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Herbal medicine with calendula

In herbal medicine we use the species Calendula officinalis — some people call it pot marigold. The word “officinalis” means pharmaceutical. It’s very easy to grow from seed and most nurseries stock the plants. The orange/yellow flower petals are used to make internal and external remedies, some of which you can make yourself. Many other types of marigolds are grown in Australia but are not recognised as medicinals.

Traditional uses

Calendula originated in Egypt and the Mediterranean as a herbal medicine and has a long history of use in many countries. According to King’s American Dispensatory, 1895, it was used topically for serious wounds, for many gynaecological problems and after surgery. Internally, it was used for circulatory, spleen and liver disorders. Maurice Messegue, a famous French herbalist, used a tea of the petals for menstrual and menopausal symptoms. In Europe it’s said that if the flowers don’t open in the morning this indicates rain is on its way, but if they open before 7am the weather will be fine. If you want to test this for yourself, put the plants in different parts of your garden and see if they all react in the same way before you rely on this form of weather prediction! The petals were also used as a dye and to colour foods.

Modern therapeutic uses for the herbal medicine

The outstanding feature of calendula herbal medicine is its healing effects, which can be both internal and external.

Externally on the skin

  • Basically, calendula herbal medicine is useful for all minor wounds. It has astringent, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory effects. You can use it externally, in the form of a strong tea, as a concentrated herbal extract or as a commercial ointment.
  • The herbal medicine has antifungal properties, so a cooled, strained tea could be used as a footbath for tinea, as a mouthwash and gargle for thrush and as a mini bath for vaginal and rectal candida.

  • I also prescribe calendula herbal medicine cream for varicose veins and haemorrhoids.
  • In my practice I have found that calendula herbal medicine cream can actually eliminate cysts, although I have not had much success with it once the cysts become hard.
  • My experience is that calendula herbal medicine cream and calendula herbal medicine oil are excellent for dry skin, especially at menopause, and it’s interesting that some authors say the saponins in calendula are oestrogenic.

Internally

Generally, calendula herbal medicine may be used for the following conditions:

  • As part of a program for treating generalised candida.
  • To increase bile flow and for various liver complaints.

  • For stomach and intestinal inflammation and infections.
  • For heavy menstrual bleeding.
  • As a mouthwash for ulcers and gum problems.
  • As a gargle for a sore or infected throat.

Culinary use

  • A few petals added to rice or potatoes will give them a yellow colour. If you are heavy-handed you’ll spoil the taste of the meal, but it’s suggested as a substitute for saffron.
  • I sometimes sprinkle some petals on the top of curries or stirfries.

  • A small quantity of petals may be sprinkled on the top of a salad for a visual effect, and then tossed through so each person gets a few petals only.

Caution: As an internal remedy, calendula is not recommended during pregnancy.

Making your own herbal medicine

To make external calendula oil:

  • Pick the petals from calendula and pack them lightly into a small jar.
  • Cover with sweet almond oil.
  • Place the jar (with the lid on) in the sun for a week, then strain.
  • You can then use the oil on your face and body, but not close to the eyes.
  • If you want the oil to be more therapeutic, the process of leaving the oil and petals in the sun (or a warm environment) can be repeated.

Dosage

Calendula is a low-dose herb and tastes very unpleasant so you will need to mask the taste.

Internally: A suggested infusion dose is to pour one cup of boiling water over the petals from half of one flower, steep for a few minutes, strain and drink warm. You may need to add some ginger or cinnamon to make the tea more palatable. The petals from half of one flower per person could be used on food. As a mouthwash and gargle, make a tea as above but with half the quantity of water. When using calendula in extract or tablet form, be guided by the label dosage.

Externally: May be used liberally.

Therapeutic compounds in the herbal medicine

  • Carotenoids and flavonoids contribute to the colour and anti-inflammatory actions.
  • Volatile oils are antiseptic and laboratory studies indicate antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral activity.
  • Saponins stimulate bile flow and may have oestrogenic effects.
  • Plant sterols influence hormonal and immune functioning.
  • Polysaccharides are thought to promote healing.

Adverse effects of the herbal medicine

  • Calendula is in the Asteraceae (daisy) family, so it may cause allergic reactions in some people.
  • If you are using calendula on the skin, it stains (temporarily), so you need to wash off the surplus to avoid getting it on clothes.
  • As an internal remedy it may cause nausea in sensitive people.

Nancy Beckham is a qualified naturopath, herbalist, homoeopath, yoga teacher and horticulturist and runs her own clinic in Beverly Hills, tel: (02) 9150 4907. She is the author of Menopause & Osteoporosis, A Guide to Wellbeing for Australian Women, published by Viking/Penguin.

The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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