) is a lesser-known and perhaps under-appreciated
healing plant. Calendula has a long history of safe use as both medicine and
food, and recent scientific research supports its use for many ailments. As an
added bonus, calendula is beautiful and easy to grow in your own garden, even
for inexperienced gardeners.
Calendula is perhaps best known for its effectiveness in healing skin
problems such as wounds, burns, insect bites, eczema, skin ulcers, and rashes.
It has also been used internally to soothe and heal gastric and duodenal ulcers,
as a wash for varicose veins and hemorrhoids, as a rinse for toothaches, and as
an eyewash for conditions like conjunctivitis. In vitro (test tube)
research has shown that calendula contains antimicrobial compounds that inhibit
certain strains of Staphylococcus and Candida, as well as E.
coli and some protozoa, such as Trichomonas. Its wound-healing
properties may also be attributed to its high content of natural iodine,
carotene, and manganese, which promote skin cell regeneration.
As if all of that isn't enough, experimental in vivo (in the body)
research suggests that calendula gently stimulates the immune system and
promotes lymphatic drainage, reduces inflammation and pain, lowers cholesterol
and triglycerides, and inhibits tumor growth. The bitter green calyx that
surrounds the flower head stimulates digestion by increasing bile secretion.
Calendula also contains lycopene, which has recently been shown to be beneficial
to prostate health.
Growing and using your own
one of the best things about this attractive plant is that it is not fussy about
soil conditions and can be grown from seed in almost any sunny area, meaning
that you can enjoy the experience of growing your own medicine. To harvest, pick
the flowers as they open and spread them to dry in a place that is out of direct
sunlight and free from moisture. Store the dried flowers in jars and use as
needed. Calendula reseeds easily, so at the end of the growing season simply
leave some of the flowers on the plants to form seed heads. Scatter the dried
seeds wherever you would like to see calendula pop up next spring.
To make a simple skin oil, place a handful of dried calendula flower heads or
petals in a glass jar and add enough oil (such as sweet almond or apricot kernel
oil) to completely cover the plant material. Seal the jar and allow it to infuse
for 4 to 8 weeks, shaking daily. When the oil is golden, strain and store it in
a dark bottle in a cool dark place. (Keeping the oil in the refrigerator will
extend its shelf life.) Use this oil freely for any skin condition, or add some
melted beeswax and a few drops of tea tree or lavender essential oil to make a
healing and soothing salve.
To use internally, make a tea from the dried flowers using about 3 or 4
flower heads per cup of boiling water-be sure to remove the bitter green calyx.
For a soothing bath, make a strong tea by bringing 3 cups of water to a boil.
Add 12 to 15 flower heads, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 10 to 15
minutes. Strain and add the liquid to your bath. If you're not inclined to make
your own medicines, you'll find a variety of products containing calendula at
your local natural food store.
Calendula is believed to have originated in or near the Mediterranean and is
now naturalized all over the world. The herb is also known as common marigold or
"pot marigold" because the dried flowers were traditionally used in soups and
stews to help ward off illness. Ancient Egyptians and Romans valued calendula
highly, and, noticing that in their temperate climates it was always in bloom on
the first day of each month, called it "calends," after the calendar. Don't
confuse Calendula officinalis with the French or African marigolds (Tagetes
species) commonly planted as ornamental borders and pest deterrents in vegetable
gardens. Calendula can be distinguished by its bright golden orange or yellow
flower heads, its sticky calyx, the hairy texture of its leaves, and its height
of eighteen inches to two feet.