Calendula: a superhero for blooms and medicine


calendula petals
calendula and cosmos
When it comes to multi-purpose medicinal herbs, calendula is an all-round superhero. Its commonly used in treatments for burns, scalds, cuts, abrasions, rashes and infections in Western herbal medicine – it’s definitely the darling of many herbalists and homeopaths. I chatted with Auckland-based homeopath Tricia Curtis recently, who’s completely sold on the plant. “If you could have just one healing plant,” she says, “it would be calendula. It’s just an all-round marvellous healer.”

The brilliant-petalled pot marigold (Calendula officinalis) is a key component in many of Tricia’s handmade herbal products (check the bottom of this article for her recipe for a DIY multi-purpose calendula cream), utilised for its anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties. 

“It really helps to create healthy tissue because it promotes cell growth. And it’s antiseptic. It’s pretty much good for anything,” she says.

A common garden annual, calendula has a long history of both medicinal and culinary uses. Europeans threw handfuls of the petals into soups and stews to add flavour and colour, hence the common name pot marigold. It was also used to colour butter and cheese, and it earned the nickname poor man’s saffron when it was used in place of the more expensive spice to colour rice.

These days the petals are often seen in salads and sprinkled over soups and meat dishes on serving, because the petals are edible.

Medicinally, calendula has been used for treating everything from war wounds to chronic fungal infections. As Tricia says, “Calendula has been found to stimulate the growth of new tissues and blood vessels when applied externally to wounds,” she says.

Calendula is also useful for skin problems, such as acne, eczema, psoriasis and rashes, as well as ulcers and bedsores. As a mouthwash, it’s effective in treating periodontal disease.

A fact sheet put out by the Herb Federation of New Zealand, lists its many uses:

“For treating vaginal infections or inflammations, varicose veins, haemorrhoids, shingles, chicken pox, measles, ringworm, athletes foot, mumps, sore inflamed eyes, conjunctivitis, styes, breast congestion and inflammation, insect bites and toothache.

“For internal uses, it is beneficial for stomach and duodenal ulcers, leaky gut and for its antimicrobial effect on the gut, liver and gallbladder. As an immune and lymphatic stimulant to aid the bodies fight against bacterial, viral, fungal and parasitical infections.”

Tricia uses calendula tincture in many of her herbal preparations and says anyone can make their own tincture at home (see recipe, below). “Then instead of just washing cuts and scratches with water and soap, although you can do that too, give it a wash with diluted tincture and it will help to heal it up without scarring.”

She prefers tinctures (extracts made with alcohol) over oil infusions because tinctures are longer lasting.

“Oils can go rancid. I go through quite a bit, so for me it’s so more convenient to have something that stores really well and I know nothing’s going to happen to it. And when you make it with the alcohol – I use vodka – it really pulls out all the active ingredients.”

But you must use a vodka with at least 37.5% alcohol, she says. “It’s not going to preserve it if it’s less than 37.5% alcohol.”

Your calendula tinctures can be added to a cream base and applied to the skin to speed up healing. Or for internal problems, a calendula tea can be made.

But make sure you pick the right plant. Calendulas, or pot marigolds, should not be confused with French marigolds (Tagetes patula), which are inedible. At a quick glance you can tell the difference by the leaves. A calendula’s foliage is spatulate and light green. A French marigold’s is serrated and dark green.

And if you were to choose between yellow and orange calendula petals for medicinal benefits, opt for the brighter orange hues, which are considered to be more effective.

Note: For internal use, consult your healthcare professional. Do not take calendula internally if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

TRICIA’S CALENDULA TINCTURE

Add a tablespoon of the extract to half a cup of warm water and use as a wash for any injuries, sores, grazes, acne, burns, boils and abscesses. Alternatively, you could make a simple ointment with beeswax and olive oil as the base and add calendula extract as the active ingredient.

To make a calendula extract you need:

+ Calendula officinalis flowering tops, preferably the orange ones
+ 100g glass jar with a screw lid
+ 37.5% strength vodka

1. Gather the flowering tops in the late morning of a sunny day when the dew has pretty much dried on the flowers.

2. Check them over, remove any bugs then fill the jar with the flowers.

3. Cram as many flowers as you possibly can into the jar, squashing them down if need be.

4. Fill the jar with vodka, covering all plant material.

5. Place on a sunny windowsill for one month. Turn and gently shake the jar every once in a while. After a month or so, you can strain off the liquid extract, and you are ready for action! Don’t forget to label and date the extract, although they really do last and keep working for years.

Visit Tricia’s website here for more information on herbs and their uses – and while you’re there, buy some of her lovely, natural products!

The top image is from 5 Orange Potatoes. Check out the lovely site here, along with a recipe for calendula infusion.

 

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