Caring With Calendula

This vibrant orange blossom pops in the garden add a burst of color to cuisine and is a powerhouse in the medicine cabinet. Learn more about this amazing, autumn-loving species.

Brilliantly striking, calendula’s gorgeous yellow and deep-orange blossoms bring a smile to both gardener and herbalist alike. In the fall, you’ll find this plant gracing many doorways, a staple among other autumn harbingers that herald the colder weather to come. But this dazzling ornamental’s long, storied history and powerful medicine make it a must-have for the home.

Sunshine in the Yard

Visually delightful, sun-loving Calendula officinalis is also commonly called marigold, but don’t confuse it with Mexican marigold {Tagetes erecta}, which is another species entirely. A member of the Asteraceae family along with chamomile, dandelion, and Echinacea, calendula is native to southern Europe and parts of the Middle East, but now grows in temperate climates throughout the world. A short-lived perennial, it acts as an annual in both cold and hot climates. Although it’s typically cultivated, you may see calendula brightening once-tended fields as escapes from neighboring gardens. One of the easiest medicinal plants to propagate, it thrives prolifically through its long growing season, rewarding its nurturer with scores of glorious blossoms.

Marigolds sprout early in spring, exhibiting small, light-green oval leaves, keeping their illuminated hue while growing larger and more oblong and lanceolate shaped. Two to 7 inches long, with a smooth edge and prominent midrib, they appear alternately on a hardy, slightly hairy stem. Plants grow to 2 feet tall, producing sunny yellow-orange blossoms six weeks after germinating. Spicy-scented flower heads are 4-7 cm in diameter and thick, containing both ray and disc florets, and can bloom through the first snow in many states.

Easy to grow and famously unfussy, marigolds flourishes in USDA zones 2-9. After the last cold frost, sow seeds directly into soil 12 inches apart and cover with 1/2 inch of fine soil. In warm climates, sow seeds in fall for spring blooms. Calendula enjoys full sun and well-drained soil but can grow in most soil types – as Rosemary Gladstar notes, it “does just as well pampered as ignored.” Reseeding itself abundantly, marigold spreads its growing space each year. Deadhead it regularly to encourage blossom production, harvest it when it has matured, and give the flower heads extra time to dry before storing.

Calendula Through the Centuries

With its very long history of use in food and medicine, calendula has been a staple in kitchens and cottage gardens since ancient times. Found in some of the earliest apothecary texts, calendula was a valued herb well before written history. The Romans treated scorpion bites with marigold flowers, early Ayurvedic practitioners used it for inflammation and Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners found it useful in supporting healthy skin. Twelfth-century herbalists affirmed that just gazing at the golden flowers encouraged cheerfulness, and medieval physicians used marigold to heal wounds, ease toothache, treat stomach ulcers and sore eyes, support the liver, and ward off the plague. Sixteenth- and 17-century herbalists Nicholas Culpepper and John Gerard both extolled the virtues of calendula as a “comforter” of the heart and spirit, and beneficial for digestive complaints and skin irritations. A battlefield herb of the Civil War, it helped staunch bleeding and disinfect wounds, and became a prominent remedy in the American Pharmacopeia from 1880-1900, as Eclectic physicians utilized calendula for everything from mild burns to all manner of childhood illnesses and infection.

An herb of the sun, calendula opens in the morning, its face following the sun until it closes by evening, earning it the nickname “little hourglass” and helping farmers gauge time. In Germany, it was common knowledge that if marigold remained closed by 7:00 a.m., rain was approaching.

An “herb-general of all pottage,” calendula acquired the nickname “pot marigold” for its indispensable use in early kitchens. Seventeenth-century cookbook The Countrie Farme states “no broths are well made without dried marigold.” Added to winter soups, puddings, and porridge, it helped ward off seasonal illnesses. Once a substitute for saffron, calendula’s bright petals were used to color cheese and butter through World War ll. {Today, you can find calendula flowers and leaves in salads and soups for a pop of color and a slightly bitter, peppery taste. Use fresh flower heads to adorn festive cupcakes or scatter petals on scones.}

calendula tall

Associated with the sun sign Leo, calendula has served as a symbol of love, luck, protection, and remembrance. Ancient Greeks wore marigold garlands to wedding feasts, and to dream of the flower meant prosperity, success, and happy marriage. One of the original “he loves me/he loves me not” flowers, calendula often featured in love potions and charms. Its golden blooms were strewn about floors and doorways to ward away evil and scattered across a bed to bring safety through the night and encourage prophetic dreams. Carrying marigold flowers in your pocket offered protection and brought good luck. Conserves of marigold taken in the morning would protect a person from witches and enable one to see fairies.

Marigold represents sorrow – but also relief from grief, as William Shakespeare once noted, “the marigold that goes to bed with the sun, and wi’ him rises weeping.” In Victorian times a bouquet of marigolds and roses symbolized the “sweet sorrows of love,” and combined with pansies it meant “I will soothe your grief.” {Celebrations in India and the Day of the Dead in Mexico feature the Tagetes flowers, not calendula.}

A popular and fabulous flower essence, calendula centers on communication, helping one find more warmth, understanding, and compassion in discourse with others. Encouraging active, empathetic listening and reciprocity, calendula aims to decrease the use of caustic tone and words, allowing one to be open, truly hearing the deeper meaning in conversation.

Marigold Medicine

Lovely calendula’s innumerable medicinal attributes are so comprehensive, it’s a challenge to name them all. Used for centuries, it’s a well-studied plant that receives worldwide recognition as a healer. The United Kingdom has approved marigold as a topical treatment, Canada has authorized it as an active ingredient in over-the-counter herbal and homeopathic medicines, and the United States recognizes calendula as safe for use in food, cosmetics, supplements, and homeopathic remedies. Mild enough for children and the elderly, marigold is a gentle but powerfully impressive plant, battling everything from mild rashes to virulent microbes. Calendula is full of beneficial antioxidants, including beta-carotene, quercetin, rutin, lycopene, and vitamin C, along with essential fatty acids, polysaccharides, sterols, and volatile oils that contribute to its wide range of effectiveness.

For Skin: Best known for its remarkable skin healing, calendula is considered the queen of epidermis herbs, frequently found in salves, oils, lotions, and liniments. A superb vulnerary, the German Commission E approved it as a topical healing remedy for wounds and foot ulcers, and a 2014 study from the University of Kashmir “revealed significant acceleration of wound healing” as well as excellent results on contact dermatitis. Thanks to its content of allantoin, which stimulates skin cell regeneration, as well as anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties, calendula can be used for diaper rash, insect bites, mild burns, dry skin {as well as eczema}, bedsores, and for preventing infection. Its antifungal action makes it useful in combating athlete’s foot, ringworm, and other fungal issues. The antiviral, astringent properties of the herb serve as a fantastic compress for conjunctivitis, blepharitis {inflammation of the eyelid}, herpes simplex virus {HSV} sores, phlebitis, and varicose veins.

For Digestion: Calendula’s antispasmodic constituents ease abdominal cramping from gas and indigestion while its bitter principle stimulates the gallbladder and digestive juices, and increases absorption of nutrients. Anti-inflammatory actions, along with marigold’s demulcent, antiseptic, and wound-healing action, have been used to prevent and remedy duodenal and peptic ulcers as well as soothe gastric irritation from forms of IBD and leaky gut, and the herb eases pharyngeal tissue in cases of gastroesophageal reflux disease {GERD}. As an astringent and antimicrobial, it helps alleviate diarrhea along with amoebic dysentery and dysbiosis.

For the Immune System: An impressive immunomodulator, marigold supports the immune system not only with its antiviral action but as a valuable lymphagogue. Stimulating lymphatic movement and drainage throughout the body, calendula assists in filtering out bacteria and waste while rallying lymphocytes, which include T-cells and B-cells that are essential for healthy immune function. Effective for all manner of stagnant lymph congestion, such as swollen glands in viral situations, it’s also very useful for congested pelvic glands as well as ovarian and breast cysts and mastitis, which can be further remedied with a calendula compress/poultice.

As an Antifungal: Calendula makes a superb mouthwash for oral thrush and fights gut and systemic candida issues.

For Cancer: In 2018, the Integrative Cancer Therapies Journal gathered a decade of calendula studies for review and found noteworthy conclusions, including the validity of the herb’s well-known properties as an anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antiseptic, and skin healer. But the studies also suggested that all parts of calendula – flower to root – have considerable antitumor properties thanks to their content of lutein, a carotenoid found in green leafy vegetables and carrots, as well as two triterpene glycosides called calendulosides. {Triterpenoids are known to exhibit anticancer action.} These had significant cytotoxic action on myriad cancer cells, including melanoma, leukemia, breast, colon, pancreatic, and lung cancer cells, impeding tumor growth, reducing tumor size, and inhibiting metastasis.

The flowers were also very effective in palliative care when used topically to prevent and treat acute radio-induced dermatitis and the pain common in breast cancer treatment- with no sign of allergic reaction. A mouthwash containing calendula flower extract also “significantly decreased the intensity of oropharyngeal mucositis” {inlfammation and ulceration of the mucous membranes} common in radiotherapy for treating head and neck cancers.

The conclusion of this enormous study found that calendula “shows promising results regarding its potential usage in cancer management, especially in cancer prevention, treatment, and palliative care.” There was also an emphasis on more intense research to identify some of its many other compounds that may further contribute to cancer management and conducting human clinical trials to confirm its internal benefits.

Contraindications: There are no known side effects of calendula, but if you take sedatives or medication for high blood pressure, check with your physician before using. Avoid calendula when trying to conceive and while pregnant/nursing. People allergic to plants in the Aster family may have a reaction.

Calendula infused flowers


Calendula Lymphatic Mover

A fantastic lymph mover, calendula and the herbs included in this recipe help move and drain swelling and stagnation in lymph glands throughout the body. Both red clover and cleavers have a tonic effect on the lymphatic system and assist with drainage, and cleavers also decrease inflammation. Plantain stimulates lymphatic function, and anti-inflammatory violet leaves [and flowers if you have them} are powerful lymph drainers, especially in cases of swollen breast lymph tissue.

  • 2 parts calendula
  • 2 parts violet leaf and flower
  • 1 part red clover
  • 1 part cleavers
  • 1 part plantain

Blend herbs together. Use 1-2 teaspoons per 8 ounces of boiling water. Cover and steep for 10-15 minutes. Strain and enjoy three 8 ounce cups per day.

Simple Calendula Extract

Use this extract internally or externally for skin issues or add it to compresses and mouthwashes. While 80-proof alcohol, apple cider vinegar, and glycerin will work, 190-proof alcohol best extracts the flower head resin. Fill a jar one-half to three-quarters full with dry herbs or two-thirds to three-quarters with fresh and cover with your solvent. Put in a warm, dark place and shake daily for 4-8 weeks. Then strain, bottle, and keep in a cool, dry place. Dosage: Take 15-30 drops, three times per day.

Blossom Oil and Salve

Calendula works fine alone, but it never hurts to add other healing and soothing herbs, including anti-inflammatory lavender and rose, which hydrate dry skin and lift the spirits.

  • 2 parts calendula flowers dried or fresh
  • 1 part lavender blossoms
  • 1 part rose petals
  • Oil of choice
  • Beeswax {or carnauba or candelilla}

Solar method: Fill a glass jar two-thirds full with dry flowers {if using fresh, dry-wilt for 12 hours before using}. Cover with oil and leave in a warm sunny spot for 4-6 weeks.

Double boiler: Cover herbs with oil {enough to cover by 1-inch} and heat gently {under 150-degree F} for 1-4 hours. When the oil is done, strain and reserve the oil. To make a salve, gently reheat the oil and add 1/4 cup beeswax for each cup of oil. When beeswax is melted, pour into a large glass jar or individual containers. Add lavender or rose essential oil to give your salve a medicinal and fragrant boost. Store salve in the refrigerator.