I certainly understand the importance of modern medicine. But I am also of the belief that if I can prevent, help or heal my body through natural remedies I am better off. And in wanting to nurture this belief, l have been exploring the various medicinal herbs that up to present day, the application knowledge that was used to develop home remedies was only passed down from generation to generation or shared between cultures. Although traditional medicines would more than likely have been created from foraged medicinal herbs, I decided that in addition to foraging, I would grow what I could. And in doing so get to know the herb and it's growth habits, it's medicinal uses and how to store it. I thought I would take you along as I add some new herbs to my Apothecary.
Herbs for Home Remedies
As I explored in an earlier blog post Home Remedies using Natural Medicines - a glimpse into my Apothecary and use of herbal remedies, my journey to using herbal remedies in my home has been a very long slow walk filled with many starts and stops. But despite the infrequent use, my knowledge slowly increased through more historical methods of education, namely the sharing of information and stories. And although I implemented the use of a few of the herbs such as rose hips, as I explored in Nature's Medicinal Gift - Rose hips, it wasn't till the last couple of years that I started to take things a bit more serious.
There are so many local native plants that have numerous medicinal uses and although they are free for the harvesting, it is important to ensure that these native plants are ethically harvested as explored in the article Ethical Foraging- Responsibility and Reciprocity. But if ethically harvested, I can fill my Apothecary with many wonderful herbs to use in my home remedies. I just have to do the research to determine what that use would be.
Unfortunately or perhaps fortunately, a lot of the herbs that are often referenced for medicinal use within the more commonly published Herbalism literature do not grow here naturally. Although this forces me to delve more into the local flora for medicinal use and culinary use, as I explored in Wild food foraging of edible wild greens for supper, I decided to explore growing some of them. As a gardener, I was up for the challenge.
I gathered a few plants when I found them in the commercial nurseries, such as bee balm and spearmint. But for the majority of the herbs I wanted, I bought the seeds, started the plants and then planted them into the gardens. Herbs such as mullein, oregano, thyme, lavender and feverfew, to name a few. I explore the use of a few of these medicinal herbs in Home Remedies using Natural Medicines - a glimpse into my Apothecary and use of herbal remedies.
This has been a multi year adventure and so although some of the first plants have done well and survived a previous winter, others are still in their infancy going into the winter of 2022 and their survival is yet to be determined. However, despite their infancy, I was still able to harvest some of the herbs, dry them and add to my Apothecary. For some of the more tender herbs, I have to grow them as annuals. I don't mind doing this extra work because having the natural medicines as part of my Apothecary for use in home remedies is important. Calendula is one of those such annual medicinal herbs.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
Calendula aka the pot marigold is a flower that blooms atop stems that reach heights of 30 - 60 cm (12 - 24 inches). The many flowering stems of this compact flower are covered with somewhat hairy medium green leaves that make a perfect contrast to the brightly colored, somewhat sticky, blossoms. Calendula is sure to brighten any part of a garden or container. It is not the same plant or related to the French Marigold(Tagetes patula).
I think Dr. Patrick Jones about sums it up as he describes in his book The Homegrown Herbalist that “Calendula (the pot marigold) is one of the most delightful plants on Earth. The bright orange and yellow blossoms are beautiful, and the plant has a joy and vigor that strengthens one's soul just by having it around.”. Although there are many new colors of calendula as illustrated at William Dam Seeds and all can be used for culinary and/or medicinal uses, the orange and yellow varieties remain the most desired for medicinal applications.
History of Calendula
The history and naming of Calendula is very interesting. According to the book The Homesteader's Herbal Companion by Amy K. Fewell, “The ancient Romans are most known for growing calendula, and they even gave it its name. However, it didn't come into major medicinal use until later in history. Calendula has been used for toothaches, headaches, red eyes, fevers, wound healing, and skin soothing. It is also still used as a natural dye. Today, we use calendula to soothe, bring relief from inflammation, speed up wound healing, and bring relief to irritated skin.”. Dr. Patrick Jones did a very informative and fun video on his channel, Homegrown Herbalist, about the seed harvest and history of calendula with Harvesting Calendula Seed - Secrets, Tips, and Tricks if you want more information. Until this video, I was not aware that if a scientific name contained the Latin word officinalis, the plant was considered to be medicinal and that it came from the storeroom of a monastery, an officīna, where medicines and other necessaries were kept.
Properties of Calendula
These helpful healing properties, according to the Mount Sinai article Calendula, is because “Calendula has high amounts of flavonoids, plant-based antioxidants that protect cells from being damaged by unstable molecules called free radicals. Calendula appears to fight inflammation, viruses, and bacteria.”. And so, it makes perfect sense that in the book The Native American Herbal Mastery by Enola Hill that Calendula "is used to reduce inflammation and build infection. It is used to treat peptic ulcers, nodes, eczema, dry skin, rashes, control bleeding, treat acne, treat bee stings, and relieve a toothache.”. And that, the book The Modern Herbal Dispensatory by Thomas Easley and Steven Horne further identify Calendula as a “wonderful remedy for gastrointestinal inflammation and is almost a specific for Crohn's disease, colitis, and gastritis.”.
How to grow Calendula
As one of the many medicinal plants that receives such tremendous praise for its effectiveness in home remedies, it was definitely one that I wanted to cultivate. Originating from the Mediterranean, there is no hope of it surviving a Canadian winter but as an annual plant planted in full sun to part shade, it is certainly doable. Seeds can be direct sown in early spring for later blooms but being I want to harvest as many blooms as I can and that the plant will bloom continuously till the first frost, I start calendula as a bedding plant around the end of April, four weeks or so prior to my last frost date. However if I did not pick off the flower heads for drying, Calendula will develop their seed head and self seed for a naturalized supply of plants. It is certainly an easy plant to grow.
Throughout the summer, I pick the fully opened blossoms and air dry them in paper lunch bags. I do have an Excalibur 9-tray dehydrator but because I don't pick enough blossoms at a time to warrant running the dehydrator, I resort to the old ways of letting them air dry. A single layer of blossoms spread on a screen and covered with a light towel (to prevent dust) will work for this. However, because the blossoms will take quite a while to dry, I find that putting them thinly in a paper lunch bag keeps the dust off of them, stops them from fading due to the light hitting them and allows for good air movement to dry them out.
Once dried, the calendula flowers can be stored in a labeled and dated jar in a cool dark place awaiting it's use in salves, creams, infusions, tinctures, mouth wash, tea, poultice or compress. It is a good time to use those odd shaped jars that didn't make the cut for canning purposes as I explored in Recycle canning lids, upcycle canning lids and repurpose canning lids....but can I reuse canning lids for home canning?.
By making some of the flowers into salves and creams containing at least 5 % herbal content as recommended by Amy K. Fewell in The Homesteader's Herbal Companion, it can be at the ready for topical treatment for wounds, burns and bruises as needed. But having the dried flowers available gives me the freedom to use as suggested by Dr. Patrick Jones in his book The Homegrown Herbalist and create an infused oil for an earache or other topical applications; use it as a mouth wash for mouth lesions, gingivitis and sore throats; use as a poultice for shingles; or, use in a tincture or tea internally for ulcers, bladder infections and other ailments.
The Modern Herbal Dispensatory by Thomas Easley and Steven Horne recommend that for tinctures developed from fresh flowers, one part flowers be mixed with 2 parts of 95% alcohol and that 1 part dried Calendula flowers be mixed with 5 parts 70% alcohol, taking 1 - 3 milliliters (0.2 - 0.6 tsp) up to 3 times per day. If an alcohol based tincture is not desirable, a glycerite can be made using 1 part dried calendula flowers mixed with 8 parts of glycerin.
However, although I would consider Calendula to be a very safe, powerful and useful medicinal herb to have in my Apothecary, there are some contraindications with its use as Mount Sinai in the article Calendula cautions with the statement that although “Calendula is generally considered safe to use on your skin. DO NOT apply it to an open wound without a doctor's supervision. People who are allergic to plants in the daisy or aster family, including chrysanthemums and ragweed, may also have an allergic reaction to calendula (usually a skin rash).” and further goes on to caution that “Pregnant and breastfeeding women should not use calendula. In theory, calendula could interfere with conception, and possibly cause miscarriage, so couples trying to get pregnant should not use calendula.”. Although I do not have to worry about the latter, I feel quite comfortable with using it in an infused oil, salve, cream or tincture form for small open wounds. As Dr. Patrick Jones identifies in The Homegrown Herbalist, “Calendula is anti-microbial and accelerates cell division and thus shortens wound healing time.”. But like anything, it is always a good idea to watch how one's body reacts to the Calendula products and cease it's use if it becomes problematic.
I hope you have enjoyed my exploration into this beautiful, cheery, absolutely wonderful medicinal herb that I have added to my Apothecary for use in home remedies. I may not need to grow it every year for stocking up the Apothecary, but I can assure you that I will grow it just for its sheer beauty and happiness it brings me. Is Calendula a plant you could see making its way into your garden for just its simple beauty and/or into your home for it's many medicinal applications?
If you enjoy this content, please be sure to check back as I continue to grow and add additional medicinal herbs to my Apothecary. Also, please consider joining the My Boreal Homestead Life community. By supplying your email address at the bottom of the page and hitting "sign up" or by clicking Join, you will ensure you get an email notification when I post new blogs to the My Boreal Homestead Life site.
Thank you for joining me on the front porch of My Boreal Homestead Life as we explore this Homegrown, Homestead life, In a Modern World.
- Homesteading Family - Medicinal Herbs & Their Uses
- Homesteading Family - 15 Medicinal Herbs To Grow, Harvest & How to Use Them
- Melissa K Norris - 5 Tips to Harvest Herbal Flowers for Medicinal Purposes
- Gardening Know How - Growing Calendula – How To Care For Calendula Plants In The Garden
- Homegrown Herbalist - Calendula - 2 Minute Overview!
- School of Traditional Skills - Herbal 1st Aid with Dr. Patrick Jones