In winter Calendula officinalis rubs shoulders with pansies, petunias, and violas on the seedling rack in garden centres. Thats because they are sold as bedding plants; easy growing, colourful and pickable.
Their rightful place is actually on the herb rack. Calendula has serious flower power in its petals! Their key actions, according to herbal references, are antiseptic, antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, astringent, detoxifying and mildly oestrogenic.
What does that mean in laymans language? If you have any fungal infection like athletes foot, or minor skin problems (sunburn, rashes, acne) cuts, grazes and scalds, stings, insect bites, bruises, or varicose veins, then reach for calendula in ointment form, wash, lotion or tincture. In other words it is an excellent first aid herb for the home.
It is also safe to use internally, except by pregnant women because of its mild oestrogenic action that can cause contractions.
For sufferers from eczema and acne, drinking an infusion (tea) will help to clear the problem because it is a detox herb that treats the toxicity underlying skin disorders. It also cleanses the liver and gallbladder, balances the digestive system and relieves problems like colitis and gastritis.
How Calendula got its name
The name calend is Latin meaning the first day of the month and because it never stops flowering, calendula gained the reputation of always being in flower on the first day of every month. Officinalis indicates that the plant has medicinal uses.
Calendula is also known as pot marigold in Europe and a lot of herbal literature uses the two names interchangeably. Quite confusing but they not talking about the marigolds (Tageteserecta) that we know, which are summer flowers and dont have medicinal properties.
Calendula is frost hardy, growing 45 cm high and about 30cm wide. It has yellow or orange daisy- and the more intense the colour, the higher the level of active ingredients.
They like full sun, fertile, well composted soil that drains well. Pinch out the tops to stop the plants becoming straggly and remove dead flowers to encourage more blooms. For a constant supply of flowers, feed once a month with a liquid fertiliser specifically for flowers.
If the idea of growing edible flowers appeals to you, mix calendula with dianthus, pansies and violas (Viola wittrockiana) or Viola heartsease, and English daisy (Bellis perennis). They also look lovely in mixed containers with Giant Red Mustard, tatsoi, Swiss chard and lettuce. Use the petals to garnish salads, sandwiches and desserts.
Tip: Cut off the bitter white portion at the base of the calendula petal where it was attached.
Harvesting and preserving
Pick the flowers in the morning when their water content is at its highest. Use only the calendula petals and discard the rest of the flower.
To dry, put the cut flower heads on brown paper, paper towel or screens, in a cool dry room. Turn the flower heads every now and then so that they dry evenly. When properly dry, the petals are crisp and fragile, easily falling off the heads. Store the petals in an airtight container or sealed paper bag.
Tip: When making herbal preparations use less dried material; 1 measure of dried petals is equivalent to 3 measures of fresh petals.
Herb project: Calendula Home Remedies
With a good supply of fresh or dried petals, you can set up your own home pharmacy. Here are a number of home remedies using calendula cream, lotion or infusions, all of which are easy, and inexpensive to make yourself.
60g of fresh calendula petals or flowers
200g aqueous cream
Melt the aqueous cream over a low heat (double boiler is ideal) and add the calendula flowers and bring to the boil. Simmer very gently for 10minutes, stirring all the time. Sieve through fine gauze (to get rid of any pollen) and press out all the liquid from the flowers. Pour into a container, cool and seal.
Uses for calendula cream:
- Acne and boils: Apply onto the affected area twice a day. The antiseptic and antibacterial properties promote healing.
- Fungal skin infections (athletes foot, ringworm, thrush)Mix 5 drops of tea tree, clove or thyme essential oil with calendula cream and apply once or twice a day.
- Inflamed skin rashes/sunburn (caused by allergies, irritations, infections)Apply to the affected area 2 to 4 times a day
- Nappy rash: Smear on calendula cream at each nappy change.
- Varicose veins: mix equal parts of calendula and witch hazel creams and apply.
This is an antiseptic wash for minor wounds and bites, stings and swellings.
Make a lotion by infusing 2 heaped tsp of petals in 1 cup just boiled water. Allow to steep for 15 minutes. Strain and dab on the wound.
Calendula infusion (tea)
This is for taking internally as an anti-viral to help clear infections, and to detox and balance the digestive system, liver and gall bladder.
Infuse 2 tsp of petals in 750ml just boiled water for 10minutes.Strain, and drink up to five cups a day.
- For bathing tired red eyes
- As a cleansing, soothing wash for pets eyes
- Add to bathwater for treating fungal infections. Soak in the bath for 20 minutes.
This is really a tincture, rather than a wine that one can drink. Use one bottle of white wine, one handful of marigold flowers, steep for about a week, strain off the herbs, bottle and use it to settle digestion. Add a few drops of the wine to some water and drink. For eczema take 1 to 4ml with water three times a day.