It’s the time of the year when my Calendula crop is flowering and requires regular picking and dead heading. I pick little and often so that at the end of the season I have enough dried Calendula flowers and infused oil to last the year ahead. The sticky resin that you feel on your fingers when you pick the flowers is to be welcomed as it indicates the medicinal potency of the flowers, a combination of saponins, caretonoids, bitter principle, essential oil, sterols, flavonoids and mucilage.
Calendula officinalis is an important herbal medicine. The first part of its name refers to the longevity of its flowering period, there are very few months of the year when one’s Calendula patch does not have the odd flower. The second part of the name, ‘officinalis’ refers to its long established role as a medicinal plant. Calendula is probably best known as an excellent first aid treatment for cuts, scrapes, inflammation and infection of the skin. The type of wound that is particularly well suited to this herb is one that looks like a cat scratch – red, swollen, puffed up and infected. Although Calendula is often thought of as an antibacterial remedy it is actually a bacteriostatic, helping the body to win the fight against the infection by slowing the bacteria down and supporting the body’s response to the challenge. Dr Richard Hughes (in 1880) wrote ‘no suppuration seems able to live in its presence’ and he seemed to understand this bacteriostatic role even before it was proven scientifically.
Not just for external wounds, Calendula can help the healing of gastric and duodenal ulcers, cleverly combining a healing action with gentle stimulation of the digestion so that the environment of the digestive tract is made less favourable for the formation of ulcers and the growth of Helicobacter pylori.
Calendula has an affinity with the lymphatic system, a system which I often find is clogged and poorly functioning due to modern diets and lifestyle. Signs of an overloaded lymphatic system tend to be repeated infections, particularly tonsillitis, oedema (water retention), poor energy levels and slow healing wounds.
The flowers are bright and cheerful, reminiscent of pure sunshine. They’re my herb of choice for swollen and stagnant lymph glands where there’s an infection lingering. Herbalist Matthew Wood points out that Calendula is excellent for infections in those lymphatic node rich areas such as under the jaw line, breasts, armpits and groin. He makes the connection that these are areas ‘where the sun don’t shine’, Calendula brings sunshine and clearing to the ‘shaded’ areas. I have noticed that patients who need Calendula present with a real weariness and a slight yellow colouration around the eyes.
Calendula contains bitter principles and acts as a cholagogue so supports the action of the liver and gallbladder. This makes it a good choice of herb when there is lymphatic stagnation combined with reduced liver function. After taking Calendula patients find increased energy and the hint of yellow around the eyes is resolved. Herb books will tell you that Calendula is also an emmenagogue so can help delayed menstruation and painful periods but I suspect that this action is due to its normalising effect on the liver.
As well as being bacteriostatic it is antifungal so a foot bath of the flowers will help get rid of troublesome athlete’s foot. I once supplied a patient with some Calendula tincture to use for her son’s persistent athlete’s foot. She emailed me a week later to say: ‘One week of using your lotion completely resolved a problem that two months of allopathic treatment could not budge’. You can also take this herb internally for systemic fungal infections.
Calendula is so easy to grow and so pretty in the garden I thoroughly recommend that you find space to grow it each year. You’ll be growing virtually a complete herbal first aid kit!
To find out more about Myrobalan Clinic please visit www.myrobalanclinic.com