Calendula: Versatile Healing Herb

By Beth Schreibman-Gehring, Chairman of Education for The Western Reserve Herb Society unit of The Herb Society of America

image1My first memory of the bright calendula flower (Calendula officinalis) was the cheerful patch that my first riding teacher — a tiny, feisty Irish woman who was more fairy than folk — grew in her garden. Everything had a purpose in her tiny stable yard and she grew calendula to macerate into vegetable oil for therapeutic purposes. We used this healing oil when our ponies got scrapes, burns, or skin rashes. She explained that it prevents infection and soothes irritated skin. It definitely seemed to stop the bleeding if there was any and the affected areas would heal nicely within a few days. Since then I’ve had a soft spot for this golden plant and a place for it in my gardens.

Calendula is truly one of the most versatile of the healing herbs. It is traditionally made into a mineral rich herbalists’ infusion of the dried petals and water which is then drunk to help soothe the stomach spasms caused by inflammatory bowel disorders.  My husband who periodically suffers from canker sores will use this same tea cooled and with raw honey added as a mouth rinse to soothe his gums. I’ve used that same calendula infusion (without the honey) as a cooling splash for my sunburned skin.

Infused calendula oil can be used on its own, but blended into a creamy salve made with beeswax and coconut oil it becomes a soothing dry skin remedy.

image3Calendula has a spicy, interesting, and delicious flavor when used as a culinary herb. I love to use the fresh petals sprinkled onto deviled or scrambled eggs, steamed vegetables, and salads. It has a very important history of usage as a winter tonic. Traditional German folk medicine calls for the dried flower heads to be used in soups and stews in the colder months, because calendula has been historically used to boost immunity. I love to add dried calendula petals, dried stinging nettle, leeks, and butternut squash to a bowl of steaming chicken broth into which I’ve whisked a beaten egg. These additions turn a simple bowl of soup into a mineral rich and comforting tonic that always helps to rescue me from the wintry doldrums.

I have always found calendula easy to grow. It’s a bushy, aromatic, and upright annual with about a 28-inch spread. It really prefers a well-drained soil and a lot of sunshine, but it will grow just fine in partial shade. I’ve grown it in containers as well. It’s a voracious self-seeder, so don’t’ be surprised when you find it everywhere.  It’s not native to my northeastern climate, but I have seen it naturalized along the sunny southern California coastline. Calendula is found in the most glorious shades of yellow and orange. Please don’t confuse calendula with the common French marigold. It’s definitely the same family, but they are not interchangeable for our purposes of supporting and promoting wellness.

This is a very easy plant to harvest. Just cut off the flower heads, put them on a tray in a warm, sunny location and let them air dry. When the heads are fully dried, pull off the petals and store them in a glass jar.

image2Don’t drink the tea or use the ointments and oils on your skin during pregnancy because calendula is a known emmenagogue…in other words it can cause miscarriage; ,and don’t use calendula internally if you’re breast feeding.  If you’re allergic to ragweed, daisies, or chrysanthemum you should be extremely careful as it’s a member of the same family.

Calendula Infusion or Tea

  • 1 heaping teaspoon dried petals or 2 teaspoons fresh petals
  • 6 ounces boiling water

Place the calendula petals into a large mug or teapot and pour over the boiling water. Cover and steep for ten minutes. Strain before use.

You can use the infusion as a tea or a facial toner. Its soothing and anti-inflammatory properties make calendula wonderful to use for a sore throat, canker sore or urinary tract infection.


Calendula Oil

  • 3 ounces dried petals or 10 ounces fresh petal, finely chopped
  • 16 ounces of light vegetable oil (sunflower, almond , coconut or extra virgin olive oil. You can even use a mixture of oils).

Put half of the chopped or dried calendula into a glass or metal bowl and add enough oil to completely cover the petals. Place this bowl over a pan of boiling water, cover the bowl and heat it gently for about two hours.  You may need to add more water. Strain the oil mixture and add more plant material into the bowl of heated oil. Put it back over the boiling water and continue heating gently for one more hour. Strain the oil completely and put it into a dark and sterilized bottle. Label with the name and date. You can use this oil all by itself as a massage oil or bath oil.  Personally I love to use this oil as a base for soothing calendula salves, creams and lotions.


Calendula Salve

  • Macerated calendula oil
  • Grated beeswax, approximately one ounce per one cup of infused oil
  • Essential oils of lavender and carrot seed, 10-20 drops per cup of infused oil

Place infused oil into a double boiler and bring the water to a simmer gently heating the oil. If you do not have a double boiler you can use a pot of water and a stainless steel bowl. Add the grated beeswax, whisking occasionally until the wax has completely dissolved into the oil. Add the essential oils and continue whisking. When they are blended, pour the salve into a tin or a shallow glass container and let it cool. Once it’s cool you can use it on skin eruptions such as diaper rash and eczema.

I’ve also discovered that calendula salve makes an excellent wound dressing, especially when mashed with a little bit of garlic and raw honey.  Also, grab this salve the next time you have sunburn or dry and cracked chapped lips.  It’s healing and soothing.

Medical disclaimer Please, if you have any questions at all, please contact me in the comment section below.