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Melissa McDonald,  Master Herbalist, Naturopath and Organic Grower

Calendula is one of my favorite summer herbs, both to grow and to use.  The bright yellow flowers put a smile on my face every time I see them.  Part of the reason I smile is because this medicinal herb is so easy to grow!  I did not grow up gardening, we lived in the city and while my parents enjoyed ‘landscaping’, the thought of a garden, let alone a medicinal herb garden was not on their radar.  So, when I decided to plant my first garden, I was under the impression you just toss out seeds, add a little water and boom, you have plants.  Fast forward a few years and I now own a medicinal herb farm, so I have had to learn a little about soil fertility.  That said, calendula really doesn’t take much more than tossing out some seed and adding water!  But as with anything, a little TLC will yield a few more flowers. 

This plant belongs to the marigold family, but if you are wanting to grow for medicinal purposes, make sure you look for seeds or plants marked ‘calendula officinalis’.  They range in color from a light yellow to a deep orange and if you keep picking the flowers, they will bloom almost all summer and even into fall.  This beautiful annual will self-seed, although I always add a few extra seeds in spring to make sure I have enough plants for harvesting.  They prefer full sun and appreciate water… although in my gardens here in Kansas, I’m not for watering much in our hot, dry summers and they still preform like a champ. 

Now, let’s move on to why you would want to grow calendula.  First off, this beautiful, edible flower can be used in a variety of foods and beverages.  The petals can be added to salads, salsas, eggs and drinks for a fun burst of color and the entire flower can be added to teas, broths and soups for added nutrition. 

Moving on to its medicinal value… it’s anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antifungal properties make it an invaluable herb for the skin whether alone or in combination with other herbs.  Look for it in herbal products or make your own concentrated tea or infused oil and apply it to skin issues such as cuts, scratches, infections, eczema, bug bites, burns, athlete’s foot and diaper rash.  And the best part, it can be used on animals as well!  Here’s a secret, next time you have a sunburn, brew up a calendula tea, cool it down in the refrigerator, then spritz on the area and see what you think! 

Not only is it good for the skin on the outside, but also for the skin on the inside!  Traditionally, this herb has had beneficial effects on those suffering with gastrointestinal issues such as heartburn, ulcers and diarrhea.  Additionally, its antifungal properties can also be helpful for those struggling with gut dysbiosis or candida overgrowth.  As a mouthwash, it can also be helpful for gum inflammation and infection. 

Calendula, along with its antiviral properties, encourages lymphocytic activity to maintain a healthy immune system. It also stimulates stagnant lymph congestion to reduce pain and clear the body of waste and toxins that can cause swollen lymph nodes and other tissues.  

Recently, research has been published showing that calendula can also be beneficial in the prevention, treatment and palliative care of cancer patients.  In 2018, the Integrative Cancer Therapies Journal reviewed ten years of studies on calendula extracts and concluded that this amazing herb has demonstrated cytotoxic effects and the ability to inhibit tumor growth in melanoma and leukemia as well as in breast, cervix, colon, gastric, lung and pancreatic cancers.  Furthermore, it was successfully used in the prevention of radiation-induced dermatitis in breast cancer patients and, as a mouthwash, ‘significantly’ decreased the degree of oropharyngeal mucositis in patients being treated for head and neck cancers.   

There are few drawbacks to using this herb.  On rare occasion, highly sensitive people may experience an allergic reaction.  Also, this herb has been traditionally used as an emmenagogue to induce menses so avoid taking orally if pregnant.   

As you can see, calendula offers a variety of benefits and if nothing else, it will put a smile on your face to pop off a flower and enjoy calendula tea.  Did I mention that this herb has also been traditionally used to help alleviate grief and sadness?  I hope you find some extra room in your garden for this gem, you will not be disappointed! 

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Melissa McDonald, Master Herbalist, Naturopath and Organic Grower.  She owns Whispering Elm Farm, an organic medicinal herb and elderberry farm located in Paola, Kansas, with her husband, Colin and two teen boys.  She is a passionate herbalist, teacher and real food advocate.  www.whisperingelmfarm.com