Calendula - The Sunshine Herb
August 2019, posted by Emma
Many years ago I walked through the arrivals gate at Kolkata’s Airport to be met by an excited group of children who placed a garland of bright flowers around my neck. This was my introduction to India and to the tradition of presenting flower garlands on special occasions, in this case a new children’s centre volunteer arriving on a flight from London. It was also my introduction to the beautiful Calendula officinalis flower. Throughout the months I spent in India I became increasingly familiar with garlands of these bright orange flowers, often accompanied by strings of jasmine, being placed around people’s necks at conferences, theatre shows, weddings and of course as offerings to the Gods.
A member of the Daisy (Asteraceae) family, Calendula is one of the oldest plants known to herbal medicine. It’s exact origins are lost in the midst of time, but it is thought to have been used in Ancient Greece, Egypt, India and the Arabic empires. Uses included as a fabric dye and for culinary, cosmetic and medicinal purposes. By the Middle Ages it was popular in Europe when the flower of ‘Mary-Gold’ was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. At this time the petals were commonly used for flavouring soups and stews, hence one of its common names ‘Pot Marigold’. Early New World colonists are known to have made use of this special herb, adding it to cooking as an immune booster. Doctors in the American Civil War, which raged for several years in the 1860s, carried dried calendula petals in their pockets to staunch bleeding and promote healing when treating war wounds.
History has imbued calendula flowers with a wealth of attributes, including as an antidote to poisoning, an eyesight restorative and a general healer of wounds, bedsores and ulcers. Calendula was thought to have magical powers and was used in love potions, as well as strewn under beds to protect householders from being robbed in the night. Upset lovers apparently once wore calendula garlands as an emblem of jealousy. By far my favourite tale is that once upon a time a beautiful, golden-haired child named Mary-Gold sat watching the sun every day. One day she disappeared and in her place grew a small, sun-like flower. Her friends believed she had been turned into the flower, which they named after their young friend.
The great herbalist Nicholas Culpepper, writing in the mid-1600s, described Calendula as a herb of the sun, proclaiming that its shape and flowers are linked to the astrological sign of Leo. Around a century earlier Gerard had recommended distilled marigold flowers and leaves for ‘…red and watery eies…’ (Gerard’s Herbal, edited 1994, p.169) and for curing trembling hearts.
A SUNSHINE HEALER
The healing power of Calendula, which should not be confused with the frilly-petaled French marigold (tagetes varieties), is harnessed in a variety of ways including in macerated oils (phytols), tinctures, herbal teas and through ingestion. Our Calendula oil is a maceration, meaning that the therapeutic properties of the petals have been extracted by steeping them in in vegetable oil (we use sunflower).
Modern day reasons for selecting this herb reflect many of its ancient uses. The Herbalist Gerard, mentioned above, declared that calendula ‘…ceaseth the inflammation…’ (Gerard’s Herbal, edited 1994, p.169). Calendula’s anti-inflammatory properties have now been researched and the herb is commonly utilised for this action today. In particular calendula macerations are often used to aid the healing of minor wounds, to soothe bee stings and cool inflamed skin conditions including eczema and dermatitis. Delving back in time again, the Ancient Egyptians are said to have used calendula as a skin rejuvenator. Today we are still aware of its excellent effect on the skin and calendula is often added to soothing sunburn preparations.
Another example of its skin calming actions comes from a 2004 study by a French oncology team, who compared the effects of using a calendula maceration to those of a topically applied drug used to treat acute dermatitis. Their study involved women who were receiving post-operative radiation therapy as part of breast cancer treatment. The researchers concluded that the calendula maceration was highly effective for the prevention of acute dermatitis.
In addition to this special marigold’s anti-inflammatory and general skin care uses this charming herb is also popular with aromatherapists to treat muscle tension and spasm, cracked skin, bruises and varicose veins. Combining calendula herbal oil with a general massage base oil, or adding it to other preparations, can bring an extra dash of healing power to our aromatic, therapeutic blends and a splash of sunshine to our treatment rooms.
SUGGESTIONS FOR USE
Macerate your own!
We now sell dried calendula petals (and other herbs) alongside our macerated oils (phytols). Why not make the most of the last of the summer sunshine to macerate your own calendula phytol, for using at home. There are other ways of producing phytols, but sunshine is the method used by our ancestors.
• Thoroughly wash and then sterilise a glass jar. Make sure it is totally dry.
• Fill the jar with dried calendula petals. Fill it to the top, but avoid packing the petals tightly. The petals must be 100% dry, or your phytol will go mouldy.
• Pour your chosen base oil over the petals. We use sunflower oil, though sweet almond also works well. The oil should fully cover the petals. Screw the lid on.
• Place on a sunny window sill. Turn your jar 1-2 a day. Recommendations for how long you should leave it vary, but 4-6 weeks is commonly suggested. This gives time for your base oil to absorb the therapeutic properties of the calendula flowers.
• Carefully filter the oil into a second clean and sterilised jar. Coffee filters work well for this. Ensure that whatever you use as your filter is spotlessly clean. Use a jar that’s about the right size for your quantity of calendula oil. This will minimise the amount of headspace (air) in the jar which could cause your oil to oxidise.
• Enjoy using your homemade calendula phytol!
I first designed this blend for a client with eczema. It worked very well for her, however eczema presents in many different ways, so you may need to vary your ingredients to suit your symptoms, or consult a professional aromatherapist for advice. This blend aims to calm the skin, reduce itching and promote skin cell regeneration. It's a lovely cooling cream, combining rose water with calendula oil. You’ll need a cappuccino whisk. I bought mine from a discount store years ago and it still works brilliantly.
Make 100ml calendula base cream, using our kits.
Wait until the cream has cooled down and add your essential oils, given here at a 2% dilution (reduce to 1% if your skin is thin or damaged):-
12 drops German chamomile (Matricaria chamomile)
12 drops Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum)
18 drops Palmarosa (Cympopogon martini)
18 drops True Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Stir thoroughly with a glass stick or wooden tooth pick. Decant your cream into a 100ml glass jar and keep in the fridge. Use within 3 months. Do not use on open or weeping skin. Remember that our suggestions should never replace seeking medical advise.
**References – **
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• Pommier, Gomez et at (2004) Phase III randomized trial of Calendula officinalis compared with trolamine for the prevention of acute dermatitis during irradiation for breast cancer, Département de Radiation Oncologie, Centre Léon Bérard, Lyon, France. Accessed 05/08/19, available from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15084618
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