Archive for the ‘Calendula’ Category

I love to make up blends of herbal oils and often give the people I see a little bottle of something to use externally alongside taking their herbal tinctures or teas. It could be a neck and shoulder rub, a stomach massage oil, a foot massage oil or something for helping to heal scar tissue. I believe that taking some time to massage a part of your body that needs some love and attention is a wonderful technique for healing as it brings our awareness to the places that need it and encourages an attitude of self care and nurturing. The blend I have given out more than any other is my breast massage oil so I thought I would share the recipe with you here.

Before I started to see clients I don’t think I was really aware of how many women suffer from sore or tender breasts, often with lumps and swellings, which can vary a lot with hormonal fluctuations throughout their cycle. The breasts are made up of glandular tissue (which includes lymph nodes and milk producing lobes), fatty tissue and fibrous or connective tissue. The lymphatic system does not contain its own pump so it relies on the movement of muscles to keep it flowing nicely around the body. As there are no actual muscles within the breasts themselves, massage becomes even more important for healthy breasts and lymphatics.

You can use any nice base oils to perform the massage but herbal infused oils add extra therapeutic value alongside that special something which I like to think of as the plant’s own consciousness. The base of my breast massage oil is violet (Viola odorata) infused in sweet almond oil, though a good quality, organic sunflower oil could also be used quite happily.

If you don’t have any violet infused oil (and now is of course the wrong time to be making it from fresh) you can use dried plant material infused into the oil using the heat method which I outlined in this post. I personally prefer the fresh oil because the flowers impart a delightfully gentle aroma but using the dried leaf will still be effective.

Calendula oil, which can be found in many health food shops, makes a lovely substitution, especially when mixed 50/50 with lavender infused oil which can be made from dried flowers all year round. A small amount of yarrow or chamomile infused oil makes a useful addition if there is inflammation. Rosemary infused oil can be added at about 25% if there is a need to increase circulation and many people also recommend dandelion flower infused oil. Rose infused oil is another delightful addition, though I tend to stick with a few drops of the essential oil as it has a stronger aroma which resonates so much with the heart and with feelings of self-love. You can also add castor oil which is useful for removing congestion but, as it’s ridiculously sticky, I’d keep it to around 5%.

If you really want to keep things simple then stick with a plain almond, apricot or coconut oil, all of which have wonderful healing properties of their own.

The recipe I use as an all purpose breast massage oil is as follows:

28ml Violet infused oil
2ml vitamin E oil
2 drops each geranium and rose essential oils
Combine all the ingredients in a 30ml bottle and use to massage the breasts regularly.

Geranium essential oil is one of the best oils for balancing the endocrine system so is lovely for sore breasts due to fluctuating hormone levels. It also has a very balancing effect on the mind and emotions too.

When massaging the breasts I like to do a combination of circular movements with gentle kneading and a sort of pulsing action which is great at getting the lymph flowing. There is a good video here which outlines some techniques for this lymphatic pumping action.

Another great tip for getting the lymphatics flowing well in the breast area is to splash them with cold water after a hot bath or shower. Alternatively you can alternate a few splashes of hot water (though not unbearable of course) with cold water for a few minutes.

Finally, (in something of an aside) while we are on the subject of lovely ladies with voluptuous breasts, regular readers of this blog may remember the rescue hens we adopted during the summer. One of them, the delightful Primrose, has shot to stardom and is appearing in the British Hen Welfare Trust’s 2012 calendar, having fought off hundreds of other hopefuls to become Miss June.

This is how Primrose looked when we first got her:

And this is her calendar girl shot, only a couple of months later.

All the money from the sale of the calendars goes to support the charity, so if you or someone you know is a hen lover, you can pick up a copy here!

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Calendula – aka Superherb

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.”

Calendula welcomes visitors along my garden path.

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.

Infusing Calendula oil on a bright windowsill

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.

Sunshine tea.

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.

Calendula petals adorn a summer salad.

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.

Herb of the Sun

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Calendula and Chamomile were born to be friends. As cheerful and vibrant as each other, they are two of the kindest herbs I know, always on hand to heal, soothe and balance myriad ailments.


Alongside their individual personalities they have much in common, as good friends often do. They both have a deservedly high reputation as skin herbs and are particularly beneficial for soothing sore, dry and irritated skins due to their calming, anti-inflammatory properties. They have both also been used for soothing the nervous system and relaxing spasms in the digestive system. Despite being powerful healers they are gentle enough for young children. They are both anti-septic and can be helpful for a range of external and internal infections.

One of my favourite ways to combine them is in this deliciously rich and soothing cream that I use on areas of dry or irritated skin, sunburn, insect bites, allergies, scars or just as a lovely moisturiser that is great for sensitive skins. It also makes a perfect cream for mother and baby and can be used to help a range of problems such as nappy rash, cradle cap and sore nipples to name but a few. I call it my ‘little pot of kindness’ as that just what these herbs are.

Little Pots of Kindness

Chamomile and Calendula Calming Cream- A Little Pot of Kindness:

These quantities make enough cream for two 60ml and one 30ml pot. It’s good to make it in small batches unless you plan to add a synthetic preservative as it only has a shelf life of about a month out of the fridge (it will be less in a hot climate) or 2 months in. Essential oils can also act as preservatives but are not present in high enough quantities in this recipe.

50ml calendula and chamomile infusion (steep a tablespoon of each herb in a cup of freshly boiled water, strain and measure out required amount).
25ml aloe vera gel (also calming and healing)
1/2 teaspoon vegetable glycerine
10g beeswax
20g coconut oil (considered cooling and calming in ayurvedic medicine)
25ml calendula infused oil (see here for how to infuse your own oils).
25ml chamomile infused oil
2ml Vitamin E
5 drops Vitamin A
10 drops Lavender essential oil
4 drops Roman Chamomile essential oil

Melt the wax and coconut oil in a bain marie or double boiler on a low heat, adding the calendula and chamomile infused oils when liquid and stirring a little if the waxes start to solidify. In a separate container mix the herbal infusion with the aloe vera and glycerine. Take the oils off the heat and allow to cool slightly before adding the vitamins A and E. For more detailed instructions on cream making along with photos of when the oils are ready to blend, see this post here. I use a small hand blender to mix them as I’m not making a large enough quantity to use my big blender. You could also use an electric or hand whisk. Begin to blend/ whisk the water mixture and slowly add in the oils, a drizzle at a time. Continue to blend until you have a nice smooth, even, creamy consistency. Spoon into a jar or jars and stir in the essential oils. Pop in the fridge for a short while to cool.

This is the same method I used to make my infused elderflower moisturiser. I find it works well for me but creams are notoriously difficult when you make them without using an emulsifier. If your cream seems to be separating don’t despair, just keep scraping the mixture down the sides, mixing it up with a spoon and blending or whisking again. It’s fine to use an emulsifier if you prefer, I just like to make things as simply and naturally as possible when I can.

Oh and don’t forget to thank the chamomile and calendula for all their goodness and care. 🙂

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We had a lovely evening at last week’s Potions group in which I taught about how to make your own herbal infused oils.

We made a soothing calendula oil and some salve with comfrey infused oil.

Here are some of the group straining, pouring and bottling their oils.


Here are the notes I wrote for the class for those of you who are new to herbal infused oils, including two simple methods and some basic recipes.

Herbal Infused Oils

Oils infused with herbs are a lovely way to utilise the healing properties of plants which contain volatile oils and fats. Unlike essential oils they are easy to make at home and usually very gentle on the skin. You can use them to make massage oils, to heal skin problems, or to make lovely subtly scented balms and creams.

Plants containing volatile oils are generally those commonly used in aromatherapy. Aromatic plants such as lavender, rosemary, thyme and sage make lovely infused oils, as do peppermint, melissa, chamomile, rose, yarrow, juniper and pine. You can experiment with any plants that you know have a high volatile oil content.

Also plants that have a high level of other fat soluble components; including fat soluble vitamins, antioxidants, resins and saponins, can be extracted by macerating in oil. Calendula is a good example. When you pick calendula flowers you can feel how resinous and sticky they are, a good sign they will work well in oil. Other suitable plants include comfrey, St John’s wort, viola, plantain and mullein.

You can use a variety of different oils as the base, or menstrum, for the infusion. Olive is classic for the leafy herbs, sunflower is lovely for calendula, sweet almond or apricot make a great base for creams and jojoba is light and well absorbed.

How to Make Infused Oils:

The Sun Method-

  • You can generally use dried or fresh plant material when available, though some herbs, such as calendula work better as dried and others, such as comfrey, are better from fresh.
  • If using fresh herbs, pick them on a dry day after the sun has dried the morning dew.
  • Make sure you pick clean plant material from an area you can be sure has not been sprayed with chemical fertilisers. This is particularly important as you are not going to wash the plant material, you want it to be as dry as possible to prevent spoilage, though you can bush off any dirt with a soft bristled brush.
  • If using leaves such as comfrey or plantain, it’s good to let them wilt overnight to reduce some of the water content but flowers are best used fresh.
  • Chop fresh leafy herbs finely and lightly fill a completely dry jar with the material. Its important to cut the herb first as it exposes more of the plant to the oil, making for a better infusion. Flowers can be put in whole and dried herbs will most likely come already cut.
  • If using fresh herbs you can pour the oil of your choice straight on but if using dried, its nice to warm the oil first in a bain marie to get things going. Fill the jar almost to the brim with oil as an air gap will promote oxidation and spoilage.
  • Stir the contents with a wooden chopstick or glass stirring rod until all the bubbles have dispersed and cap with a lid or a piece of kitchen roll held in place with a rubber band. This works well for fresh plant material as it allows moisture to escape.
  • You can leave it to infuse on a bright sunny windowsill or in a nice warm spot such as beside the boiler or in an airing cupboard. I like doing calendula in the sun but it’s best to leave it somewhere that is consistently warm and windowsills can get cold at night which encourages condensation.
  • Stir every day for the first two weeks then leave to infuse for another two to four, that’s four to six weeks in total. Calendula and some other oils are nice to double infuse- leave for 3 weeks, strain, then fill the jar with fresh flowers and pour the partially infused oil back on top and repeat the process.
  • Don’t forget to label your jars so you remember when to strain them. Strain through a sieve covered in cheesecloth or a jelly bag. If you used fresh material it is wise to let it stand for a week and check if any water has settled in the bottom of the jar. If so pour off the oil and discard the water.
  • Bottle the resulting oil and label and date.

The Heat Infusion Method:

This is a quicker method if you need to prepare your oil for immediate use.

  • Use about 50-75g of dried herb, or 75-100g fresh herb per 300ml base oil. This is an approximate amount as some herbs are bigger and fluffier than others! Basicially you want the oil to just cover the dried herb.
  • Place the oil and herbs in a double boiler or bain marie with a tightly fitting lid over a pan of gently boiling water.
  • Allow to infuse at a continuous heat for 2 hours making sure the water does not boil away! Stir every half hour or so and check the progress of your oil.
  • Strain and bottle or repeat the process if you desire a stronger, double infused oil.
  • Always remember to label and date your products.
You can also heat infuse your oils as above in an oven on the lowest possible temperature.

Some Simple Recipes for infused Oils:

Comfrey Salve:
70ml Comfrey macerated oil
25g Grated cocoa butter
5g Beeswax

  • Melt the cocoa butter and beeswax in a double boiler or bain marie over a pan of boiling water.
  • Add the comfrey oil and stir slowly until completely dissolved. Don’t allow the oil to start to bubble, turn the heat down immediately if this happens.
  • If you would like to add an essential oil then do so now, mix well and pour into jars. Leave to set in the fridge for a few hours before using liberally.

Comfrey has a long history of traditional use for healing damaged tissues such as strains, sprains, broken bones and slow healing wounds. Its common name was ‘knitbone’ and it possesses profound healing capabilities which enable it to aid in the ‘knitting’ together of tissues. It may also be helpful for inflammation and rashes. Comfrey oil is not recommended for internal use or use on broken skin but you can use this salve freely for bruising or any injury of the muscles or bones. Even if you have to wear a cast you can rub the slave into the skin at the top and bottom to help the bones heal strong and healthy.

Simple St John’s Wort Lip balm for Cold Sores:
60ml St John’s wort infused oil
15g Cocoa butter
15g Shea butter
10g beeswax
25 drops Melissa Essential Oil
25 drops St John’s wort tincture
25 drops Melissa tincture

  • Melt the cocoa butter, shea butter and beeswax in a bain marie over a low heat and when completely liquid add in the infused oil and mix thoroughly.
  • Add the Melissa oil and the tinctures and whisk lightly with a fork to ensure the tinctures are well mixed with the oils.
  • Pour into small jars and use liberally when you feel the first tingle coming on.

St John’s Wort and Melissa are both anti-viral and therefor helpful for treating the herpes virus that causes cold sores.

Rosemary Warming Massage Oil:

  • Infuse fresh rosemary in oil according to one of the methods detailed above.
  • To 100ml of the oil add 10 drops rosemary essential oil, 5 drops ginger, 5 drops black pepper and 5 drops cardamom.
  • This would be a wonderful oil for promoting circulation and easing sore muscles and joints.

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