Calendula growing in the garden.
Calendula: Calendula officinalis
Parts Used: Flower Heads, Petals
Description: Calendula boasts beautiful bright yellow blooms and a variety of cultivars displaying more deeply yellow-orange and more abundant petals are available. The plant grows between 30-80 cm in height with elegant yet tough and gently green stems. The leaves are alternately arranged, get progressively smaller as they progress up the stem and range from 3-15cm in length. Calendula can flower year round where mild conditions persist.
Habitat: Calendula has been cultivated for so long that there is uncertainty as to its exact origin. There is a long history of use, however, around the mediterranean, including in Italy and in Egypt where it can bloom year round. Calendula is also considered native to south west Asia, Western Europe and Macronesia.
Cultivation: Calendula is an easy to grow plant which produces numerous bright yellow and orange flowers throughout the growing season. It makes attractive borders in the garden and can help to repel some pesky insects in the garden includig aphids, eelworms, asparagus beetles and tomato hornworms. Young Calendula plants attract hoverflies to the garden, whose young are efficient eaters of aphids. Calendula is tolerate of most soil conditions and can grow in nutrient poor soils. It prefers well drained, moist soils and can bloom profusely after rain.
Actions: Anti-inflammatory, Anti-viral, Anti-fungal, Antisceptic, Antispasmodic, Vulnerary, Stomachic, Cholagogue.
Energetics & Taste: Cooling, drying, bitter, slightly pungent and spicey.
Constituents: Terepenoids (sitosterols, stigmasterols, and many more); Flavanoids (quercitin, isorhamnetin, narcissin, calendoflaside, calendoflavoside, rutin, isoquercitin and others); Coumarins (scopoletin, umbelliferon); Quinones, Volatuile Oils (Essential Oils); Carotenoides (neoxanthin, violaxanthin, luteoxanthin, lycopene, alpha carotene, beta carotene and more); Amino Acids; Vitamin C; Carbohydrates; Lipids (phospholipids, glycolipids, faty acids: lauric, myristis, palmitic, stearic, oleic, linoleic and linolenic).
A close up shot of Calendula in full bloom.
Uses: If we are talking about simple things that fill me with joy, a full jar of freshly pressed and strained Calendula Oil would surely be near the top of my list. I call it my “winter sunshine”; that blessed jar of deeply orange healing bliss that is Calendula Oil!
I love every part of working with Calendula, from the first plucked bloom in early spring, to the multiple trays of drying flower heads, to the exhilarating manner in which dried Calendula flowers added to cold pressed Sunflower Oil quickly turn the oil a bright, cheery orange, to the straining and pressing of the oil which renders it a breathtaking, beautiful, translucent orange! Growing the flowers and producing the healing oil from our own hands and labour simply fills me with joy. It is such a treasure to grow and make something so healing for your family! Its a good gardening project to get the whole family in on as well. In our garden, Calendula blooms from the end of June into September or October so long as mild conditions persist. Harvesting the yellow and orange blooms is a daily task, shared by the whole family. I rarely plant Calendula seeds, unless I am adding more to the garden. Left to go to seed in the garden, Calendula will easily re-seed itself in many climates.
A close-up shot of a Calendula seed head.
Calendula is most simply a healer. This vulnerary plant disinfects and speeds the healing of minor wounds, scrapes and rashes and indeed there is a long history of traditional and folk usage of Calendula extracts- both water and oil based- for wound healing. Because of its popularity and the ease with which Calendula can be grown, it has been the subject of many scientific studies. A number of the wide variety of the chemical constituents in Calendula contribute to its wound healing effect. There have been nineteen carotenoids identified in Calendula and these are considered to have anti-oxidant activity. Studies have also implied that Calendula officinalis extracts may promote wound healing by promoting epithelial growth and enhancing the immune response. Further, the triterpenoids present in Calendula are believed to be responsible for the anti-inflammatory effects of Calendula extracts, particularly faradiol monoester. And in laboratory studies, watery extracts of Calendula showed anti-bacterial activity against Staphylococcu aurens, in vitro. (In vitro means in the test tube or petri dish. While it is a good indication of the potential healing effects of a substance, it is not the same as killing a bacteria in vivo, which means in a live person.)
Bright orange Calendula Oil. The jar on the left had the Calendula flowers and oil soaking in it. On the right is the oil after the flower petals have been strained out.
Calendula also has a history of being used to heal ulcers. Although I have not used Calendula myself I this manner, this is consistent with Calendula being a vulnerary (wound healing) plant. As the digestive tract is an inward continuation of the skin, Calendula’s healing properties work well on the inside as out. Calendula is also slightly bitter and, when tasted, can help to stimulate the digestive process. Scientific studies have affirmed Calendula’s anti-spasmodic properties, particularly on the gut and also hepatoproctive activity (meaning it supports the liver).
Calendula also has a reputation as an anti-fungal and can be used in topical and internal preparations for fungal infections, including yeast infections. Once again, science has supported this traditional use, with laboratory studies finding the essential oils of Calendula effective against many strains of bacteria and fungi, including Candida albicans.
Nowadays, Calendula is most commonly used in topical preparations, as an oil which is incorporated into salves, ointments and lotions. When my first was born, I started making a salve which combined Calendula, Comfrey (Symphytum officinal) and Chickweed (Stellaria media) as a gentle, all purpose salve to prevent and treat diaper rash as well as to use as an all purpose first aid salve. Sometimes its hard to keep those little baby nails clipped, and I used this salve on the little scratches caused by quickly growing nails and other minor scrapes and bruises.
A basket of freshly harvested Calendula flowers.
When our oldest was about five, he backup up to tree while playing a game outside. He slid his back down the tree, accidentally lifting his shirt and scraping his back. When he ran into the house crying, bleeding a little and in pain, I quickly cleaned up the scrapes and applied the salve. This helped to relieve the pain and soothe him and he told me that it, “worked like magic” and so we have called the Calendula, Comfrey and Chickweed Salve “Magic Ointment” ever since. A Calendula based salve can form the mainstay of your natural diaper care kit; along with some “air time” on baby’s bum, a Calendula salve applied at diaper change will help keep rashes at bay and protect the skin from excess moisture. The Comfrey in our salve enhances the wound recovery and healing properties of the salve and the Chickweed helps to combat itchiness. Calendula hydrosol can also be used as a spray to help prevent and treat diaper rash. This is a good alternative for those who use cloth diapers and find that oil based salves coat the diapers.
Herbal Salve with Calendula for diaper rash, skin irritations and minor cuts and scrapes.
Calendula oil can be used directly on the skin, including baby’s! Its a great way to naturally treat cradle cap. Carefully massage the oil onto baby’s scalp and then gently comb off the cradle cap with a baby comb. The same oil can be used instead of or after baths to moisturize baby’s skin and to help keep it soft, nourished and healthy.
Summertime comes and along with it lots of outdoor play and BUG BITES!! Calendula is your ally here as well! It can be frustrating for both kids and parents if annoying, attention demanding bug bites keep kids up at night scratching; worse still when unconscious scratching causes the bug bites to bleed. Nature provides us with many healers and Calendula combines well with Plantain to draw out insect venom, prevent infection and soothe that persistent itchiness. A little chickweed added in, again, can help to stop the itchiness and thereby give the bite a chance to heal. For this I combine a super concentrated Calendula and Chickweed oil with Plantain oil and. This is safe to apply as often as needed to bug bites, including mosquito bites, spider bites, bee and wasp stings and more. I put the salve in a lip balm tube which is easy for the kids to carry around and use. When my kids have a bug bite that needs relief, they look for the “itchy stick”, what they call the Calendula, Plantain and Chickweed Salve.
Chill Out! Skin Chiller Stick for bites, stings and burns
You can also use aqueous- or water based- preparations of Calendula at home. During one of my daughter’s hockey games she was stepped on just above the knee by an opponents skate blade. The soft tissue of her knee was injured, as well as there being a superficial cut just above the knee. Her knee swelled up, was squishy to the touch and walking was hard. To bring down the swelling, prevent infection and promote healing, we applied a hot herbal compress on her knee. I made a tea of Calendula, Horsechestnut (Asculus hippocastanum,) and Yarrow (Achillea millefoil). We soaked a clean cloth in the tea and applied it to her knee, with a dry cloth in between, as hot as she could stand. The Yarrow and Calendula were to help disinfect and heal the cut. Horsechestnut seeds are the fruit of the Horsechestnut tree and help to relieve water retention and swelling. Application of the compress significantly reduced the swelling and after a few days of applying the compress and some other herbal salves, she was back to normal, shooting hoops and skating like the wind!
Calendula flowers, neatly laid upside down on lined trays for drying.
I have also recently started making a Calendula Hydrosol- a healing plant water that can also be sprayed on cuts, scrapes and rashes to disinfect and promote healing. Many of the studies on the healing effects of Calendula have affirmed that many of the anti-inflammatory and wound healing compound found in the Calendula flowers are also found in aqueous (water based) extract. The hydrosol works well here, as well as teas prepared from Calendula Petals.
I will follow this Calendula monograph up with instructions on how to make Calendula Oil. Sign up for our newsletter, as well, to keep informed about upcoming workshops and classes where we will learn to make oils, salves and more!
Contraindication and Warnings: Calendula is a well tolerated plant with no toxicity concerns. Herbalists tend to limit or avoid the internal use of Calendula during pregnancy as there is presumed to be some uterine stimulating activity in Calendula. Used cautiously at the discretion of a knowledgeable practitioner Calendula can be used internally during pregnancy to treat some conditions. It is safe to use externally during pregnancy. Some people can be allergic to Calendula and should avoid using the plant if they find that it causes symptoms. One study found that Calendula caused allergy symptoms in 9 out of 443 subjects.