Classic Calendula: A Sip of Summer Sunshine

Loke wyscely on golde erly at morwe [morning]
Yat day fro feures it schall ye borwe:
Ye odour of ye golde is good to smelle.’
~ Macer’s Herbal

Calendula (Calendula officinalis) will always be a summer flower for me — her bright colors and radiant shape reflects that of the sun. Petals in hues from light lemon to deep orange adorn her flowers, opening in the morning, following the sun’s journey across the sky, and closing as dusk sets in. She is also a flower of contradictions: despite her solar connections, she blooms monthly, often with the new moon.

Native to the countries bordering the Mediterranean and east to Iran, her popularity has spread to countries that are primarily Hindu. There her flowers are used to adorn the statues of their gods in temples, as well as a colorant in food, fabrics, and cosmetics. In the Western realms, she has long been associated with the Virgin Mary (Mary’s Gold) and used in Catholic events honoring the Virgin Mary. As a child growing up Catholic, my first meeting with calendula came about during a service for the Feast of the Annunciation: I was drawn to her bright colors and was told it was ‘her flower’. It became my favorite right then and there.

In bygone days calendula was used as food rather than as an herb or decoration. She is high in Vitamin C and was added to cereals, rice, soups,  and salads, much like nasturtiums. [1] Nowadays, she is a healer. To drink a cup of calendula tea is to ingest liquid sunshine; this flower offers her aid wherever you may need healing.

Pharmacological studies suggest that calendula extracts have anti-viral, anti-genotoxic, and anti-inflammatory properties in vitro, making her a potentially useful herb to work with while pregnant.[2] Many herbalists use calendula topically in suspension or in tincture for acne, reducing inflammation, controlling bleeding, and soothing irritated tissue.[3] There is also some evidence that Calendula cream or ointment is effective in treating radiation dermatitis.[4]
Traditionally, calendula has been used for abdominal cramps and constipation. Modern experiments using an extract of calendula flowers showed them to have both spasmolytic and spasmogenic effects, thus providing a scientific rationale for this traditional use. [5]

Calendula is incredibly versatile when it comes to first aid. The petals of this flower are full of antibacterial, infection-fighting resins and gums, and their astringent tannins help heal sores. “If you cut your finger:’ McIntyre says, “wash the wound, pour a half tea spoon of calendula tincture [available at health food stores] into a bowl of warm water, and soak your cut in it for ten minutes.” [6]  I like to use her as a mouthwash (half tea spoon of tincture in a cup of water),she sooths bleeding gums, heals gingivitis, and banishes cold sores.

Calendula was well known to the old herbalists as a garden-flower and for use in cookery and medicine. Dodoens-Lyte (A Niewe Herball, 1578) says:

‘It hath pleasant, bright and shining yellow flowers, the which do close at the setting downe of the sunne, and do spread and open againe at the sunne rising.’

Fuller writes: ‘We all know the many and sovereign virtues in your leaves, the Herbe Generalle in all pottage.’ (Antheologie, 1655.) Stevens, in Maison Rustique, or the Countrie Farme (1699), mentions the Marigold as a specific for headache, jaundice, red eyes, toothache and ague. The dried flowers are still used among the peasantry ‘to strengthen and comfort the hart.’
In Macer’s Herbal it is stated that only to look on Marigolds will draw evil humours out of the head and strengthen the eyesight.

‘Golde [Marigold] is bitter in savour
Fayr and zelw [yellow] is his flowur
Ye golde flour is good to sene
It makyth ye syth bryth and clene
Wyscely to lokyn on his flowres
Drawyth owt of ye heed wikked hirores  [humours].

And our ongoing favorite, Culpepper, says it is a:  ‘herb of the Sun, and under Leo. They strengthen the heart exceedingly, and are very expulsive, and a little less effectual in the smallpox and measles than saffron. The juice of Marigold leaves mixed with vinegar, and any hot swelling bathed with it, instantly gives ease, and assuages it. The flowers, either green or dried, are much used in possets, broths, and drink, as a comforter of the heart and spirits, and to expel any malignant or pestilential quality which might annoy them. A plaister made with the dry flowers in powder, hog’s-grease, turpentine, and rosin, applied to the breast, strengthens and succours the heart infinitely in fevers, whether pestilential or not.’ [8]
Steeped as a tea, it soothes conditions like gastritis, gastroenteritis, and candida overgrowth. It can also ease congestion in the lymphatic system, helping to treat cysts and the breast tenderness that can precede menstruation, and its hormone-balancing properties may help curb hot flashes and conditions like heavy periods. Because of its antiviral attributes, calendula tea can also help you fight off a cold or flu.

Calendula carries potent antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and tissue healing properties, making her an excellent help whenever you face viruses, colds, inflammation, allergies, or infection. She aids in the production of collagen, and is highly useful when mending damaged or irritated tissues – she offers her repair services for those suffering from eczema, gum problems, gut problems, diaper rash, cuts, cradle cap, canker sores, and more.
I love when herbs are easy to use, and this one certainly is. A small handful of dried flowers or petals in a quart jar of hot water makes a day’s tea. Calendula flowers can be used to make tinctures, sitz baths, nasal rinses for a neti pot, compresses, poultices, oils, balms, soaps, or creams.

Calendula is delightfully easy to grow: she is wonderfully hardy, can be grown in a variety of soils, and is often the last flower blooming in our autumn garden. Some vegetables can be companion-planted with calendula, as she can aid pollination by attracting bees and helpful insects, and as well as repelling some common pests. The plants can re-seed themselves many times over. Like the sun, Calendula requires little of us, yet it gives abundantly and generously.
Harvest the blossoms in the morning after the dew has evaporated; lay them flat in a shady spot to dry. You may also hang them upside-down by their stems. If you live in a damp climate, you can dry them in the oven – let them wilt for a day, then lay them on a cookie sheet covered with a flattened brown paper bag, and turn the oven to 150 degrees (or ‘warm’). Leave the door propped open a smidge (I stick a wooden spoon in between the door and the walls) to let the moisture escape, and check on them every hour or so. The flowers usually dry nicely within a few hours, depending on their moisture level.[7]

The best thing about drying and storing calendula blossoms is the comfort in being able to drink a cup of sunshine in the chilly months of the year, when the sun is taking her rest. Calendula may be the Queen of Summer, but she can lend a hand in keeping us healthy all year ‘round.

Calendula Tea
Steep 1-2 teaspoons of dried flowers in 1-2 c hot water for 10 minutes.  It mixes well with chamomile and all of the mints, if you’d like to vary your flavors.

Homemade Calendula Oil
Dried organic calendula petals
Carrier oil (olive oil, almond oil, or sunflower oil are all great choices)
A clean, glass jar with a lid

Stuff the jar with the dried calendula petals – at least three-quarters full. Fill the jar with the carrier oil of choice to cover the petals by one inch. You may need to gently stir the petals to make sure they are completely covered. Put the jar in a sunny place to infuse for four weeks. Strain the petals through a layer or two of cheesecloth and store in a container with a lid for up to one year.

This oil has many uses, including:
An after-bath body oil
Use it as a baby oil
Apply it to specific problem areas where you might have dry skin, inflammations, or rashes.

Calendula Balm
This rub helps treat eczema, bug bites, dry skin, and more. Coconut oil solidifies at 76’ so when cool, it will be a balm. Run the tightly closed jar under warm water to liquefy. Refrigerated, the balm will keep for one year.
1 c  coconut oil
2  c Calendula petals, dried (organic)

Place coconut oil in the top of a double boiler. Heat gently until the oil turns to liquid. Add calendula petals, making sure they are submerged. Cover and simmer 6 hours, or until oil turns orange. Using a piece of muslin to catch the leaves, strain oil into a glass jar, squeezing the fabric to get every last drop. Close tightly.

Calendula Salve
This salve is a staple in my home. It is perfect for treating chapped faces from winter winds and is great on minor burns. (I can’t keep an aloe vera plant alive, so I had to find an alternative.)
2 c Calendula petals (dried & organic)
1 c Olive oil
1/4 c Beeswax Pastilles/Pellets
Several small clean glass jars with lids

Place petals and oil into a stainless steel pot. Turn on low heat, and stir to combine. Watch for tiny bubbles in the oil – you do not want it to get any hotter than this. You may need to turn the heat down to keep it at this level. Cook for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Before the time is up, gently melt the beeswax in the top of a double boiler (just barely melt, you want the temperature to be the same as the calendula oil). Strain the petals from the oil using cheesecloth. Squeeze as much of the oil as you can into a bowl. Slowly pour the oil into the melted beeswax in the double boiler; stir to combine. Pour the warm oil into small jars/containers, and allow to cool. I prefer to use colored glass jars, I think the salve keeps longer. Store in a cool place or up to one year.

I rediscovered calendula a few years ago when I saw how it thrived in my neighbor’s garden plot as cool fall days and the first frosts approached. All around me the plants were beginning to lose their summer sheen, but she plant was blooming as if in its element. Her cheerful face seemed to me to be the perfect symbol of her restorative powers. She now blooms in my garden, a cheerful bright face in amongst the others all through the summer days.

[1] From: Accessed October 1, 2012.
[2].  Jimenez-Medina E, Garcia-Lora A, Paco L et al. “A new extract of the plant Calendula officinalis produces a dual in vitro effect: cytotoxic anti-tumor activity and lymphocyte activation.” BMC Cancer. 6: 2006.
[3] “Results of the clinical examination of an ointment with marigold (Calendula officinalis) extract in the treatment of venous leg ulcers”. International Journal of Tissue Reactions. 27 (3): 2005.
“Phase III randomized trial of Calendula officinalis compared with trolamine for the prevention of acute dermatitis during irradiation for breast cancer.” Journal of Clinical Oncology; (8): 2004.
[4] McQuestion M. “Evidence-based skin care management in radiation therapy.” Seminars in Oncological Nursing. 22: 2006.
Bolderston A, LLoyd NS, Wong RK et al. “The prevention and management of acute skin reactions related to radiation therapy: a systematic review and practice guideline.” Support Care Cancer. 14: 2006.
[5] Bashir S, Janbaz KH, Jabeen Q et al. (2006). Studies on spasmogenic and spasmolytic activities of Calendula officinalis flowers. Phytother Res. 20:906-910.
[6] McIntyre, Anne. The Complete Woman’s Herbal: A Manual of Healing Herbs and Nutrition for Personal Well-Being and Family Care. Holt Paperbacks, 1995.
[7] From: Accessed October 1, 2012.
[8] From: Accessed October 1, 2012.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.