Over the past week I have had a flood of emails asking about calendula, a wonderful and easy-to-grow herb that I utilize in many ways, for both topical and internal issues, for humans, canines, and other species.. The biggest question in my Inbox right now- is it safe? And the answer is yes, it’s a very safe herb, although any plant can theoretically cause an allergic reaction and it’s always wise to do a small skin test before applying something new, just in case. I’ve seen one reaction to calendula in 25 years, an outbreak of hives on one of my Ridgebacks after I did a finishing rinse based on calendula. But overall it’s very safe to use topically and internally, and provides a range of actions that go well beyond it’s popular application as a skin-soother/wound healer (vulnerary). Since I’ve been asked about this so much, here’s a little bit of information for you.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
Parts used: flowers, including green calyx (using just the petals is much weaker medicine)
Actions: vulnerary, lymphatic decongestant, antifungal, antiseptic, cholagogue, astringent,emmenagogue
Energetics: neutral to warm, mildly drying
Indications: Topically; wounds, rashes, ulcers (internal and external) as a rinse for conjunctivitis, as an oil to swab in inflamed ears or gums; Internally for IBD, all kinds of colitis, fungal and bacterial infection; post-infection as a lymphatic decongestant or for lingering low grade infection(excellent with dental issues) mild cholagogue especially useful with poor fat digestion and constipation, flavonoid content supports venous and capillary integrity; useful with cancer where there is gastric distress and/or bleeding
Constituents: Saponins, flavonoids (most wellknown of these include quercetin and rutin) resin, terpenoids, taraxerol, mucilage
Calendula is native to Europe but widely cultivated in North America, both for the beauty of the plant in a garden setting, and of course, the many medicinal uses. Calendula is one of the easiest-to-grow medicinal herbs and is so versatile in its healing properties I would have to list it on my own Top Ten herbs, if I were forced to limit myself so much! It’s important to use the whole flower head with the green base attached, especially with internal use. High quality calendula is also widely available from Harmonic Arts in Canada, from suppliers such as Mountainrose Herbs, Starwest, Jean’s Greens and Frontier in the US. Note that it’s important to make the distinction between true calendula, which is sometimes referred to as “pot marigold” – the familiar marigold of many gardens and window pots is an entirely different species (Tagetes). Tagetes species do have some medicinal actions, but are not interchangeable with Calendula.
French Marigold, Tagetes patula
Calendula tea is commonly used to help ease peptic ulcers, IBD and a whole array of canine digestive complaints. I often include calendula in protocols for dogs with leaky gut, to help heal and tonify the whole digestive tract. Whole fresh flowers can be added to food to help maintain a healthy gut and for the rich antioxidant content. Topically, which is where it is most popularly utilized, think about use with hot spots, dermatitis of all kinds, seborrhea, yeast infections, compresses for mouth ulcers/gingivitis, poultice or salve with mastitis; infused oil is great mixed with mullein for ear infection or as base for all purpose salve; internally , calendula is important to help support the body dealing with any lingering infection, and is a superb digestive ally, offering the soothing action inside the body that we see externally, but also helping to remove toxins and support digestion, particularly of fats, as we see in many cases of chronic constipation and IBD.
Calendula combines especially nicely with Chamomile, Marshmallow root (Althea officinalis) and/or licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) for stomach inflammation; I like it combined with Saint John’s wort, Plantain and Rose for topical use; pairing it with Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria), Marshmallow leaf and root, Uva Ursi (Arctostaphylos uva ursi) or Couch grass ( Elymus repens) steers it’s action towards the bladder to help with inflammation there; for chronic infection and stagnant lymph I may pair it with Violet, Red root ( Ceanothus Americanus), Burdock or Cleaver’s, depending on the case. When we consider the actions Calendula offers, it’s easy to see how all-purpose (polycrest is the technical term) this herb really is. It can tone and soothe inflamed tissue inside the body or out, it promotes the movement of lymph(and thus toxins) through the system, it provides antioxidants (and thus, supports general wellbeing). Juliette de Bairaclai Levy wrote that calendula is “good heart medicine and provides restorative powers to the arteries and veins” – which makes perfect sense, given the rutin content. These are just a few ideas about working with Calendula; ongoing study, and regular use of this sunny and generous plant will reveal myriad more ways to make use of her medicine. Note to bird-people – my African grey parrot eats a whole flower every day, in season. 🙂
Preparation: As with all herbs, the method of extraction/preparation will depend on which constituents you’re seeking to emphasize. Most of Calendula’s medicinal and nutritive constituents extract well in water, but resin is not one of them. When you want to ensure the resinous aspects are intact, use an alcohol tincture. I have personally not found glycerin to be an ideal menstruum for calendula, when I administer this herb longterm I use water infusions, with strength of preparation and dosage according to the specific needs of the case.
Dosage: Susan Wynn and Barbara Fougeres list a dosage range for water infusion of calendula as ” 5 – 30 grams per cup of boiling water”- a wide range! I generally go by about 2 Tbsps of loose dried herb to 8 ounces hot water. Cover your infusion with a lid (not tightly) or tin foil, and allow to steep about 30 minutes, and then strain and cool. I use 1/4 cup per 20 pounds body weight, and for dogs under twenty pounds, consider adding just a couple of Tbsps at a time. Dosing any herb not only depends on the weight of the animal, but whether the herb is given alone or in formula, and how serious the condition is. I like water infusion for chronic conditions and to add antioxidant support, and use either alcohol or glycerin tinctures for acute issues. I use sunflower and olive oil primarily as a base for my topical preparations (don’t give herbally infused oil internally) and use either the “sunny window” method, or more commonly these days, the heat-method, gently warming the herbal oil over a pot of hot water, for several days. I’m following this entry with one on basic salve making, so there’ll be more detail on the method soon. I’ve also poulticed with calendula, but it’s more likely I make a compress with dogs or cats (horses do much better with poultices!). Compresses entail starting with a stronger infusion than I might use internally – 30 grams of dried whole flower in 8 ounces hot water, covered and left up to four hours. I rarely make infusion for internal use as strong as that.
For alcohol tincture, the suggested range is 1/2 to 2 mls per 20 pounds, in divided doses three times daily. You might think about the high end if using alone, and the low end in formula – and don’t use alcohol tincture if a dog has reflux, ulcerative colitis, or liver disease. In those cases use glycerite or water-based infusions.
Contraindications/Interactions: None, but I don’t use Calendula with cats, as there is a small amount of salicylic acid in the stem. It *probably* isn’t enough to cause a problem, with occasional use, but I’d rather be safe than sorry. Calendula does possess mild emmenagogue action (stimulates menses) , and so I don’t use it with pregnant animals. Herbalists writing about usage in humans often disagree about Calendula’s safety in pregnancy, but there is not much literature regarding other species. Hence, I again err on the side of caution. It may also not be wise to apply calendula salve to any wound that is not 100% clean – while it’s not as fast-acting as comfrey, calendula does speed up healing time, and there is a risk that infection could be trapped inside a wound or swelling. Ideally, we prefer to bring infection out, not close it in, so this is something to be aware of. I don’t, however, put salve on wounds in the first place, but many do, so take note if you do this that you are not trapping bacteria under the scab.
Calendula in my (badly overgrown) garden. <3