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Calendula is one of the great tissue healing and lymphatic remedies

Calendula

Calendula officinalis Asteraceae

Calendula or marigold has a dominant role as a ‘lymphatic’ remedy, applied in conditions of swollen lymph glands, especially in the upper body. It is also a prime remedy for a wide variety of skin and first aid conditions.

  • How does it feel?

    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.

    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.

  • What can I use it for?

    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 to be used as a mouthwash or as a gargle for laryngitis or throat problems.  An infusion of calendula can also be used as a wash for fresh wounds, grazes or minor cuts. This application is great for cleaning out grit from a wound whilst gently improving lymphatic drainage and toning the exposed skin tissue.

    Calendula is an excellent lymphatic remedy. It can be used for acute infections, both as an infusion drank throughout the day to treat the symptoms of seasonal infections or taken as a tincture. Calendula supports the movement of lymph which enables better detoxication from the cells and also supports overall immunological health. It may be used for swollen lymph glands, water retention or in other congestion conditions.

    As a bitter remedy, calendula also has an action on the liver. Bitter remedies directly stimulate liver function, detoxification and metabolism. Sometimes hormonal excesses such as pre-menstrual syndrome are caused by poor liver detoxification from the liver. It is these type if applications where calendula truly extends its dynamic medicinal advantage by speeding up the breakdown of hormones and other metabolic toxins. Other liver conditions such as jaundice, hepatitis and cirrhosis may also be improved by calendula along side other specific liver herbs.

  • Into the heart of Calendula

    Calendula is gently warming, or in the understanding of traditional Greek energetics ‘warm in the first degree’. This means that it drives fluid out through the skin. This system of energetics understands medicinal activity in varying degrees of heat, coldness, dampness and dryness in order to best ‘antidote’ the energetically opposing conditions (i.e. cooling herbs for hot inflammatory conditions etc) (9).

    In Western herbal medicine, Calendula is understood to be both hot and dry. This means that it is able to bring warmth where the tissue state is ‘cold and damp’. This action moves congestion out of the lymphatic system and out through the skin via a diaphoretic (sweat inducing) action. It is therefore also a vital remedy in treatment of a deep fever, supporting the natural immune responses and cooling off the blood through the skin (9).

    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 more potentially serious reasons this may occur. It is important to consult a health professional if these symptoms are long-standing. You can find clinical herbalists here). Calendula seems in some way to mobilise the beneficial white blood cells that are congregating in these nodes, to fight the infection and finish the job. The old word ‘lymphatic’ is applied to remedies with this property.

    Calendula is a 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 for broken skin or slow healing wounds.

  • Traditional uses

    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.

  • Traditional actions

    • Alterative
    • Antimicrobial
    • Anti-inflammatory
    • Antispasmodic
    • Astringent
    • Cholagogue and Choloretic
    • Depurative
    • Diaphoretic
    • Emmenagogue
    • Hepatic
    • Vulnerary
  • What practitioners say

    Lymphatic system: Calendula is a prime remedy for conditions effecting the lymphatic system. It may be called upon to aid in specific symptoms such as enlargement of lymph nodes and swelling due to lymph node blockage (lymphedema). 

    Herbs like calendula that encourage movement of lymph are often used by herbalists in congestive stagnant type conditions where there may be inflammations and water retention peripherally. These herbs are also sometimes used in conjunction with other herbs as part of a holistic approach to cancer.

    Skin: Calendula is used externally for bruising, abrasions, slow-healing wounds, burns, insect bites and general skin inflammations. It will help clear the site of infection whilst also encouraging wound-healing. It is also indicated where there is broken skin and itching in more chronic skin conditions such as eczema and dermatitis. However it may be too drying for scaley, peeling, dry manifestations of these skin conditions. Therefore it will be best suited to weeping, damp and inflamed manifestations of eczema.

    First aid: Calendula is 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 an eyewash for tired eyes, and inflammatory eye conditions such as styes.

    Digestive system: Calendula is used for any inflammation within the upper reaches of the gut, including ulcerations. Calendula will also assist liver function and encourage bile production, which can help relieve painful indigestion, digestive insufficiency and conditions such as jaundice and liver inefficiencies. The dried powdered form used in capsule form and occasionally high alcohol extracts have been a feature of regimes for dysbiosis and candidiasis due to its healing anti-inflammatory and astringent properties. 

    Cardiovascular system: 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.

  • Research

    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 (2).

    Healing benefits have been observed in randomised controlled trials, in reducing nappy rash (3)and dermatitis following radiotherapy (4,5). Furthermore although this research was not conducted in controlled clinical trial conditions, calendula was shown to help in the case of diabetic foot ulcers (6).

    In one controlled study of treating people with 2nd or 3rd degree burns, three ointments were given to around 50 patients each for 17 days. Compared with Vaseline, an ointment including calendula had marginally superior benefits (7).

    In women with Candida infections. calendula-enriched vaginal applications used daily for a week led to fewer cases a month later compared with clotrimazole (8).

  • Did you know?

    The Latin name ‘Calendula derives from the word ‘calends’ which refers to the first day of summer in the Roman calendar, which was believed to be the day on which calendula would first flower.

    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.

Additional information

  • Safety

    Calendula is safe to apply externally during pregnancy. However, it is not recommended to take calendula during pregnancy.

    Rare allergic reactions have been reported although those with known sensitivities to chrysanthemums or other members of the Asteraceaea (daisy) family should avoid taking Calendula.

  • Interactions

    None known

  • Contraindications

    Calendula is contraindicated during pregnancy.

  • Preparation

    If using fresh flowers, 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 gently simmering on a double boiler in a good sunflower or olive oil with as much dried flower material as it will carry for 20-30 minutes, then sieving off the flowers. The remaining oil can be made into an ointment or salve by adding around 8-12% beeswax.

  • Dosage

    Tincture (1:5 in 60%): Take 1-4ml in a little water twice a day.

    Infusion: To make an infusion, pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1-2 teaspoons of dried flowers and induce for 10- 15 minutes. This should be drunk 3 times a day.

    As a lotion or salve: An external application should be applied unto 3 times a day for skin conditions or for treatment of first aid conditions 

    1 – 4 grams three times per day

    Fresh flowers produce too watery an extract that is less potent than extracts made from the dried flowers. Fresh flowers however are suitable for eating and will offer a potent healthy addition to salads.

  • Plant parts used

    • Flower
    • Petals
  • Constituents

    • Triterpene saponins, mainly oleanolic acid glycosides
    • Triterpene alcohols, especially faradiol 3-monoesters
    • Carotenoids
    • Flavonoids such as quercetin and isorhamnetin
    • Polysaccharides including a rhamnoarabinogalactan
    • Sterols
    • Sesquiterpenoids
    • Bitter constituent loliolide or calendin
    • Essential oil

    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 (1). In alcoholic solutions, the tripertenoid fractions assume almost resinous properties.

  • Traditional energetics

    • Rasa (taste): Bitter, pungent.
    • Virya (energy): Cooling.
    • Vipak (post-digestive): Pungent.
    • Guna (quality): Light, sharp/penetrating.
    • Doshastrengthens vata and reduces excessive pitta and kapha
    • Dhatu (tissue): Rasa/plasma, rakta/ blood, mamsa/muscle, artava/female reproductive.
    • Srotas (channel): Anna/digestive, artava/reproductive, rakta/circulatory, mutra/urinary.
  • Habitat

    Calendula is native to Southern Europe, but is now widely cultivated around the world, and in many different varieties. It is most often found growing in waste, cultivated and arable land and along roadsides.

  • Sustainability

    Calendula has not yet been assessed for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants database.

  • Quality control

    Herbal Medicines are often extremely safe to take, however it is important to supply herbal medicines from a reputed supplier. Sometimes herbs bought from unreputable sources are contaminated, adulterated or substituted with incorrect plant matter.

    Some important markers for quality to look for would be to look for certified organic labelling, ensuring that the correct scientific / botanical name is used and that suppliers can provide information about the source of ingredients used in the product. 

    A supplier should be able to tell you where the herbs have come from. There is more space for contamination and adulteration where supply chain is unknown.

  • How to grow

    Calendula is easy to grow from seed. At the end of the season the seeds can be gathered from flower heads and saved for the following year.

    • Seeds may be planted in situ during spring or autumn. Calendula will grow in most well drained soils. Watering regularly the seeds will likely germinate within a week.
    • Calendula is easy to care for but it grows best in a light, poor, free-draining soil in full sun or partial shade. 
    • Calendula will flower from June to November. Deadhead regularly to prolong flowering and pinch out terminal shoots to encourage bushy growth.
  • Recipe

    A ‘cup of love’ tea

    A blend of flowers bringing you some of nature’s finest love. Drink to soothe a broken heart or feed you when you just want a sip of love.

    Ingredients:

    • Chamomile flower 3g
    • Limeflower 2g
    • Marigold (calendula) petal 2g
    • Rose flower 1g
    • Lavender flower 1g
    • Licorice root 1g

    This will serve 3 cups of love.

    Method:

    • Put all of the ingredients in a pot.
    • Add 500ml/18fl oz freshly boiled filtered water.
    • Leave to steep for 10–15 minutes, then strain and let the love flow.

    Recipe from Cleanse, Nurture, Restore by Sebastian Pole

  • References

    1. Butnariu, M. and Coradini, CZ. (2012). Evaluation of Biologically Active Compounds from Calendula officinalis Flowers using Spectrophotometry. Chemistry Central Journal, 6, 35
    2. Akhtar N, Zaman SU, Khan BA, et al. (2011) Calendula extract: effects on mechanical parameters of human skin. Acta Pol Pharm. 68(5): 693‐701
    3. Panahi Y, Sharif MR, Sharif A, et al. (2012) A randomized comparative trial on the therapeutic efficacy of topical aloe vera and Calendula officinalis on diaper dermatitis in children. Scientific World Journal.:810234
    4. Schneider F, Danski MT, Vayego SA. (2015) Uso da Calendula officinalis na prevenção e tratamento de radiodermatite: ensaio clínico randomizado duplo cego. Rev Esc Enferm USP. 49(2): 221‐228
    5. Pommier P, Gomez F, Sunyach MP, et al.(2004) Phase III randomized trial of Calendula officinalis compared with trolamine for the prevention of acute dermatitis during irradiation for breast cancer. J Clin Oncol. 22(8): 1447‐1453
    6. Buzzi M, de Freitas F, Winter M. (2016) A Prospective, Descriptive Study to Assess the Clinical Benefits of Using Calendula officinalis Hydroglycolic Extract for the Topical Treatment of Diabetic Foot Ulcers. Ostomy Wound Manage. 62(3): 8‐24 
    7. Lievre M, Marichy J, Baux S, et al. (1992) Controlled study of three ointments for the local management of 2nd and 3rd degree burns. Clinical Trials and Meta-Analysis 28: 9-12
    8. Saffari E, Mohammad-Alizadeh-Charandabi S, Adibpour M, et al. (2017) Comparing the effects of Calendula officinalis and clotrimazole on vaginal Candidiasis: A randomized controlled trial. Women Health. 57(10): 1145‐1160
    9. Wood, M. (2013). The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism. North Atlantic Books.
Aromatic
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitter
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Cooling
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Hot
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilaginous
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resinous
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
Salty
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
Sharpness
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
Sweet
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

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