Calendula

Do you have any of these growing in your garden?

Calendula (calendula officinalis) is the common flower we call calendula or pot marigold, but it should not be confused with decorative marigolds (genus, tagetes) that you often find in summer gardens. As you can see, their appearance is not the same, but that’s not all that differentiates them. Calendula is a wonderfully versatile herb that may be used in teas, tinctures, salves, and food. Tagetes marigolds need to stay in the garden–they’re for show only.

Both flowers are easy to grow and stand up well to the heat of summer.  They require very little effort–just a little water on occasion. They’ll grow best in full sun, but some shade is fine especially in very hot climates. They prefer soil that is not too soggy, but not too dry either. So, I just stick my finger in the soil and if it’s still moist, I leave them alone. If the soil is dry beyond the first inch or so, I give them a good watering while taking care not to drown them. If you have fairly regular late afternoon thunderstorms, you can probably get by with ignoring them completely, but do take the time to admire them regularly and pick the flowers often.

The more blossoms you cut, the more blooms you’ll get. You can put them in a vase for a few days, then chop off the stem, keeping the bloom and the green base intact. Rinse them off and toss them in your salad, or dry them completely and store in a dark, airtight container. You can make a lovely tea with the dried flowers either on their own or combined with other herbs like lemon balm or linden.

For centuries (and probably longer) cooks have added dried flowers to winter soups to provide color, flavor, and healing properties. In the past, a dye from calendula flowers were used to color cheese orange, so be careful when you’re cooking with it to avoid yellow stains (it makes a great natural dye for fabrics and Easter eggs though).

Calendula’s medicinal phytochemicals are concentrated in the bases, but the petals are still good sources. Some say the orange flowers are the best to use for medicinal purposes, although I’ve seen many herbalists use the yellow ones as well. Herbalists from the 16th and 17th centuries wrote that calendula is used to “strengthen and comfort the hart” and that it “cureth the trembling of the harte.” (1) However, calendula’s healing properties extend way beyond a simple comforting of the spirits. Here are some of the many ways calendula has been used internally.

As a tea, tincture, or in broths:

  • Headache
  • Indigestion (including GERD)
  • Jaundice
  • Winter tonic
  • Colds and flu
  • Fevers
  • Stress and depression
  • Ulcers
  • Menstrual cramps*
  • Measles, chicken pox, and other eruptive skin diseases
  • Infections (lymph system)

Applied topically as a poultice, salve, or compress soaked in a strong tea:

  • Shingles
  • Healing of burns and wounds
  • Swelling
  • Measles, chicken pox, and other eruptive skin diseases
  • Staunch bleeding

As an oil:

  • A few drops in each ear for earache

*Calendula is also considered an emmenagogue, which means it can bring about menstruation, so it is important to avoid this herb during pregnancy.

If you don’t have the room or the time to grow and dry your own calendula, don’t worry. You can buy the blooms from many online herbal stores, and calendula salves are pretty common in healthy grocery stores and pharmacies. I ordered these dried blossoms from https://www.bulkherbstore.com, but there are many great suppliers out there. If an herbal store is close by, support your local small business!

Copyright © by Bobbi Mullins, July 21, 2019

References:

(1) Grieve. M. A Modern Herbal (©1931)
Tierra, M. The Way of Herbs (©1980)
Blankespoor, J. Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine. Calendula’s Herbal & Edible Uses: How to Grow, Gather, and Prepare Calendula as Food and Medicine. (2012) https://chestnutherbs.com/calendula-sunshine-incarnate-an-edible-and-medicinal-flower/

Photo credits (unless otherwise noted, all photos are my own):
Collage:
Marigold, Image by _Alicja_ from Pixabay and Calendula, Image by zoosnow from Pixabay

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