Calendula (Calendula officinalis) is also known as garden marigold, holligold, goldbloom, golds, ruddes, Mary bud, bull's eyes, and pot marigold. It is a member of the Asteraceae family. Other members of this plant family include daisies, arnica, chamomile, and yarrow. This bright, flowering herb opens its gold blossoms in the morning and closes them at dusk, or when rain threatens. Calendula is native to Asia and southern and central Europe. Early settlers brought the herb to North America where it has become a garden favorite. It is cultivated throughout the world and valued for its culinary and medicinal uses. The first name, Calendula, is from the Latin kalendae, the word Romans used to indicate that it bloomed throughout the year in their area. The second name officinalis indicates that calendula was included in official lists of medicinal herbs. The common name marigold refers to the blossoms' association with the Virgin Mary.
Calendula is a familiar garden plant with yellow or orange-gold blooms that have a strong and distinctive scent. The plant likes sun and will re-seed from year to year, even in poor soil. The erect, square and branching stems emerge from a taproot to grow up to 2 ft (0.6 m) high. The lower leaves are broad and spatula shaped. Upper leaves may be oblong, are smooth at the edges, and are arranged alternately along the stem. Blossoms may be single or double, are 1–4 in (2.54–10.2 cm) across, and are made of many small florets. The bushy herb blooms continuously throughout the summer. Seeds are crescent to horseshoe shaped with a rough exterior.
Calendula has been used for centuries as a culinary, medicinal, and magical herb. It was believed that calendula could bring protection against dangerous influences. The seventeenth century astrologer and doctor, Nicholas Culpeper, taught that the marigolds were under the influence of the constellation Leo. The flowers, he said were "a comforter of the heart and spirits." The bright yellow blossom of this herb was used to make a dye to color cheese and butter. In the kitchen, leaves and florets were added to sauces, soups, porridge, and puddings for color and medicinal benefit. The dried, powdered blossoms have also been used as a substitute for saffron in cooking. During the Civil War, calendula was used to stop the blood flow from battle wounds. Calendula blossom preparations continue to be valued as an antiseptic for external application to scrapes, burns, cuts, or wounds. Local application, in the form of a plant poultice or an infusion soaked in a cloth and applied to a wound, is an effective healing remedy. The Romans valued the herb for its ability to break fevers. During the Middle Ages, calendula used for protection against the plague. In early American Shaker medicine, calendula was a treatment for gangrene.
In addition to its first aid uses, calendula also acts as a digestive remedy. An infusion or tincture of the flowers, taken internally, is beneficial in the treatment of ulcers, stomach cramps, colitis, herpes viruses, yeast infections, and diarrhea. An infusion may also be used as an external wash helpful in treating bee stings, eye inflammations, boils and abscesses, varicose veins, eczema, acne, and as a gargle for mouth sores or a rinse to relieve toothache. The flowers have antispasmodic, antimicrobial, and antiviral properties. They improve the circulation of the blood and the lymphatic fluids and aid in elimination of toxins from the body. The juice from the fresh flowers or stem is said to help remove warts and help heal mucous membranes and skin. An infusion or tincture of the herb is also helpful in cases of painful or delayed menstruation, and the herb is a beneficial ally in the transition to menopause. The tincture also has many other uses, such as a topical wash for diaper rash in infants, a mouth gargle for sores, a vaginal douche for yeast, an internal soother for inflamed lungs, a topical for hemorrhoids, etc.
Despite a large number of studies on the chemical constituents of calendula flowers, the agents responsible
for the herb's healing properties haven't been clearly determined. Constituents include saponins, carotenoids, resin, bitter principle, essential oil, sterols, flavonoids, and mucilage.
Calendula blossoms are harvested when fully open throughout the flowering season. The flower heads are picked on a sunny day after the morning dew has evaporated. The blossoms are then spread on a paper-lined tray to dry in a bright and airy room away from direct sun. The temperature in the drying room should be at least 70°F (21°C). When the blossoms are completely dry, the florets are removed, and the center part of the blossom is thrown away. The dried florets are then be stored in a dark glass container with an airtight lid. The dried herb will maintain medicinal potency for 12 to 18 months. The container should be clearly labeled with the name of the herb, the date, and place harvested. The fresh juice of calendula flowers is preserved with 20% alcohol; the traditional tincture contains 50% alcohol.
Infusions are made by placing 2 oz (56.7 g) of fresh or half as much dried calendula blossom florets in a warm glass container. Then 2.5 cups (0.56 kg) of fresh, nonchlorinated water that has been boiled is added to the herbs. The mixture is then covered and steeped for ten to fifteen minutes. Next, the mixture is strained and the tea is drunk warm. The prepared tea will store for about two days in the refrigerator. Calendula blossom tea may be drunk by the cupful up to three times a day, as needed, or applied as an external skin wash.
An ointment is made by mixing dried and powdered calendula florets with olive oil. The combination is then mixed with melted beeswax. Then it is poured into dark glass jars while still warm. The mixture is sealed tightly with a lid when cool.
Calendula is a relatively mild, nontoxic herbal medicine with no known side effects reported.
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