Calendula officinalis, also known as pot marigold (different from the African marigold or Tagetes) is one of those herbs that is constantly surprising. The more you use it, the more you love it. I used to be guilty of that most heinous of crimes, categorising it as a herb for external use only, but now I use it for a wide variety of ailments, and find it to be mostly exceptional at whatever it turns its hand to. Calendula is best known for treating external complaints but it’s a shame to relegate it to such narrow confines when it has a whole host of benefits to offer us.
Having said all that, as an external remedy it’s one of the best. Being vulnerary (wound healing), haemostatic (stops bleeding), anti-inflammatory (calms redness and inflammation), bacteriostatic (stops bacteria multiplying), anti-fungal (retards fungal infection), rich in antioxidants (healing, anti-aging), astringent (tones and tightens) and demulcent (soothes and protects) its easy to see why it has the reputation is does for treating all kinds of skin ailments, minor wounds, ulcers and the like. David Hoffman says, “The value of this exceptional herb cannot be exaggerated when it comes to treating skin problems like wounds, bruises or burns. Its properties make it a healing plant that reduces soreness and inflammation whilst also acting as an anti-microbial, which makes it a primary first aid herb for any problem.”
I use Calendula in all preparations for sensitive, red and dry skin as its thick resinous consistency not only heals but also protects the skin. It’s often seen in baby care products to gently guard against and heal nappy rash. Its astringency makes it wonderful for wounds and slow healing ailments like ulcers as well as varicose veins for which it is a primary herbal treatment, both internally and externally.
It’s often prepared as an oil by infusing the flowers in a base oil like sunflower or sweet almond, preferably twice in the same oil. You can read about how to make an infused oil here which can then be made into a salve or cream such as this one here. I also like to use calendula flowers in a wash, compress or poultice, especially for weeping sores where using a salve may keep the area too moist and thus encourage infection, even when using anti-microbial herbs.
If we think about how Calendula works externally however, we can see that it might well have some powerful actions inside the body too, especially on the mucus membranes which are a bit like the skin inside our bodies’ passageways. Being anti-inflammatory, astringent and demulcent makes it ideal for many gut problems such as ulcers and inflammations where it can help to soothe, heal and protect the stomach and intestines. Add to this the fact that it is anti-fungal and bacteriostatic and you have a great remedy for treating gut dysbiosis and leaky gut type issues where it can simultaneously help balance intestinal flora and heal the gut wall. And it doesn’t stop there. Problems such as these are thought to exacerbate immune function as larger particles of food waste escape into the lymphatics and cause heightened immune response. How incredibly convenient then that Calendula is also a powerful lymphatic and immune supporting herb. Do you ever get the impression nature knows what she’s doing?
Calendula is one of my favourite herbs for treating the lymphatic system. If there are swollen glands, a feeling of low grade infection that never really manifests into anything and tiredness and fatigue, it is a great remedy to choose. I use it more as a support for chronic issues, where as I might use echinacea or other herbs for acute issues. Maria Treben used it as both a preventative and healing agent in cancer treatment and it was traditionally considered a gentle but powerful blood cleanser.
It also contains some bitter principles which make it useful for gallbladder and liver support and it has been used traditionally for gallbladder inflammations, jaundice and chronic hepatitis. The liver and gallbladder are generally considered to reflect the emotions of anger, irritability and frustration and I always think a herb as cheerful as calendula can’t help but dispel our wrath!
Bartram calls it ”one of the most versatile and important herbal medicines” and recommends it is taken after all surgical operations. This makes a lot of sense when we consider it is healing, immune supportive and gently cleansing.
Though I use Calendula as a tincture, I like it best for internal treatment when taken as a tea. If I feel a bit under the weather I like it with self heal, lime blossom and monarda and if I feel like something cheering to dispel frustrations, it’s lovely with rose and chamomile. Below it’s combined with orange peel and monarda to make a tasty and warming ‘sunshine tea’ that will aid digestion, support the immune system and promote feelings of wellbeing.
A Calendula tea or infusion also makes a great treatment for red, tired eyes due to its soothing and astringent properties as well as its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Calendula contains carotenoids like carrots, though I can’t promise it will help you see in the dark!
Try Calendula infusions as footbaths for treating athletes foot or in a sitz bath for thrush or cystitis (though of course lifestyle adjustments will also be needed in any condition like this). Calendula sitz baths are also often recommended for women after giving birth to help heal the tissues and prevent infections.
This incredible herb has also been used to treat menstrual irregularities and other women’s health issues, though I have little experience of using it this way. Maurice Messegue says, “I would suggest taking a cure of marigold a week before the period is due, and that will ensure it will come and go without any difficulty.” Elizabeth Brooke also says, “Marigold is one of the remedies I use for any problems with the cervix.”
Finally, Calendula is gentle and nourishing enough to add to our foods as well as our medicine and the petals look beautiful sprinkled on salads, soups and stews.
Gather Calendula in the morning sun and dry somewhere warm and airy, away from bright lights. I have always found home dried Calendula to be much more vibrantly orange than anything I have bought, even from well respected suppliers.
Tradition says you should gather Calendula when the sun is in Leo or Virgo (August and most of September) but practically it can be collected any time it’s in flower, which luckily for us, is nearly all the summer long.