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Calendula: Liquid Sun for the Woes of Winter

Winter will test the limits of our vitality, immune systems, and ability to recover from illness. The plant kingdom provides many remedies for support and symptom relief, yet people habitually reach for the same ones, such as echinacea, goldenseal, ginger, and licorice. In this article, I’ll introduce a remedy that most everyone is probably familiar with, but has not considered for internal use. It is calendula flower, also known as marigold. And I’ll not only tell you how to use this sunny flower medicinally, but also how to make a dried plant tincture with it.

There are countless yellow flowers that embody the sun’s spirit and energy. Sunflowers, daisies, yellow roses and dandelions, to name a few. And there is also Calendula officinalis, common name marigold. It is a plant that allows people the rare opportunity to contain an incandescent element of the sky in a bottle, giving one the ability to use it in the dark months of winter. For if you’ve ever tinctured calendula flowers or made an oil infusion from them, you know it as liquid sunshine.

Many use calendula externally, infusing the fresh or dried flowers in olive oil to be applied to abrasions, irritations, fungal and bacterial infections or whipping it into lotion. But the tincture, golden colored and sticky with resins, is also a healing powerhouse. With its broad and diverse spectrum of chemical constituents and energetic actions, it exhibits a versatility and potency that rivals few other plant medicines.

Namesake

Calendula officinalis has been in use as a medicine for thousands of years. It is a plant commonly known as marigold, a name given to it by either the Ancient Egyptians, Romans or early Christians. “Mari” refers to the plants namesake, the Virgin Mary. “Gold” has dual reference. It mirrors the gold light that surrounds Mary’s head, but also gold coins. For according to Brother John M. Samaha, S.M., Ancient Christians would lay the heads of marigold flowers at the feet of statues depicting the Virgin Mary as an offering when they lacked riches to give.

The name marigold may also be accompanied by the word “pot”, as in pot marigold. Many believe pot to mean something that literally grows in a pot. But “pot” alludes to cookware or cooking pots. It defines the fact that the flower was eaten as a food, and was often added to soups.

Marigold was granted it’s Latin name, Calendula officinalis, perhaps around the 13th century. No one is truly sure. Calendula is of the word calendea meaning “calendar”. It reflects the unique trait of this plant to flower throughout the year. Officinalis is a term often given to plants denoting a “plant of medicinal value”. And so it is the calendar flower that is medicinal.

If you are curious to know more about the name of this lovely flower, you can read a richly descriptive article by Brother John M. Samaha, S.M. online. It’s title is Mary’s Gold, and can be found at http://campus.udayton.edu/mary/resources/marygold.html

Medicinal Uses

Calendula tincture is composed of a variety of tastes. It’s salty, sweet, slightly acrid bitter and pungent. If you’re familiar with my past writings on taste, you know that taste is a great indicator of a plants actions in the body. Multiple tastes mean a plant that can be flexibly used to treat many types of people, maladies and imbalances.

When I imagine how Calendula’s taste defines it actions, I see how it’s saltiness soothes and relaxes tissue internally and externally. And how, combined with its pungent nature, it warms and stimulates lymphatic circulation, softening hard lumps in lymph ducts.

Calendula’s pungency imparts its high resin content, evident in the stickiness of the fresh plant, and slightly sticky tincture. The resins warm, and sooth irritation, and account for much of the plants anti-bacterial and anti-fungal actions, something not many lymphatics can boast. Pungent plants can also transmute easily to a vapor in the body, softening tissue to penetrat hard dry and cold places where depressed function exists.

Calendula’s acrid bitterness relaxes the nervous system, moving fluid and blood to the periphery and opening pores in the skin to release heat. The acrid nature, combined with the pungent, is a part of its ability to act as a diaphoretic (reduce fever).

The organs calendula has direct action on are the stomach, lymphatic and nervous system, the liver, and skin. It warms, soothes, and relaxes the nerves, stimulates lymphatic circulation and immunity, opens the pores of the skin and supports liver function. It can both dry and moisten, therefore being seen as a grand balancer in dry or wet swollen conditions.

Topically, calendula tincture can be used the same way the infused oil can, though I wouldn’t recommend it or rashes, abrasions or minor irritations as the alcohol will cause further irritation. Use the infused oil for those. But in cases of abscesses, puncture wounds, deep cuts and gaping wounds it is quite useful, and I have used it a lot in these instances. It can act as a hemostatic to stop bleeding. Though it is not as powerful as yarrow, it is still very effective. It is antibacterial and antiseptic, anesthetizes nerve pain in the wound or infected area, and stimulates immunity.

I can attest to its effectiveness personally in many instances, but most recently it was a deep cut from glass. The wound was well over an inch long, and approximately 1/4th inch deep in some places. Instead of getting stitches, I opted for herbs (one of which was calendula tincture) and butterfly band-aids. Calendula combined with St. John’s wort stopped the searing pain in about 20-30 seconds after being applied. It helped manage the bleeding, but it was yarrow that stopped it. You can read more about that on my website, www.redrootmountain.com, under the section titled My Family Health Blog.

Nerve damage and calendula are an excellent fit. It has been found to regenerate function from nerve damage both internally and externally. Again, I can attest to from personal experience, both internally, from a car accident, and externally, from deep cuts and puncture wounds.

Internally, I have successfully used calendula to treat immune depression that resulted in recurrent bacterial infections afflicting the ears, nose and throat. In most all of the cases calendula, combined with one or two other herbs specific to that person, stopped the cycle of re-infection. One such case was my daughter, who had recurrent streptococcus. It prevented her from needing to have her tonsils removed, and she has been free of the pesky bacteria for over a year.

Infections call for a good diaphoretic (fever reducer). Calendula is one that can adapt to different types of fevers. It is an appropriate addition to fever formulas specific for low fever with immune depression, general colds and flu, or high constricted fevers that don’t respond to other treatments.

In the case of low fevers, it kicks the immune system into gear, and opens the pores to release heat. For high fevers, it supports innate immunity and helps fight bacteria while relaxing the nervous system and stimulating blood to the periphery and opening the pores. Relaxing the nervous system is key in high fevers, for the nervous system is bound by tension and cold thereby causing a constant rise in temperature. These fevers respond most efficiently to acrid bitters that relax the nervous system, therefore breaking the fevers spiking cycle.

Another situation that calls for calendula is jaundice with low immunity and poor digestion. Calendula mildly stimulates the liver to relieve jaundice while also warming the stomach. I have found it useful for clients who have gone through cancer treatments., both during and after treatment, for such symptoms.

This plant doesn’t have a strong affect on the urinary tract, but it is a mild diuretic. I add it to formulas for those with recurrent urinary tract infections.
Those prone to Candida albicans infections both internally and externally will also find calendula an excellent fit. It is warm and stimulates the immune system and liver, two things that help fight recurrent infections. It balances the tissues water balance, therefore setting the stage for healthier function, and creating a terrain where fungus cannot thrive. But it is also anti-fungal. As you can see, it is a plant that addresses the root of the infection, as well as having direct action on it.

One part of the lymphatic system I have not seen great effect on with calendula is in the villa (lymph nodes) of the small intestine. In chronic bowel disease they can become irritated and inflamed, which interferes with food absorption. In this case, I often recommend red root (Ceanothus americanus). But because red root is so drying, I find it combined with calendula are a fine fit. You get improved absorption, demulcent action, and appropriate balance of water in the lymph cells.

Sample Formula:

To help you put Calendula into a context of uses, here are some sample formulas that I’ve used on my family and with my clients over the years. Each is appropriate for grownups and kids alike.

Ear Infections(to be taken by mouth): calendula, cleavers, usnea (if bacterial), ginger or cayenne; Dosage: 20-35 drops 3-5 times daily

Strep throat: usnea, calendula, cleavers, goldenseal, echinacea, poke root (of the poke, only 2-5 drops per serving, and only to be taken under the advice of someone with experience using poisonous plants); this formula can be used in conjunction with an antibiotic. Dosage: 15-35 drops 3-5 times daily.

Recurrent Strep Throat resulting from immune depression: echinacea, cleavers, calendula (equal parts of each); should be taken as an immune tonic for 6-9 months. Dosage: 10-20 drops 2-3 times daily.

General depressed immunity with low fever: calendula, cleavers, ginger (equal parts). Dosage: 10-20 drops 2-3 times daily.

Acute viral infection, initial signs: calendula, American licorice (equal parts); 10-35 drops 2-4 times daily.

High fever with bacterial infection: calendula, blue vervain, catnip, usnea; drink supportive tea of yarrow and linden flower. Dosage: 35 drops 3-5 times daily.

Topical tincture for nerve and skin cell damage (punctures and deep cuts): calendula, lavender, St. Johns wort, yarrow

Eye wash for conjunctivitis (pink eye): tinctures of calendula, echinacea, goldenseal and eyebright. Add two drops of each to 1 tablespoon of hot water. Let it cool and allow the alcohol evaporate off, then rinse the eyes with it. Use the tincture internally as well. Dosage: 20-35 drops 3-4 times daily.

 

Making Calendula as a Dried Plant Tincture

Making a dried plant tincture is easier than you think. I used to be against it, believing that everything should be done fresh. I still do prefer that. But I have learned that a plant that is dried properly, stored in an airtight and sunlight free environment and not more than a 9-12 months old makes a beautiful tincture.

There are a few things to remember. Every dried plant tincture needs a different ratio of water to alcohol. Calendula dried plant tincture is made as a 1:5 dilution. That means you need one ounce of plant to 5 ounces of fluid, or menstruum. Of the 5 parts menstruum 75% needs to be alcohol and 25% needs to be water. In the instructions for making a dried plant tincture, I’ll give a simple math equation to figure that out.

Use distilled water, not tap or spring. And of the alcohol you need a high content alcohol. I choose to purchase 98% organic grape alcohol from Alchemical Solutions. But one may use pure grain or Everclear (which are 95%).

Note: Many people ask me if Vodka is okay to use. It may be, but it has a lower percentage of alcohol and higher percentage of water. If you choose to use it, don’t add the water to your dried plant tincture. And I recommend not using it on fresh plants for the plant still has its water.

Supplies for Tincture Making

• Dried plant matter
• Distilled water
• High alcohol product (96-98%) such as pure grain. Other options are: organic grape alcohol from Alchemical Solutions
• Mason jar of appropriate size
• Scale(if you are having your plant weighed in the store, you don’t need to bother weighing it yourself. And for those interested in purchasing a scale, it is nice to be able to buy the $150 digital one, but I have found Target’s digital kitchen scales work just fine. They run about $35, and are far more realistic for most people’s budgets.)

1. Weigh your plant, and figure your plant to fluid ratio. This is plant specific in many cases. For calendula the recommended ratio is 1:5, as already stated. That is 1 part of plant by weight to 5 parts fluid by volume. Example: 2 oz. of dried calendula x 5 parts fluid = 10 oz.! So we need 10 oz. of fluid.

2. Now that you know how much fluid you need, its time to figure how much alcohol and water is needed. Yet another plant specific number. Let’s use the 10 fluid oz. from step one as an example. For calendula of our 10 fluid oz., we need 75% of that to be alcohol and 25% water.

Now here’s the equation. Let’s do the alcohol. Multiply the number of total ounces of fluid (that’s 10) by the 75% turned into a decimal number. In this case, 75% becomes .75. The equation looks like this: 10 x .75 = 7.5. So you need 7.5 oz of alcohol. To figure your water, simply subtract: 10-7.5= 2.5. There you have it. It’s quite simple.

3. Next you put your plant in the mason jar and add the room temperature distilled water. Push it down and get it in there the best you can. Let it sit for an hour or so to reconstitute. Not everyone does this, but it feels somehow right to me to reconstitute the plant before immersing it in alcohol. I have also learned in the last couple of years that this is how the Alchemists do it when they make tinctures. Roots I let sit a bit longer-overnight if possible.

4. Now that the herbs are reconstituted, add the alcohol. Use what you need to mix them in. I put the lid on and shake the jar. I use chop sticks to make sure the air bubbles are out, and I press the plant down beneath the liquid with a potato masher. This part can take some time. Shaking and pushing down. Once you’re done, the plant should be slightly below the level of the fluid.

5. The advice of nearly all tincture makers: Shake daily (or often as you remember), and let macerate for 8 weeks. But here is another place that I change the way things are done. I let my tinctures macerate longer, and I don’t shake them every day. I like them to be agitated, but also have time to sit calm and unruffled. It’s a personal preference.

6. Now it’s time to make the label. Date, write if the tincture was fresh or dried, where it was harvested/purchased, dilution of plant to fluid (1:5 for our Calendula example) and percentage of alcohol (75%).

7. After 8 (or longer) weeks, press out the tincture. You can use a press or your hands with some cheese cloth. I prefer a press for I can get more tincture out of the process. Rich Gulch has inexpensive small presses starting at around $130.

Calendula is a safe plant to use and experiment with. It is appropriate as a tonic to be taken long term for long standing problems, and is an essential addition to the medicine cabinet and formulas for injuries and acute infections. It’s safe for kids, their larger human counterparts, and for pets (including cats). It is an plant that rekindles warmth and light in dark places of the mind and body. But hearing about it is one thing. Make it and use it, then you’ll really understand what an indispensible tool this plant it.

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  • Erikarowntree

    Beautifully written and fully explained! nice work Kathy!
    Erika

    • Thanks, Erika. : ) I so appreciate your comment. Warm wishes, Kathy

  • Linda

    Thanks for making one of my favorite plants more of a favorite. I have infused calendula oil on the stove top brewing this week and just finished straining a tincture of it. Great article! When will your book be ready to purchase! I hope this is in it!

    • Linda, Thanks so much! You’ll have to bring your calendula tincture to class for us all to try. And the oil, of course. We’ll want to see that. A chunk of this will be in the book as I’m condensing the Materia medica, but the article will always be online. Very warm wishes to you on this blustery day, Kathy

  • may i ask why the alcohol is 75% and the water is 25%? Can’t I just use all alcohol if my vodka is only 80 proof?

    • Hello. You may. I use 95% alcohol, so it’s important to add water for the proper percentage. You are free to use vodka. Know, though, that calendula is high in resins, and needs more than 60% alcohol to extract as a dried plant. The fresh plant extracts best at 95% alcohol. We don’t add water to those, because the water is in the plant. Best

      • Ashton Monture

        Hello Kathy, I’m wondering if you can help me, Hello, I am emailing you in hopes that you can help me. I am currently facing some swelling of the lymph nodes, 2 under chin, 1 by ear, 1 under collar bone, one on left shoulder, & one near breast in left side. I am currently taking Dandelion root, burdock root, & red root in hopes to stimulate my lymphatic system and strengthen it to reduce the swelling. They aren’t very big, like the size of a pea. I have no fever but feel very fatigued, run down, not the same. I excercise more & eat healthier. I also would like to take extra strength Echinacea to help my immune system as well, do you think this is too much herbs? Do they contraindicate each other? I would be taking 2500mg pills of echinacea purpurea, 2x a day. While also drinking 3 cups of red root, dandelion root, & burdock root tea. I am also currently not on any medication, please let me know if this will work! Thank you!

  • Allice Haidden

    Before I really researched I ran out to the garden and picked the last calendulas of this season and put them in 80 proof Vodka. Is my result in any way unhealthy? I conclude that it is not as potent as it could be if I had dried the flowers or if I had used more alcohol, but is that the only downside to my rashness?

  • Ana

    Hi Kathy,

    Making more calendula oil as we speak. Great stuff!

    You mention red root for bowel disease. Is it safe for cats? The reason I ask is that my cat gets frequent hairballs (mostly bile), and I recently discovered these sites:

    http://consciouscat.net/2010/04/28/some-startling-new-thoughts-on-cats-and-hairballs/

    **and**

    http://www.thecatsite.com/t/202671/lets-say-no-to-vaseline/30 (***skip to Post #36 if you don’t want to read it all***)

    She also has some skin issues, dry flaky skin. Do you recommend calendula and red root for cats to clear up what is likely a bowel problem, or would you recommend something else?

    Thanks!
    Ana

    • Hi Ana,
      Thanks for your note. Cats have very different metabolisms than humans. They metabolize faster, and some plants can be fatal. If you are looking for herbs for your cat, it’s best to talk with a holistic vet. There are also herb books for pets that you might consult. I, personally, would not use calendula or red root internally on a cat without first checking with an alternative vet. Best wishes,Kathy

      • Ana

        Thanks! I will check into other options.