consuming to remove the florets by hand, so often the entire flower head is used when making medicine.
Calendula contains flavonoids, triterpenes, saponins, volatile oil, salicylic acid, mucilage and resin (calendulin), among other constituents . The resin gives calendula its characteristic sticky feeling. Energetically, calendula is warming and slightly drying, but is also a soothing demulcent.
According to The Herbarium:
“Calendula is a powerful wound and tissue healer (vulnerary) both externally and internally. It has long been used to soothe and heal cuts, burns, bites, sprains, bruises, rashes, sunburns, and abrasions due to its antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, hemostatic, and tissue-healing actions. Calendula also contains salicylic acid so works as an analgesic to help relieve the pain associated with these types of wounds and skin irritations. Calendula also soothes itching. Even persistent wounds and old scars are helped by the tissue healing and regenerative properties of calendula. Many of my clients rave about its affinity for scar tissue removal and for its miraculous help with diaper rash.
Calendula’s slight bitter taste hints at its use for the digestive system. Indeed, calendula is considered a cholagogue, supporting the gallbladder (Hoffmann, 2003), and also the liver and consequently the digestive system. By stimulating these organs, calendula stimulates secretion of bile and digestive enzymes, aiding the digestive process and improving absorption (McIntyre, 1996). Calendula can also be taken internally for inflammatory conditions of the digestive tract such as ulcers (Hoffmann, 2003), esophageal irritation from gastric reflux, and inflammatory bowel disease (Blankenspoor, 2012). Its mucilage content is wonderfully soothing to irritated tissues. Culpeper (1653) councils “the juice of marigold…and any hot swelling bathed with it, instantly gives ease, and assuages it.” As an astringent, calendula will gently relieve diarrhea.
Calendula acts as an immune stimulant as well as being antibacterial and antiviral, so it’s ideal when colds, flu, and other infections take hold. Used internally as an antimicrobial, calendula helps the body resist pathogens. Research has shown that calendula is effective against flu and herpes viruses (McIntyre, 1996). A hot calendula infusion acts as a diaphoretic, moving energy outward by stimulating circulation and promoting sweating. This action helps kill the infectious pathogen (and subsequently reduce fever) as well as removing toxins from the body. McIntyre (1996) suggests that in the case of chickenpox or measles, calendula helps the virus erupt on the skin and expel toxins. Calendula is a lymphagogue, meaning it cleanses the lymph system by moving clogged lymph fluid, removing toxins from the lymph, and decongesting swollen lymph nodes. Keeping the lymph system is moving and functioning as intended is vital for a strong immune system.
Calendula is an anti-fungal herb used both internally and externally for treatment of such conditions as fungal skin infections (e.g. athlete’s foot and jock itch) and yeast overgrowths (e.g. candida in the gut, thrush, and vaginal yeast infections). Calendula’s antimicrobial action is also helpful in the case eye infections such as pink eye/conjunctivitis.
Calendula is an ally for the female reproductive system due to its antispasmodic, emmenogogue, and estrogenic effects which regulate menstruation, resolve delayed menstruation, relieve tension, cramping and pain associated with menstruation, and relieve menopausal symptoms (McIntyre, 1996; Hoffmann, 2003). Herbalist David Hoffmann considers it “a normalizer of the menstrual process.””
Tincture: 1-4 ml (1:5 in 60%) 3x per day.
Tea: 1-2 teaspoons flowers per cup boiling water, steeped for 10-15 minutes, taken three times per day.
External applications: lotion, salve, or wash as needed.
Calendula is considered a very safe herb. It should not be taken during pregnancy as it may promote contractions.