Calendula – Sunshine Incarnate – an Edible and Medicinal Flower

Calendula officinalis is one of the easiest-to-grow medicinal herbs and so versatile in its healing properties that it invariably finds its way into the hearts and gardens of all herb lovers. It is typically grown as an annual, but can be cultivated as a short-lived perennial in warmer climes (Zone 8-10). Calendula’s name derives from the Latin Calendae, referring to its long-blooming season – in certain locales it is said to bloom in nearly every month of the calendar. The species name, officinalis, refers to its historical use in apothecaries and pharmacopeias as the official medicinal species of the genus. Calendula is also called marigold and pot marigold; it is often confused with members of the genus Tagetes, which go by the same common name. Marigolds in the Tagetes genus are in the same family as Calendula – the Asteraceae (Sunflower family) – but they are not interchangeable with calendula.

The “flowers” of the Asteraceae, or Compositae family, are actually an aggregation of miniature flowers called florets. Look closely at the picture below, and you can see the individual flowers in the center, not yet open, still in their bud form. When you pick calendula, your fingers will be sticky from the resinous bracts, which form the green base of the flower head. The resin is an important part of calendula’s healing legacy, and is a good indicator of strength. If you are buying calendula, make sure it has a bright yellow or orange color, which is a good barometer of its freshness and medicinal quality.

Calendula officinalis is native to southern Europe, but is widely cultivated and naturalized throughout North America, Europe and North Africa. It has been used medicinally for centuries to heal wounds, burns and rashes, internally and externally. The flowers have also been used traditionally to support the immune system and lift the spirits.

Cultivation:

Easy peasy, even for the brownest of thumb. Sow the bizarre-looking seeds directly in the ground in mid-spring; germination takes 10 to 14 days. Thin to 12 inches apart. Calendula will thrive in just about any soil, but like most plants, it prefers to have soil that is not overly dry or wet (non-draining). It will flower more profusely in full sun, but can tolerate a little shade. If you live in the subtropics or tropics, try planting it in part-shade, also try planting in the fall (it will thrive in the winter in many warm climates). Here in the southern Appalachians, I plant my calendula when I plant my salad and cooking greens. The greens grow quicker and fill in the bed, and by the time the calendula matures and begins to flower, the greens have been harvested, and calendula has more room to flourish.

There are countless varieties of calendula, with many shades of sunset: orange, yellow, and russet. There are multi-“petaled” varieties for extra garden bling (and edible “petals”), and varieties with increased resin, purported to be more medicinally active. The flowers need to be picked every two days in order to promote and prolong the flowering season. Dry on screens or airy baskets in a well-ventilated warm area. Schluffle the flowers often (my invented Yiddish-inspired term for gently tussling-about anything drying). Pictured below is my daughter’s friend picking calendula from our herbal garden for one of their many potions.

 Edible flowers:

Soon after giving birth to my daughter I received a meal from an herbalist friend – a nourishing quiche crafted from homegrown veggies, speckled with the orange and yellow of calendula “petals”. Such a small touch made a large impression; I felt the warmth and sunshine of summer in every bite. The colorful “petals” of calendula are actually the ray florets (diminutive flowers, serving a similar function as petals). These ray florets are plucked from the more medicinal-tasting green flower base, and can be eaten raw or cooked. The florets may also be dried and rehydrated at a later date. My family enjoys them in salads, salsas, scrambled eggs, and frittatas; we also use them as a garnish on just about any dish.

Pictured below is a wild-greens saag paneer (garnished with calendula), scrambled eggs with nopalitos (fresh cactus pads) and calendula flowers, salad with edible flowers (daylily, calendula, and heartsease) and a cherry nopalitos salsa (recipe here).

Dishes made with calendula flowers. From the top right and down- scrambled eggs with nopalitos, wild-greens saag paneer (garnished with calendula), scrambled eggs with nopalitos (fresh cactus pads) and calendula flowers in tortillas, salad with edible flowers (daylily, calendula, and viola) and a cherry nopalitos salsa.

The whole flowers can also be dried, and added to soups and stews in the winter as an immune tonic. This traditional folk use heralds from medieval Europe, where the flowers were also added to bread, syrups and conserves. Culpepper wrote, “The flowers, either green or dried, are much used in possets, broths, and drink, as a comforter of the heart and spirits, and to expel any malignant or pestilential quality which might annoy them.”

Another account, written in 1699, states “The yellow leaves of the flowers are dried and kept throughout Dutchland against winter to put into broths, physicall potions and for divers other purposes, in such quantity that in some Grocers or Spicesellers are to be found barrels filled with them and retailed by the penny or less, insomuch that no broths are well made without dried Marigold.”

Every winter I make a strong medicinal mineral-rich bone broth of calendula flowers, turkey tail, astragalus, seaweed, nettles, organic beef bones and shitake. I cook it in a big pot all day, concentrating the brew with evaporation by leaving the pot off. After straining and cooling, it is frozen into small portions, and subsequently added to soup, stew, marinara, and chili all throughout the winter months. This herbal broth is an excellent way to sneak in extra minerals into our diets, and also doubles as an immune tonic, helping to keep colds and flu at bay. My daughter has an exceptionally discerning palette (i.e. picky) and doesn’t notice the extra herbal additions to her meals.

Summer ideas for calendula flowers: Pictured below are ice cubes fashioned from calendula and wild bergamot flowers. The yellow flowers can be used to adorn iced teas, along with a sprig of mint for contrast. For recipes on floral-adorned herbal ice cubes

Calendula sun tea on the left, hibiscus ice cubes adorned with calendula on the right

Materia Medica

Common Name: Calendula, Pot marigold, Marigold

Scientific name: Calendula officinalis

Family: Asteraceae

Part used: whole flowers

Preparation/ Dosage:

1:2 95%             1-2 droppers full up to 4 times a day

1:5 70%            1-2 droppers full up to 4 times a day

Infusion: 1-2 grams in 8 ounces of water (about 1-3 Tablespoons dried flowers), up to three times a day

Topical preparations: poultice, compress, infused oil and salve. Dilute tincture with water (1 part tincture to 3 parts water) for topical use.

Actions:

Anti-inflammatory to skin and mucosa

Lymphagogue (moves lymph)

Vulnerary (promotes healing of damaged tissue)

Anti-fungal

Anti-bacterial

Emmenagogue (stimulates menstrual flow)

Cholagogue (stimulates bile)

Energetics: warming, drying

Indications/Usages:

Gastro-intestinal anti-inflammatory: calendula tea is commonly used to help heal peptic ulcers, esophageal irritation from GERD, and inflammatory bowel disease.  Calendula helps heal inflammation from infection or irritation through its vulnerary, anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial actions.

Lymphatic: acute or chronically swollen lymph nodes: respiratory infection, localized infection, and tonsillitis. Also used for poor immunity, to help prevent infection through stimulating the lymphatic system.

Gums and mouth: gargle for sore throat, aphthous ulcers (canker sores), periodontal disease, thrush, sore and bleeding gums.

Emmenagogue: sluggish menses, amenorrhea

Topical applications: rashes, stings, wounds, burns, sunburns, abrasions, swellings, eczema, acne, surgical wounds, scrapes, chicken pox, cold sores, genital herpes sores, and as a douche for bacterial vaginosis, yeast infection and cervical dysplasia.

Personal Clinical Experience:

Calendula is one of the primary herbs I recommend for GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), along with licorice, slippery elm and meadowsweet. I also find it helpful in healing peptic ulcers; it can be taken concurrently with antibiotic therapy, and then continued for two weeks after finishing treatment. Calendula is often combined with the aforementioned herbs to promote the healing of gastric and duodenal mucosa.

I think of calendula as a weaker, more tonic antifungal as compared to some of our more heroic herbal anti-fungals, such as bloodroot and black walnut.  It is often taken as a tonic tea for people who are prone to recurrent fungal skin infections, after a two-week regime of hard hitting internal and topical anti-fungal treatment.

Calendula is one of my favored personal wintertime teas, as I find it so uplifting, especially when I am feeling the long-dark-night-blahs. Interestingly, a strong cup of calendula tea has a flavor reminiscent of unsweetened cacao. Most modern herbalists don’t typically use it as one of their primary anti-depressant herb, but it is mentioned for that specific use in multiple historical texts. Calendula may be called upon for grief and sadness along with other cheering flowers: rose, mimosa and lavender. In addition, consider other helpful herbal companions, such as lemonbalm and lemon verbena.

I always keep calendula oil stocked in my frig and will also combine it with plantain, chickweed, saint john’s wort, and violet in salve form. When my daughter had chicken pox I made a fresh poultice from calendula mixed with other herbs (recipe follows) and applied it daily. She had quite the outbreak and doesn’t even have one scar, thanks to this herbal poultice.

Chicken pox poultice recipe:

Take a couple handfuls of fresh violet, plantain and yarrow leaves and add a handful of calendula flowers. Blend with a little warm water and calendula oil and then add slippery elm powder to desired consistency. In five minutes it will begin to soldifify as the powder absorbs water. It should be thick enough that it wont run, but soft enough that it is easily applied. If the fresh herbs are not in season, use the dried herbs softened with a bit of hot boiling water. The poultice may be refrigerated and used for three days.

Apply poultice to the pox, taking care to cover furniture with an old sheet first, as it’s quite messy. Allow the poultice to work it’s magic for a full hour, full-on distractions called for here.  To rinse the poultice off, add 3 cups oatmeal to a cotton bag and then run bath water over the bag.  Two drops of lavender essential oil can be added to the bath as well.  Use this nourishing water to bathe the child, employing the bag to gently clean the skin. Do not rinse off unless the skin is too oily, in which case you may need to use soap. You can also make a strong tea of the above herbs, strain, and add to the bath.

Regularly change clothes and use clean towels to prevent the occurrence of secondary infections.

Contra-indications/ Side effects: pregnancy, potentially rare allergic reaction with individuals sensitive to the Asteraceae.

For calendula oil and lip balm recipes, check out the Mountain Rose blog. 

 

74 thoughts on “Calendula – Sunshine Incarnate – an Edible and Medicinal Flower

  1. Calendula is one of my favourite garden plants. It pretty much grows throughout the year where I live in England. I’m aware of its medicinal and nutritional properties but since my neighbourhood is urban and quite polluted I think I’ll stick to just enjoying the view.

    Some lovely photographs by the way.

  2. But wait–do you use the tagetes marigold medicinally as well? Doesn’t it have the highest concentrations of lutein and zeaxanthin?

    • Juliet Blankespoor says:

      Marigolds in the Tagetes genus are commonly sold as garden ornamentals. Mexican tarragon is Tagetes lucida, which is used medicinally as a digestive aid and enjoyed as a pleasant beverage tea, especially by the Mayan people in Guatemala. However not all Tagetes species are medicinal, and none can be used interchangeably with calendula.

  3. What variety (ies) of calendula officinalis do you grow? Looking for a variety that is very resinous. Want to making calendula cream and oil.

  4. I am wanting to make an antifungal spray for my dog and I want to plant my own calendula but I need to know if any marigold seed will work or does it have to be a specific one?

    • Calendula (Calendula officinalis) and Common Marigolds (Tagetes spp.) are not used in the same way. Calendula has the common name of Pot Marigold, so this can be confusing. To grow Calendula for medicine, you specifically want Calendula seed. Strictly Medicinals is a good source for medicinal herb seeds. Have fun growing this beautiful herb!

  5. how exciting!!im all new to this herbs and so in love with this!just bought my own calendula flowers,so i can grow them at home!first flower project!!thanks for being :)!!

  6. Can you share some links to the recipes for food with calendula? We have a ton growing in our garden and our girls are just eating the petals plain all the time (I introduced them to edible flowers and now they always want to eat them!) but I’d love to incorporate into more meals for them. Thanks!

    • Juliet Blankespoor says:

      So glad your girls are having fun nibbling on calendula blossoms. I don’t have specific recipes for this flower, but the petals add a nice flair to most any dish – scrambled eggs, salads, soups, the sky’s the limit!

    • Juliet Blankespoor says:

      Glad you enjoyed it! Maybe you’ll have some self-sow; they always come back for me if I don’t mulch too heavily.

  7. Sabine Williams says:

    Calendula (both infused in oil, and as petal additives) makes a beautiful soap, as well, and unlike many other botanical additives, calendula petals hold their color, in cold-process soaps.
    It’s the one herb I grow in a pot on my window-sill, every fall/winter.

  8. Allice Haidden says:

    Thank you so much, this is such a rich posting….matching beautifully the magnificent plant that have brought me so much joy even into this warm November.

  9. Are there various types of Calendula, and if so, are they all medicinal? I was given about 10 plants from a kind neighbor, and the flowers look different than what I have grown in the past. The leaves and stems are the same, yet the flowers look different.

    • Without seeing your plant, I can’t say if its Calendula officinalis. There are plenty of cultivated varieties and they are all medicinal, although some are more resinous than others. I would search seed catalogue sites for Calendula varieties, and see if you can find yours there 🙂

  10. Pingback: Calendula! |
  11. Thank you for this post which is as beautiful as it is instructive. We just moved to a farm where I feel to add to the already beautiful medicinal herb garden. Oh, how I would be glad for someone like you to be my neighbor.

  12. When I want to focus on this calendula for it’s herbal usage, does it matter this calendula officanlis come from any cultivars? Like Pacific Beauty or Art of Shade? Thanks for your sharing…

    • Fransisca,
      I don’t have any direct experience with either of those varieties, which are Calendula officinalis cultivars (cultivated varieties), but if the green base of the flower head is resinous (sticky and bitter) – they will be good medicine. All of the Calendula officinalis varieties are medicinal and edible, but some are more resinous than others.
      Hope that helps!
      Juliet

  13. Christen Vargas says:

    I am 12 weeks pregnant, and not knowing much about calendula, I ate about 1/4 flower (petals only) offered to me by a well meaning friend as an interesting edible flower. Is it likely that this small amount of calendula intake can have an effect on my pregnancy? I have been trying to find out info on potency, but the only things I found were general warnings that suggest that you “avoid it during pregnancy.” Now I’m a bit worried…

    • Pl. Don’t worry quarter of a flower will do no harm. Just avoid taking it further. Hope the baby will be as sunny as the flower. Good luck..
      Sid

  14. Thank you, again, for providing such extensive information. Your Facebook post on 10 Medicinal Herbs brought me here. I am ever delighted by your blog, your knowledge, and your generosity. I’ve only added herbs to my garden for the last couple years, but try to share with my kids the information I learn from wise people like you.

  15. After a whole day in bed feeling bad with, I don’t know what it was, I ended up vomiting, and today I had terrible indigestion. right now I am drinking a cup of calendular and chamomile tea. I found your blog by searching if calendula was edible. I am growing mint, chamomile, calendular, lemonverbena and lots more in our garden. Thank you for giving me much more than the answer I was looking for. I am hoping to be able to get back to work tomorrow with the help of mint, chamomile and calendular tea.
    Love your photos too:)

  16. Hello Juliet,
    I found your site through google. I am just learning about calendula and found your information to be very helpful. This is a great post with beautiful photos.

  17. I have just found your site whilst researching the calendula plant. I am part of a Community Share Associate (csa) plan for Sweegrass Herbals of Sterling, MA and I was given this small plant and it is growing; has two budding marigolds as they are so lovely. Anyhow, in adding the photo to my blog; I decided to find if there was a blog on the calendula plant; indeed it led me here. Your photos are so lovely; as mentioned by another comment-er. Thank you for sharing!

  18. Well This is very interesting post, i am surfing around your blog and getting very handy information. Keep sharing like this. Actually i am doing research on different type of plants and seeds to make medicines and this medium help me a lot.

  19. Thank you for all of the information presented in such a lovely and beautiful way.

    Do you have any recipe suggestions for making a Calendula cream? I’ve been collecting & drying Calendula flowers all summer. I have EVOO, glycerin & beeswax, but could use some help on the ratios or ideas for better base oils.
    Thank you.

  20. Julie Setzler says:

    Juliet,
    Thank you for brightening my day with these beautiful photos and the enriching info! Will definitely have to grow this herb.

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