I love to garden. I also love herbal medicine. Interesting how two of my loves go hand in hand, isn’t it?
Last week, I was walking through my yard, noticing all the medicinal plants it contains. The landscaping was complete before I went to naturopathic medical school so any medicinal plants are there by happenstance rather than by design and many are, believe it or not, weeds. I knew they were there, but I didn’t know how many until I started to count them. Far more than I excepted! So I decided to take you on a virtual herb walk through my home pharmacy, make that farmacy, and write a series of blogs. I’m betting you will find many of these plants to be familiar. First up, calendula!
Officially known as Calendula officinalis, it is a member of the Asteraceae family, a HUGE family containing 23,600 species as varied as sagebrush to daisies to cocklebur to chamomile to dandelions to marigolds, which happens to be the species for Calendula. Both yellow and orange flowers may be found.
Calendula is an annual in many areas but is super easy to grow. Scattering dried heads in the fall is an easy peasy way to insure you have plenty of flowers the following year.
The entire flower head, including the ray florets (the outer yellow and orange parts) are the medicinal parts of the plant. Pick the heads every couple of days to promote continual blooming.
Calendula is famously known as a vulnerary. A vulnerary is a substance that helps to heal wounds. For minor external wounds such as burns and scalds or insect stings, Calendula is an excellent choice. One could make a poultice of the flower heads and place over the wound to sooth and speed healing.
A poultice is an herb paste. You can use either fresh or dried herb. If using fresh herb, place 2-3 tablespoons in a mortar and pestle, a blender, or a mini food processor, add a little water and process the herb into a thick paste. If using dry herb, steep in hot water for two or three minutes, drain, reserving liquid, and process herbs as for fresh herb above, adding reserved liquid if needed. Wrap processed herb in a double layer of cheesecloth and apply to the wound. Leave in place until the poultice starts to dry out.
Calendula is markedly anti-microbial so there is little worry of the poultice causing infection. Rather, it would protect from infection. It is also anti-inflammatory which will help to reduce any redness and swelling.
While a good choice for superficial wounds, do not use this, or any other vulnerary, on deeper wounds. Wounds heal from the inside out. Applying Calendula to a deep wound will cause the wound to heal over before the internal wound has had a chance to heal, thus causing improper wound healing as well as increasing the risk of trapped infection.
This herb may also be used internally. Its anti-inflammatory properties are helpful for gastric and duodenal ulcers as well as sore throats. Simply infuse the herb in hot water for five minutes to make a tea. Drink it for the ulcers and gargle with it for a sore throat.
Calendula ray florets make a colorful addition to salads, soups, quiches, and scrambled eggs, and freezing the heads in ice cubes is like adding sunshine to any drink.
Calendula is a very safe herb with no documented side effects. However, it is best avoided in pregnancy as it is an emmenagogue and thus has the ability to stimulate or increase menstrual flow. It should also be avoided in anyone with an Asteraceae allergy.