by Bronwen Gates
Winter 1999 Newsletter
There was a yard I passed every day on my way to school where Calendula grew in profusion, even peeping out from under the gate and growing from cracks in the driveway. The name Calendula, is used both as a common name and as the Latin name. Calendula officinalis is supposedly derived from the fact that it is to be found in bloom on the calends or first day of each month, and it was true that even in the midst of winter there were usually one or two blooms to cheer my heart and warm my journey to or from school. Dried Calendula flowers were sold extensively in seventeenth century Europe to “comfort the heart and spirits,” and Calendula also has a reputation for strengthening the heart and circulatory system at a physical level. Formerly used mainly in broths and soups, Calendula flowers may be used raw in salads or dried in herb teas with other flowers, such as linden and red clover, as a mild tonic for the circulatory system.
But it is the external uses of the pot marigold, Calendula, on which I want to focus in this article. Calendula is one of the best bath herbs because of its mucilaginous qualities and its skin healing powers. You can make an infusion of dried Calendula blossoms (about a handful in a quart or so of boiling wwater), add the orange liquid to your tub, and imagine you’re bathing in liquid sunshine or Mary’s Gold (another of its common names). Calendula is particularly wonderful for the care of the delicate skin of babies; you can add a few drops of Calendula oil or tincture if you don’t have time or opportunity to make an infusion.
Calendula also prevents infection and is one of the first aid herbs I would not be without. Its action is not antibacterial per se, but provides an environment which is inhospitable to bacteria. It can be applied as a salve or in liquid form, either as an infusion or using the diluted tincture. It’s important to dilute the tincture before applying it to a wound, else the alcohol in the tincture will sting horribly. My favorite way of using Calendula for the scrapes and cuts of my children is to put a few drops of the tincture in the bath tub and let them soak in this. Even dirty scrapes heal quickly and without infection with this treatment. Calendula in the bath is also wonderfully soothing and healing for women after childbirth, and it’s good for newborn babies too. It is also very effective in the treatment of burns, reducing the pain and promoting rapid healing with reduced or no scarring. The British physician, Dorothy Shepard, used Calendula extensively in the emergency room and cites its use in cases of severe bleeding; she claimed that a few drops of undiluted tincture stopped the gushing of arterial bleeding instantaneously. I’ve thankfully never had to test this.
You can buy dried Calendula flowers and also high quality tincture and oil at Whole Foods, but it also one of the easiest plants to grow. Scatter its seeds among your veggies, and you will be rewarded with its cheerful profusion, and if you don’t harvest them all, they will seed themselves happily in your yard for ever after. The orange contrasts nicely with the kale and the lettuce too!