Herb Profile: Calendula

800px-Yellow-calendula-pot-marigold

The Basics

I’ve chosen calendula as the first featured herb in my new series on medicinal herbs. Quite simply put, my first forays into the world of herbal medicine involved calendula, and for that reason, I thought it should be featured first.

Calendula is a bright and sunny herb that can also be known as “pot marigold”. Please, however, do not confuse calendula with one of the many other varieties of marigolds commonly found in gardens. The scientific name for the herb calendula is Calendula officinalis.

Medicinal Qualities

Calendula has been a known medicinal herb since the twelfth century. It is thought to be of Mediterranean origin, however, it is now grown worldwide. Our ancestors used calendula both internally and topically. Today, however, calendula is used primarily as a topical treatment.

Calendula flowers contain a high amount of flavonoids. Flavonoids are plant based antioxidants which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal effects. Flavonoids also help to protect cells from free radicals, which are unstable molecules thought to be directly involved in the aging process and which may contribute to a host of medical conditions.

Most often, calendula flowers are used to make topical treatments including tinctures, balms, salves, ointments, creams, or bath teas. Note that the entire head of the calendula flower may be used, not just the petals. Calendula has been used to treat a plethora of skin conditions including cuts and scrapes, chapped skin, stings, rashes, and other minor skin irritations and infections.  Calendula is very gentle and has been used on babies, children, and those with skin sensitivities.

In the Garden

Calendula is easy to grow in most USDA hardiness zones. It grows best in full sun. Calendula will tolerate any soil type, including clay, sand, and loam, as long as the soil as good drainage and the plant is watered evenly.

It is easy to grow calendula from seed. It tends to do best when directly sown, however, it is possible to start the seeds indoors and then transfer them outdoors when the weather allows. Calendula prefers cool temperatures, and for best results, should be planted in early spring or early fall. Note that calendula can tolerate some frost. If planted in the spring, cut back calendula before the hottest days of summer and allow it to grow again in early fall for more blooms.

Calendula typically grows to about one foot to two feet tall. It is resistant to most pests. It is even considered deer resistant! Calendula blooms range from very pale cream to bright orange. It is a happy and bright plant which will bring both beauty and function to your garden.

Harvesting and Storing

The flower heads (not just the petals) should be collected on hot, sunny days, if possible. The flower heads should be picked on a regular basis in order to prevent the plant from producing seeds. This will allow you to harvest the largest quantity of flower heads. It is best to collect the flower heads in the morning, before they have fully opened. Flower heads may be pinched off or cut with scissors.

Dry the flower heads completely before storing. Calendula may be dried by placing the flower heads face down on a dish towel out of direct sunlight. The flower heads must be completely dry before storing them. If they are not completely dry, they will mold and the harvest will be wasted. The flower heads should feel warm, fragile, and crispy. If they feel cool, that indicates there is still water present. Once completely dry, the flower heads should be stored in water tight jars outside of direct sunlight.

Using Calendula

Please see the following links for ways I use calendula.

Basic Calendula Oil Infusion

 

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Basic Calendula Oil Infusion

I’ve found this very simple calendula oil infusion very helpful in treating a variety of my family’s ailments. It is incredibly easy to make and may be stored for up to a year in a tight-sealing jar out of direct sunlight.

Recently, I used my calendula oil infusion to treat a rash my son came down with at daycare. I wanted to make a more comprehensive balm to treat his rash, however, I knew making the balm would take all night (allowing the herbs to infuse via the heat method) and I wanted to provide some immediate relief. I applied calendula oil infusion to his rash. Within an hour, the rash had disappeared.

I’ve also used this calendula infused oil to treat mild diaper rash, dry skin, and minor cuts and scrapes. It is easy to make, stores well, and is extremely effective.

Sun Infusion

This is the best way to make calendula infused oil. By not heating the calendula flowers, you are ensuring that none of the qualities of the herb are destroyed. The downside to this method is that it takes several weeks.

Supplies

  • Dried calendula flower heads
  • Liquid carrier oil (olive, sunflower, or castor are good choices)
  • Glass jar with tight sealing lid
  • Cheesecloth

Instructions

  1. Ensure your glass jar is clean and completely dry.
  2. Fill the glass jar with flower heads. Leave roughly one to two inches of head space above the flower heads.
  3. Pour the liquid carrier oil on top of the flower heads. The oil should cover the flower heads by about an inch.
  4. Place the lid on the jar and ensure it is on tight.
  5. Place the jar in a sunny location. Allow the infusion to sit for at least four weeks.
  6. Strain the oil infusion through cheese cloth to remove flower heads. The resulting oil should have no visible flower head parts in it.
  7. Store the infusion for up to a year in a tight-sealing jar away from sunlight.

Heat Infusion

This method for creating an infusion is not as effective as the sun method. However, it has the benefit of being much quicker. Although the heat may destroy some of the beneficial qualities of the calendula flower, it will still have many healing properties.

Supplies

  • Dried calendula flower heads
  • Liquid carrier oil (olive, sunflower, or castor are good choices)
  • Glass jar with tight sealing lid
  • Cheesecloth
  • Small sauce pan

Instructions

  1. Ensure your glass jar is clean and completely dry.
  2. Fill the glass jar with flower heads. Leave roughly one to two inches of head space above the flower heads.
  3. Pour the liquid carrier oil on top of the flower heads. The oil should cover the flower heads by about an inch.
  4. Dump the entire contents of the glass jar into the small sauce pan. Use a spatula to get all of the oil out.
  5. Allow the infusion to simmer on low heat for at least two hours. The longer the infusion is allowed to sit, the better. Stir the infusion occasionally.
  6. Strain the oil infusion through cheese cloth to remove flower heads. The resulting oil should have no visible flower head parts in it.
  7. Store the infusion for up to a year in a tight-sealing jar away from sunlight.

This recipe represents my first attempt at using herbal medicine.  However, it is a recipe I go back to again and again as it is so versatile as well as effective.  I love the way making these medicines makes me feel connected to the earth and self-sufficient!