Calendula Officinalis: Worth Its Weight In Gold

“As a local remedy, [Calendula] has no equal in Materia Medica…and I would not be without it for a hundred times its cost.”— Dr. William J. Clary, King’s American Dispensatory, 1898

One of our favorite times of year here at the herb farm is when we harvest our Calendula fields: the multi-sensory pleasures of watching the plants transform green fields into a spectacular carpet of golden orange blossoms, of feeling the sticky, bio-active resin on our fingers as we pick the plants at the peak of freshness, of smelling the gentle scents that surround us, as we carefully dry, then slowly process, the flowers into various forms, including creams, infused oils, salves, teas and tinctures. If sunshine could smell, this is what it would smell like.

Interacting with these hardy, edible annuals always remind us of Calendula’s considerable phyto-nutrient benefits and endless practical uses, which have been well-documented over many centuries and across diverse cultures. In fact, Calendula was regularly used for ceremonial and practical purposes, throughout the ancient world: in Indian Ayurvedic traditions, Calendula, or Genda as it is commonly called in Hindi, was used to promote healthy digestion and gastrointestinal function; in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Calendula, or Jin Zhan Ju, was used topically, to stimulate circulation and support healthy skin; and in various Central and North American indigenous cultures, where Calendula was used both internally, for upset stomach, as well as externally, to aid in wound healing.

Here in Europe, starting in medieval times, Calendula was widely available and known as the “poor man’s saffron,” as it was used to color and spice various foods, including making butter and cheese look more yellow, as well as to dye hair and clothing. Over time, and with an increasing awareness of Calendula’s considerable phytonutrient properties, the plant is now processed into various forms, including ointments, tinctures and teas, and is suggested for a range of indications, including treating various skin irritations, oral health, relieving muscle pain, ulcers, acne, period pain, vaginitis, as well as soothing long-term intestinal distress or digestive upset.

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Botanical Gold

How can one plant have so many different uses? According to the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia and by the Commission E Monographs put out by the German federal government, Calendula’s diverse actions are best summed up as anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antimicrobial, antiviral, anti-fungal, astringent, antispasmodic, emmenagogue (helping bring on or ease the period), diaphoretic (inducing therapeutic sweating when taken hot), styptic (helping to staunch the flow of blood) and vulnerary (wound-healing).

This extensive array of activity results from the over forty active phytoconstituent compounds that have been identified in the flowers, leaves and roots of the plant, including flavonoids, such as rutin and quercetin, carotenoids, such as lutein, lycopene and beta-carotene, saponins, salicylic acid, calendic and linoleic fatty acids, and monoterpene and sesquiterpene essential oils. For a complete list of phytochemical compounds, see the Calendula entry in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Database.

Given this natural bounty of antioxidant phytochemicals,  Calendula is anything but a “poor man’s” alternative — in fact, it is literally a Marigold, with topical benefits for our skin as well as internal benefits for our entire digestive system.

Calendula & Regenerative Agriculture

The benefits of Calendula don’t end with human health, however, and extend to the soil health of the land on which Calendula is planted. In fact, Calendula is no less valuable for organic and regenerative farming practice — its sticky resin has been found to be a natural insect and pest repellant, while its roots have been shown to benefit the soil by forming active relationships with soil fungi, which makes it an ideal cover crop for regenerating soil health. Calendula also attracts a wide range of beneficial insects, especially pollinators, as it provides nectar over the whole growing season.

In other words, if you are looking for something to plant for next season’s garden, Calendula is an excellent companion plant for just about anything else you decide to grow in your garden. This is especially the case if your garden happens to be in a northern latitude, as Calendula grows especially well in cooler climates, including spring and fall seasons, as well as throughout the summer in mild climates. Just be aware that this hearty plant self-sows, so you may find yourself with some bonus calendulas popping up unexpectedly next year.

Precautions & Further Reading

Please note that persons with allergies to other members of the Asteraceae family, such as Feverfew, Chamomile, or Echinacea species, should exercise caution with Calendula, as allergic cross-reactivity to Asteraceae plants is common. We recommend that you consult with a qualified healthcare practitioner before using herbal products, particularly if you are pregnant, nursing, or on any medications. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

For additional reading: 

Calendula’s anti-inflammatory properties
Calendula’s effects on diaper rash and acne
Calendula cream’s effects on skin redness, pain and irritation during irradiation for breast cancer