This year we celebrate cheerful, colorful the calendula flowers (Calendula officinalis) as the Herb of the Year for 2008, as proclaimed by the International Herb Association. We honor this herbal plant for its sunny disposition in the garden, its golden petals in the kitchen and most of all for its medicinal virtue.
In the Kitchen
• Vegetable Broth with Calendula recipe
A Long History of Calendula Uses
Since antiquity, calendula (also known as pot marigold) flowers have been used in infusions for many maladies. The Egyptians used the petals to heal wounds. In the Middle Ages, calendula was used for indigestion and healing bruises and burns. In World War I, the herb was used on the injured to prevent inflammation and infection. According to Annie Burnham Carter, author of In An Herb Garden (1947), “In England during that war, Miss Gertrude Jekyll gave a field on her estate for the exclusive cultivation of pot marigolds . . . the flowers which bloomed there were sent in great quantities to France to be used in dressings for the wounded.”
Historically, calendula was used as a restorative for the eyes; famed 17th-century herbalist Nicholas Culpeper claimed it strengthened the heart and spirit, and he used it as an expulsive to expel malignant and pestilential qualities. In 1606, Charles Stevens and John Liebault wrote in Maison Rustique, or The Countrey Farme, that marigolds were used as “a remedy for headache, toothache, jaundice, red eyes, and ague.” They also noted: “The yellow leaves (petals) of the flowers are dried and kept throughout Dutchland against winter to put into broths, physical potions and for divers other purposes, in such quantity that in some Grocers or spice sellers are to be found barrels filled with them and retailed by the penny or less, insomuch that no broths are well made without dried Marigold.”
Calendula Uses Today
Calendula is wonderfully soothing to the skin. Because it is anti-inflammatory, astringent and antimicrobial, it can be used to help heal wounds, cuts, scrapes, rashes, bee stings, burns and bruises. The plant contains large amounts of iodine and manganese, as well as carotene, and all of these attributes promote the regeneration of skin cells. Calendula is mild enough that it can be used in salves and ointments for diaper rash on babies, stretch marks on pregnant women, and in creams for nursing mothers. As always, there are individuals who are susceptible to an allergic reaction, so if you have allergies to ragweed or any daisy-like blooms, proceed with caution and consult your health practitioner before using the herb.
Calendula extract or tincture is used as a gargle for sores in the mouth and inflammations of the mouth, throat and nose; toothpaste with the extract is now being marketed. The herb eases digestive disorders, such as colitis, peptic ulcers and gastritis. Calendula is a cleansing and detoxifying herb, good for ailments of the liver and gallbladder. Due to its concentration of carotenoids, calendula flowers are high in antioxidants, which protect against cell-damaging free radicals.
Scientific studies reported in Tyler’s Honest Herbal by Steven Foster and Varro E. Tyler, Ph.D. (Haworth, 1999), and other sources confirm that calendula does have medicinal properties, although more human studies are needed.
A few sources state that only the common deep-orange flowered variety is of medicinal value, while others say that only the single-petaled varieties are. According to Steven Foster in Herbal Renaissance (Gibbs Smith, 1993), “Herbalists consider single-flowered varieties to be medicinal; however, this notion has not stood up to scientific scrutiny in other members of the aster family.” From our experience, we have found that these golden petals are easy and rewarding to grow, flavorful in the kitchen and full of medicinal qualities.
Making Calendula Medicine at Home
To prepare a remedy at home using calendula flowers, you must first make an extract. Extraction methods include infusion, fomentation, poultice, tincture, oil, lotion and herbal bolus (suppositories).
Although we do use calendula’s gold petals in the kitchen, we probably use them more often in recipes for topical applications. The golden yellow infusion, long used as a healing compress and as a dye, also is used as a facial cleanser and as a hair rinse for blondes. Besides infusions, calendula oil, salve and tincture are where most of our flower petals are used. For these preparations, we tend to use dried petals.
• Frontier Natural Products Co-op
• Herbal Healer Academy
• Mountain Rose Herbs
• San Francisco Herb & Natural Food Co.
• Starwest Botanicals
Susan Belsinger and Tina Marie Wilcox have a long-distance and longstanding herbal partnership; they have been collaborating on articles and herbal programs since they met more than a decade ago. Currently, they are promoting their new book, The Creative Herbal Home (Herbspirit, 2007) and working on the next title in their series, The Creative Herbal Garden. To order a book or find out about herbal presentations, visit www.SusanBelsinger.com.