Calendula or marigold has a dominant role as a ‘lymphatic’ remedy, applied to conditions of swollen lymph glands, especially in the throat.
Swollen glands and throat inflammations
The flowers, and infusions or tinctures made from them, taste slightly soapy (due to the detergent saponins), slightly aromatic and weakly bitter. There is a lingering almost resinous astringency in the mouth. You can also appreciate the resin-like properties on your fingers by crushing the flowerheads.
These characteristics of calendula are distinctive. Its constituents combine the detergent effect of the triterpenoid saponins, with a resinous astringency that is probably due to their associated alcohols, rather than the usual tannins. It is clear that this is an unusual remedy.
All around the world the actions of traditional medicines were understood by their immediate sensory impacts. Click on each of calendula’s key qualities below to learn more:
Although it does not have classic resin constituents, the descriptor above characterises calendula rather well. Like other resins it makes a great mouthwash and gargle when dissolved in high-strength alcohol. Its local healing properties, although from different types of constituents, are also similar.
Calendula is most often used externally, for skin inflammations (dermatitis or eczema), and for minor wounds and abrasions. Calendula creams and ointments are widely available for this purpose.
You may also make an infusion (tea) of the flowers as a mouthwash or vaginal douche.
If you are using the fresh flowers from the garden these should be carefully dried so as to avoid both overheating and the retention of dampness. Bleaching is a sign of poor drying technique. An infusion can be made of the dried flowers, but a tincture made at 1:5 in 90% alcohol will be the only way to dissolve the important resin-like fraction. Alternatively a good calendula lotion may be made by simmering anhydrous wool fat (lanolin) with as much dried flower material as it will carry for 20-30 minutes, then sieving off the flowers and agitating until the ointment is cool and set.
Calendula was once seen as the classic ‘cicatrizer’: a remedy that induces wound healing by knitting the exposed tissues. This is also a famous property of comfrey root: however given comfrey’s potential safety concerns if it gets into the body, calendula may be the wound remedy that can be most recommended where the skin is broken.
Calendula is also much favoured by practitioners in cases where there are swollen lymph glands in the neck. Most often this is due to unresolved infection or inflammation in the throat (although there are other reasons – do check with a health professional if longstanding). Calendula seems in some way to mobilise the ‘good guys’, the white blood cells that are congregating in these nodes, to finish the job. The old word ‘lymphatic’ is applied to remedies with this property.
The strongest reputation of this remedy was in its healing and astringent action: sufficient to make it an effective stauncher of bleeding. It thus found use in earlier times where there were infected or slow-healing wounds or lesions, or ones discharging or bleeding too extensively. Its effectiveness (as a compress) in healing bullet wounds was reported enthusiastically by a Dr Reynolds in the American West in 1886.
Calendula was useful wherever there was infection or erosion in the upper digestive system, including reflux oesophagitis and gastritis. Benefits here are augmented by the bitter quality of the plant, as evidenced by its use for jaundice and liver disease in some traditions. Calendula tincture makes an effective addition to local applications to combat fungal and other infections of the skin and other exposed surfaces. It makes a powerful mouthwash to check gum disease, sore throat, and mouth problems and in infusion form only, as an eyewash. In ointment form it is an excellent cosmetic remedy for repairing minor damage to the skin such as subdermal broken capillaries or sunburn.
Skin: Calendula is used in bruising, abrasions, slow-healing wounds, burns, insect bites and generalised skin inflammations. It will help clear the site of infection whilst also supporting wound-healing. It is also indicated where there is broken skin and itching in more chronic skin conditions such as eczema and dermatitis.
External Uses: A good first aid remedy for minor burns, bleeding cuts and abrasions, sores, ulcers, acne, eczema, varicose veins, haemorrhoids, skin infections such as athlete’s foot and ringworm, shingles, sunburn, nappy rash, bruises, sprains and strains. Apply infusion or dilute tincture to reduce swelling and pain. The crushed flower can be rubbed on to insect bites, wasp or bee stings. The tincture (preferably involving high alcohol content) is an excellent mouthwash for inflamed gums, mouth ulcers, and throat inflammations. An infusion in hot water can be used as a douche for vaginal infections, eyewash for tired eyes, and inflammatory eye conditions such as styes.
Digestive tract: Used for any inflammation within the upper reaches of the gut, including ulcerations. Calendula will also encourage bile production, which can help relieve painful indigestion, digestive insufficiency and conditions such as jaundice and liver inefficiencies. The high alcohol extracts have been a feature of regimes for dysbiosis and Candidiasis.
Circulation: Calendula improves the circulation, reducing congestion and toning the blood vessels, especially the veins. It can be used in poor circulation, varicose veins, haemorrhoids and internal bleeding associated with injury.
The name ‘pot marigold’ refers to the use of the flowers in soups and stews, especially in central Europe. They were also used to colour a range of foods and drinks.
Safe to apply externally or take internally. Rare allergic reactions have been reported: avoid if known sensitivities to chrysanthemums or other Compositae plants.
Traditional Ayurvedic characteristics are
Compared to a base, calendula-enriched cream significantly improved measures of hydration and firmness in the skin of healthy volunteers over a period of 8 weeks.
Healing benefits have been observed in randomised controlled trials, in reducing nappy rash and dermatitis following radiotherapy, and although not in controlled clinical trial conditions, in the case of diabetic foot ulcers.
In one controlled study of the treatment of people with 2nd or 3rd degree burns, three ointments were given to around 50 patients each for 17 days. Compared with vaseline only, an ointment including calendula had marginally superior benefits.
In women with Candida infections. calendula-enriched vaginal applications used daily for a week led to fewer cases a month later compared with clotrimazole.
To see the references used in this summary check our downloadable Expert Herbal Reality Resource pdf
1 – 4 grams three times per day
The benefits of calendula are linked to many of its constituents. The main compounds are the triterpenoids, which are claimed to be the most important anti-inflammatory and antioedematous components within the plant, particularly faradiol and the faradiol monoester, exerting a dose-dependent effect in the laboratory comparable to indomethacin. In aqueous extracts there are polysaccharides with observable topical healing properties, carotenoids and flavonoids. In alcoholic solutions the tripertenoid fractions assume almost resinous properties.