Calendula officinalis – Sunflower Family
by Greg Tilford c.2010
Appearance: Also known as pot marigold, the bright yellow, orange, or red-orange flowers of calendula are a familiar sight in gardens and landscape designs everywhere. Calendula officinalis is a small plant that seldom exceeds 18 inches in height. The lance-shaped or oblong, alternate leaves have coarse surfaces and are borne on sturdy, branching stems. Calendula should not be confused with other “marigolds”, namely “French marigolds” and other members of the Tagetes genus of the sunflower family, which have a pungent odor and much different, compound leaf characteristics.
Habitat & Range: Originally a native of Europe and Africa, calendula is a cultivated plant throughout most of the world.
Cycle & Bloom Season: The word “calendula” is derived from the “calends”— meaning that the plant blooms continuously; on the new moon of each month. While calendula really doesn’t keep such an accurate calendar, it does remain in a constant and generous state of bloom throughout most of its annual life span.
Parts Used: The flowers.
Actions: Anti-inflammatory, lymphatic, vulnerary, astringent, antibacterial, antifungal, antitumor, cholagogue, emmenogogue.
Affinities: Skin and mucous membranes.
Preparation: Water or oil infusion, tincture, poultice, salves and ointments.
Specific Uses: Calendula is among the first herbs to consider in minor first aid situations. A broad array of medicinal compounds in the flowers of the plant, including various essential oils, flavonoids, saponins, triterpene alcohols, carotenes and others, combine to help speed cell reproduction and inhibit bacteria and fungi at the site of injury. For minor cuts, insect bites, abrasions, or post-surgical incisions, calendula salve will bring quick, soothing relief to pain and swelling, while lending wound-healing, antimicrobial properties to the body’s healing effort. Infusions of the flowers are effective as a soothing and healing skin wash for various forms of inflammatory dermatitis— such as flea bites, poison ivy, eczema, or sunburn. The antimicrobial and astringent nature of this plant make it useful for treating burns as well. In these circumstances, a cooled water infusion (skin rinse) is recommended over oils, salves, or poultices, as the latter may seal in heat, causing further aggravation of the injury. A cooled water infusion may also be used as an eyewash for conjunctivitis, where the mild but predictable astringency of the plant combines with its bacteria-fighting properties to reduce irritation and infection. To make an eyewash or skin rinse, refer to “The Basics of Making Herbal Preparations”. Internally, an infusion or tincture of the flower may be used to treat inflammation or ulceration of the digestive or urinary tracts, where it serves in the drainage of lymph-engorged tissues and reduces inflammation. It may also prove beneficial in the treatment of candidosis— a fungal infection which infects mucous membranes in the mouths and digestive tracts of birds, cats, horses, and sometimes dogs. The antifungal qualities of this herb also make it a possible option for topical treatment of chromomycosis; an infection of the skin which occurs from various fungi origins in cows, horses, dogs, cats, and amphibians— or in the treatment of entomophthoromycosis ; a fungal infection of the nostrils, mouth, or lips of horses. While virtually no scientific data exists to validate the effectiveness of calendula against these three forms of disease, its safety and reputed effectiveness as a broad-spectrum antifungal agent make it an option worth trying.
Preparations containing calendula have been shown effective in the treatment of chronic colitis1. Animal studies have shown that the saponin constituents in calendula may possess antitumor activities2.
Availability: Over 30 cultivars of calendula are available at nurseries everywhere.
Propagation & Harvest: Sow seeds in early spring, or transplant the starts after danger of frost is past. Calendula likes moderately rich soil and full sun. It is not picky about pH— as long as your soil is not excessively alkaline or acidic in nature, calendula will do just fine. Once established, plants will self-sow from their prolific seed production. Seedlings that emerge each spring should be thinned to about six inches apart, otherwise you can expect a continuous, relatively carefree supply of calendula. Harvest the flowers whenever the are in full bloom. They can then be made into an herbal preparation while they are fresh, or you can dry them indoors for use in the near future.
Alternatives and Adjuncts: For use in first aid salves, calendula combines especially well with comfrey and St. John’s wort. To increase its effectiveness in antifungal uses (internally or externally), try combining it with bee balm, oregon grape, or licorice. For urinary or digestive tract inflammations, calendula can be combined with cornsilk, marshmallow, or plantain.
Cautions & Comments: Although calendula is without question one of the safest herbs around, it does have a reputation for stimulating menstruation, and in some studies it has been shown to possess abortifacient activities in rodents3. Therefore, it should be avoided during early pregnancy. Calendula may contain a very small measure of salicylic acid4, a constituent that is potentially toxic to cats. Although this compound is likely confined to the leaves and stems of the plant and does not occur in quantities that are likely to be of immediate danger to felines, its presence should be taken into account prior to long term internal use.
1. Chakurski I., Matev M Koichev A., Angelova I., Stefanov G. “Treatment of Chronic Colitis with an Herbal combination of Taraxacum officinale, Hypericum perforatum, Melissa officinalis, Calendula officinalis and Foeniculum vulgare.” Pharmazie (1988 Mar) 43(3):220.
2. Boucard-Maitre Y et al. “Cytoxic and Antitumoral activity of Calendula extracts.” Pharmazie 1988; 43: 220.
3. Morelli I et al. Selected Medicinal Plants. Rome: FAO, 1983
4. Foster, Steven. Herbal Renaissance – Growing, Using, and Understanding Herbs in the Modern World. Layton, Utah: Peregrine Smith Books, 1993.