Calendula has been used an herbal remedy and as coloring and flavoring for food in Central and Southern Europe since the 1100s. Commonly known there as marigold, calendula is an annual flower native to the northern Mediterranean countries. It's well known for its skin-soothing properties — this gentle herb is used as an ingredient in all types of skin care preparations, including salves, body washes, creams, ointments and lotions.
Calendula officinalis L.
Botanical Family: Compositae
Common name: calendula
Synonyms: pot marigold, marigold, gold-bloom, Caltha officinalis, Marybud, Marygold, Holligold, poet’s marigold, Scotch marigold, flor de calendula (Spanish)
The Plant: Calendula is valued both as a natural remedy and as a colorful garden flower. This two-foot-tall, hardy annual can grow quite bushy, and its large, two- to three-inch flowers (which range from yellow to bright orange in color) are attractive additions to borders. Calendula blooms continuously throughout the winter in warmer climates and throughout the summer in the north. Cooler temperatures and picking the flowers promotes more flowering, while high heat in summer will stress the plant and stop flowering. Calendula is sometimes called marigold, but should not be confused with the garden marigolds of the Tagetes genus, which do not share the benefits associated with true calendula flowers.
The parts of the plant used are the flower heads — harvested while they are in full bloom — or the petals (ligulate florets), which are removed from the receptacle after harvesting. Calendula flowers open in the morning and close in the late afternoon. They are of the highest quality when harvested late morning after the dew is dried off of the flowers — this is when the resin content is at its highest. When handpicking calendula, the flowers' dark tacky resin clings noticeably to the fingers.
Constituents of Note: There are a number of potentially significant constituents in calendula. Triterpene glycosides (guercetin, isohamnetin), triterpene alcohols and triterpene saponins are major components. Carotenoids including beta-carotene, lycopene, violaxanthin and lutein are responsible for the color of the flowers and for the use of calendula as a food coloring. Other constituents include a small amount of essential oil (60% alpha-cardinal), flavonoids (narcissan) and a bitter principle (calendnin).
Quality: Marigold flowers have a slightly bitter and somewhat salty flavor and a sweet, sharp, buttery aroma. Not more than 2% other plant parts should be present — including sepals and the fruits (seeds). Whole flowers (with the receptacle) should be carefully inspected to make sure they are properly dried as the receptacle dries much slower than the petals and can cause mold problems. Calendula flower petals do not have this problem. Good quality dried flowers have a slightly oily feel to them when rubbed between the fingers.
The flowers quickly fade when exposed to light, so they should always be stored in dark conditions. They also readily absorb moisture, which degrades the flowers, so calendula needs airtight storage, especially in humid conditions.
While both the whole calendula flowers and calendula petals are used interchangeably, the petals are considered superior for use in most applications. Between single-petaled, double-petaled, yellow-colored and orange-colored varieties, there is not, as of yet, consensus on which is the best — or even if one type is better than another.
Regulatory Status: GRAS (Title 21 182.10 and 182.20) as a spice, natural flavoring, and seasoning, Dietary Supplement
Did you know? Calendula was named the International Herb Association (IHA) 2008 U.S. Herb of the Year. IHA has been selecting an herb to honor every year since 1995. Herbs have to be considered outstanding in at least two of three categories—medicinal, culinary or decorative. Calendula is outstanding in all three categories and well deserving of the title. Many herb organizations, herb companies, retail stories and herb societies recognize the herb of the year and support public education on the chosen herb, throughout the year.
To make calendula skin care oil, place one cup of calendula flower petals (petals are better than whole flowers for this use) in a non-reactive container such as a glass jar. Cover with one cup of vegetable oil (a high quality oil such as extra-virgin olive oil or almond oil makes a good base), stir well, adding more oil if needed to keep the calendula completely submerged and the jar full. To extract using the sun, place container in a bag or box to keep out the sunlight, then place in the sun for a week. Stir contents daily. Or alternately, put calendula and oil in a crock pot or other thermostatically controlled container. Keep crock pot on the warm setting, stirring several times a day, making sure the mixture does not get too hot (over 110 F.) and replacing oil as needed. When the oil takes on the color and aroma of the calendula (about a week), strain out all of the flowers, squeezing them well to remove as much of the oil as possible. Place in a glass jar and let stand for a few days to let any sediment remaining in the calendula oil fall to the bottom of the jar. Draw oil off the sediment and store in a tightly sealed glass container. Keep in a cool, dark place. Use the oil as a massage, skin care oil or as a base for salves. Adding a little vitamin E to the finished calendula flower oil will help increase its shelf life. Scenting the calendula oil with synergistic essential oils such as lavender and geranium enhances the benefits of the calendula oil.
Suggested Uses: Calendula flowers have skin-soothing, protecting and toning properties. They are used in all types of skin care preparations including salves, body washes, scrubs, creams, ointments and lotions. A gentle but powerful herb, calendula flowers can used on damaged, sensitive, chafed or irritated skin. Calendula is often combined with other herbs such as comfrey leaf, aloes, St. John’s wort and lavender flowers.
In foods, calendula petals are sometimes used as a substitute for saffron, to provide a similar color to saffron and somewhat mimic the rich flavor of saffron. The spicy flavor of calendula is used to season baked goods such as breads and cakes, egg dishes, soups and fish. Fresh calendula petals are used to add color and flavor to salads and to decorate desserts. Of gourmet interest are such treats as calendula butter, calendula vinegar and calendula salad dressing. Calendula’s sunny yellow petals are a nice addition to a winter-warming tea, adding a bit of summer sun and cheer to the cup. Historically calendula was also used to color butter and cheese.
Calendula flowers are an ingredient in hair rinses, shampoos, shaving creams and deodorants. In shampoo and hair rinse, calendula is added to formulas made for light-colored hair as it helps to brighten blonde or red hair. A dye for fabric can also be extracted from the flowers.
Caution/Safety: The Botanical Safety Handbook* classifies Calendula as:
Class:1 herbs which can be safely consumed when used appropriately
Per the German Commission E Monograph** for calendula flower, there are no known contraindications, side effects or drug interactions.
People who are allergic or sensitive to other members of the Asteraceae family, such as daisies or ragweed, should exercise caution until they have established they do not have a reaction to calendula flowers.
*Michael McGuffin, ed., American Herbal Products Association's Botanical Safety Handbook, (New York: CRC Press, 1997)
**Mark Blumenthal, ed., The Complete German Commission E Monographs, (Austin TX: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998
Origins: Calendula flowers are cultivated in many areas, but much of the commercial flower production is in Egypt, with small amounts in Eastern Europe, less in other regions of Europe and a relatively small amount in the U.S. Both our organic and non-organic calendula flowers are field-grown in Egypt.