Calendula is one of my favorite herbs and definitely at the top of the list for topical applications. It has all the attributes of a top quality herb: safe, effective, easy to grow, inexpensive to purchase, and it possesses a wide range of uses. For folks looking to build a basic home pharmacy with a select group of botanicals, this plant should be high on your list.
The botanical name is Calendula officinalis. The species name of officinalis means it was designated the official medicinal species of that genus when botanists were assigning names. There is a definite Euro-centric flavor to this practice as most botanists at the time were Europeans and they labelled the species they knew as the official one. Despite this bias, it is good to know that any plant with the officinalis species label has recognized healing powers.
Plant healing comes in many forms. Part of plant therapeutics comes from the visual beauty of a flower. This is one reason we give flowers to sick people as part of the ‘Get Well’ visit. An often unacknowledged form of herbal medicine. Stop, notice and appreciate the beauty of Calendula blooms.
Another form of herbal medicine is in the growing of the plant. Having a garden enables one to have a direct, personal interaction with the plant long before it is harvested, processed and used as part of a healing program. Calendula is relatively easy to grow from seed. Take advantage of this and add some to your garden.
In Your Garden
It is a re-seeding annual. Once the flower bed is established, the plants usually come back each year. It benefits from frequent harvest of the blooms. Many people are able to pick blooms from June through September, depending on the climate.
Picking often, before the seeds form, allows the plant to have a longer bloom period. Eventually, let the seeds form around frost time so new plants will come up in the spring.
Buying the Dried Herb
If purchasing on the retail market, look for dried flowers that are a deep, rich, vibrant orange. They should be stored out of direct sunlight in a cool location.
There are many. I primarily use it topically. Calendula comes into its own as an herbal infused oil and in salves and lotion. Here are some possible topical uses:
- Skin inflammation or rash of any kind – poison ivy is one example
- Eczema – one of the best for this condition
- Insect Bites
- Dried cracked skin – great as a lip balm
- Diaper Rash
- Skin repair for cuts, scrapes and wounds – often combined with comfrey leaves for this.
- Trauma to joints or soft tissue – sprains and bruises. Calendula is a blood mover and increases circulation to the area. It is often used with arnica for this.
Calendula Preparations for Eczema or Other Topical Uses
Using calendula in lotion or oil is one of the primary approaches for eczema. While this condition usually requires other treatments for best results, applying the oil 2-3x daily is often quite helpful.
How to Make Calendula Oil
What you need:
- A big handful of recently dried calendula flowers. These are easy to grow in home gardens.
- Several ounces of olive oil
- Crock Pot with ‘warm’ setting
- A strainer or colander
- Bottles for the finished product
What to Do
The dried calendula should be a vibrant orange in color. Lack of aroma or a washed out look means reduced vitality in the dried herb.
- Chop the dried flowers into small pieces to increase the amount of plant material that comes into contact with the oil. The dried hard disk in the middle of the petal requires extra attention and should be cut into smaller pieces.
- Place chopped flowers into crock pot and cover with olive oil. The oil-flower consistency should be like thick vegetable stew. It should be stir-able.
- Cover pot and turn to ‘warm’ setting. A ‘low’ setting is too hot. Leave on for 48 hours.
- Strain flowers and oil mixture through a strainer or colander. The flowers are discarded, the oil is saved.
- Eight ounces of oil is about the smallest amount that can be made using this method.
- Pour oil into bottles and use topically as needed.
- Make sure no water is introduced during the process. This can cause mold.
- Keep calendula oil in a cool, dark place. It is good for six months.
How Much and How Often?
Calendula oil, when used for topical skin care, is quite gentle. It would be difficult to use too much. The general rule is an application every few hours or several times a day. Stop use or reduce the frequency if there is any negative skin reaction.