Calendula (Calendula officinalis)

The vibrant yellow flowers of Calendula officinalis have been described by seventeenth century doctor Nicholas Culpepper as “a comforter of the heart and spirits”. This sun-loving member of the Asteraceae, or daisy, family is commonly called the pot marigold. Believed to be native to Egypt, it now has world-wide distribution and its flowers are used extensively as a culinary ingredient and medicine.

Calendula flowers bloom continuously throughout the summer, from May to October. Dried flower petals have a saffron-like quality and are often used as a natural food coloring agent. As a medicine, it has a long, versatile history. During the Civil War, the dried blossom powder was used to stop the blood flow of battle wounds. In Europe, it has been used as a treatment for jaundice and as a lymphatic tonic. Eclectic physicians used calendula for conditions as varied as conjunctivitis, gastric ulcers, rashes, and burns.

Active constituents of Calendula include sterols, triterpenoids, tocopherols, flavonols, carotenoid pigments including lutein, and essential oils. Preparations of the herb include dried flowers, salves, tinctures and teas. Known for its anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties, it is used both internally and topically. Taken internally, it is used to treat postmastectomy lymphedema and pain, chronic colitis, and gastric ulcers, as well as promoting bile production. Used topically, it enhances the healing of skin and mucous membranes and is utilized to reduce varicose veins, heal cracked nipples during lactation, and can be used as an external wash for bee stings, eye inflammation, boils, and diaper rash.

Calendula use is generally recognized as safe, with no expected adverse effects. Allergic cross-sensitivity reactions are possible, however, for those with an allergy to feverfew, ragweed, and chamomile.

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