Calendula is a well-known medicinal herb and uplifting ornamental garden plant that has been used therapeutically, ceremonially, and as a dye and food plant for centuries. Most commonly known as for its topical use as a tea or infused oil for wounds and skin trauma, the bright orange or yellow flower contains many important constituents and can be taken internally for a variety of ailments.
Annual herb bearing the characteristic daisy-like flowers of other members of the Asteraceae family, having bright orange or yellow terminal flower heads3 and pale green leaves. Native to Southern Europe, Egypt,2,4 the Mediterranean, and in the region spanning the Canary Islands to Iran,5 calendula is now naturalized in much of the world and is commonly grown in gardens. A variety of other Asteraceace genera have been commonly called "marigold" including Tagetes erecta, T. minuta, T. lucida, Baileya multiradiata, and Dyssodia pappossa, yet they have different properties.6 However, a related wild species, C. arvense, may have similar therapeutic properties. Calendula is said to be in bloom on the "calends" of every month, hence the name. The "calends", or in Latin "kalendae" referred to the first days of each month of the Roman calendar and signified the start of the new moon cycle. And the common name derives from an association with the Virgin Mary as this flower, or the similar looking flower, Tagetes sp., was used in various religious festivals and referred to as "Mary's gold".7
Cultivated for medicinal use in the Mediterranean countries, the Balkans, eastern Europe, Germany, India,4 Poland and Hungary. Smaller amounts are grown in North America, Chile, Australia and New Zealand.8
The best time to harvest flowers is in the summer, in the heat of the day when the resins are high and the dew has evaporated. Carefully dry flowers at low temperature in order to keep their vibrant color.7,9
In medieval Europe calendula was widely available and was known as “poor man’s saffron” as it was used to color and spice various foods, soup in particular.6 It was used not only to color foods, but also as a dye to color hair and to make butter look more yellow (it is interesting to note that calendula's use as a food coloring in butter lead to it being used as a topical ointment for burns).10 Believed to be first cultivated by St. Hildegard of Bingen, an herbalist and nun practicing herbalism in the 11th century in present day Germany, calendula is a mainstay in a variety of European historical herbal texts. A Niewe Herball, from 1578, by English botanist Henry Lyte states that calendula '… hath pleasant, bright and shining yellow flowers, the which do close at the setting downe of the sunne, and do spread and open againe at the sunne rising' referring to the flower's well known propensity to open in the day and close at night or on overcast days.6
Nicholas Culpepper, a 17th century botanist, herbalist and astrologist, mentioned using calendula juice mixed with vinegar as a rinse for the skin and scalp and that a tea of the flowers comforts the heart.7 Astrologically associated with the sun and the fire element, calendula was believed to imbue magical powers of protection and clairvoyance, and even to assist in legal matters. Flowers strung above doorposts were said to keep evil out and to protect one while sleeping if put under the bed. It was said that picking the flowers under the noonday sun will strengthen and comfort the heart.11
Calendula was used in ancient times in India as well, and according to Ayurvedic healing principles is energetically cooling and has a bitter and pungent taste. It was employed as vulnerary, antispasmodic, alterative and used on minor wounds, as an eyewash, to soothe bee stings, and for digestive disturbances.12 And, in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), calendula (called Jin Zhan Ju) is considered energetically neutral and drying and is used to support healthy skin. Calendula is employed to move stagnant blood therefore increasing circulation to the skin.
Traditionally, in Native American cultures, it has been employed to assuage ailments including occasional upset stomach. Traditional use mirrors many of our contemporary applications of this medicinal plant. Modern studies confirm its efficacy.4,15-18 According to herbalist Paul Bergner, calendula is an herb used for minor wounds that helps by bringing circulation to the area in distress. It can be used similarly to Arnica sp.,5,19 yet it is a much more mild plant that can be used on open wounds.
Because of calendula's anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties, it's often used in preparations for sunburns, rashes, insect bites and other mild skin irritations. Calendula treatments can help soothe contact dermatitis from environmental causes. According to WoundsResearch.com, clinical data supports the properties of calendula in topical applications of 2 to 10 percent. Calendula's effect on inflammation and tissue regeneration makes it an effective natural wound healer.
Calendula oil is often used for dry or damaged skin. It has natural restorative properties that infuse the skin with a youthful glow. Calendula oil is also used to protect the skin from premature aging and thinning of the skin. Calendula is safe enough to be used on the delicate skin under the eyes to help prevent crow's feet. Creams containing calendula are also used to treat diaper rash.
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