Heirloom Gardener Blogs >

All the Wild Things

Calendula: Not Just a Pretty Face

Mid February – definitely a great time of the year to put the finishing touches on my garden plan.  I tend to go a bit overboard each year, wanting a little bit of a lot of plants. The most exciting part is getting “the box” in the mail.  You know the one – from Baker Creek, containing all those wonderful packets of seeds that are just waiting to be planted and nurtured!  And as my garden plan continues to grow, and just like the plants themselves, my seed order continues to grow too.

 

Calendula flowers
Fotolia/pisotckii

My approach this year is a bit different – the more I study about herbs/spices, the more of those I want to have on hand.  Don’t get me wrong, I love all the fruits and vegetables that are on my list; but this year, the herbs will take center stage.  One special herb that I will have a home for is calendula; for a variety of reasons.

Several years ago, my son “developed” a rash – or really more like a burn – from cleaning chemicals used in his school.  This burn was much different than any other skin condition I had come across (raised/inflamed skin that was warm and bright red).  I was caught off guard by this burn and it was miserable for him. I tried just about everything – coconut oil, oatmeal wash, numerous lotions, salves, powders, even aloe vera. While some treatments seemed to help some, none really “healed” the burn completely or acted as a preventative.  At the same time, I was just starting to dabble in herbal studies.  That’s when I came across calendula.  I did a bit more reading on it and was impressed by the “reviews” of those that had used it – I thought I’d give it a shot since nothing else was working. 

Needless to say – I was speechless.  After just one thick application of calendula lotion, the burn seemed about half gone. The redness had gone down, the raised nature of the skin had diminished quite a bit, and the pain was reported as “so much better mom!”  After several days of treatment, the burn was all but gone, barely any evidence was left.  I continued to apply the lotion on a daily basis and it worked perfect as a preventative; providing the skin a shield of protection.  Thankfully, the cleaning supplies were eventually changed out for less harsh ones.  To this day, I recommend calendula to anyone and everyone with any kind of skin ailment, and continue to use it myself when I make my yearly burn salve.

So what is so special about calendula anyways?  And why do I want to make sure to have it in my garden this year? To many it may look like “just another flower,” but by looking a little deeper, you will find the true magic inside. 

Calendula officinalis may also be known as “pot marigold” since the look is similar to that of your common garden marigolds, but otherwise, they are quite different. Calendula is edible and has very little scent, whereas common garden marigolds are known for the unpleasant smell that may be helpful in warding off garden pests.  Other characteristics of calendula include:

 

  • Annual
  • Member of the Asteraceae family
  • The flower petals can be used internally (eaten on salads/in soups, made into teas, oils, etc) and externally (lotions, salves, oils, wash)
  • The color of the flowers are extracted and used as natural coloring/dyes

 

Flavanols and triterpenoid esters within calendula are just a couple of several constituents responsible for the strong anti-inflammatory properties this plant has, making it a go-to treatment for many of the skin ailments that are associated with inflammation (burns, wounds, diaper rash, skin ulcers, eczema, etc.).  Internal inflammation may also warrant a dose of calendula tea which may help calm upset stomachs (bitter tonic), gastric ulcers and even help improve digestion. 

Antimicrobial and antiviral components – add that to the list of calendula’s characteristics. Why not concoct a calendula mouthwash/rinse or add it to your toothpaste to aid in fighting oral bacteria, mouth ulcers, and reduce any gum inflammation present. These bacteria-fighting constituents also are a welcome addition to any topical/external product that you might be using where an antiseptic-type action is needed.

 

calendula flower not media
Fotolia/dinanana

While the properties of calendula are generally recognized as safe, avoid if you have allergies to plants in the Asteraeae/Compositae family (echinacea, chamomile, ragweed).  Oral use of calendula should be avoided by pregnant women due to its use as an emmenagogue (stimulates/increases menstrual flow). 

With so many uses and medicinal qualities – it’s no wonder that calendula is a sought after addition to any garden.  This plant is characterized as “easy to grow” (from seed) and can be placed in your garden bed or even a container with good draining soil and full sun (part shade in peak summer heat).  Calendula flowers are especially plentiful when consistent “harvesting” is done – allowing for new flowers to bloom more frequently.  Fresh flowers are typically used to make extracts and tinctures; while the dried version are more commonly used for teas and salves.  

So as you put the finishing touches on your garden plan – don’t forget calendula – you still have time to add “just another flower”!

 

Quick Calendula Compress:

  1. Add 6 to 8 ounces of hot water to approximately 2 tsp. calendula flowers – steep for 10-15 minutes
  2. Strain flowers (keep aside to wrap in gauze as a poultice if you prefer)
  3. Saturate a cloth with the cooled calendula liquid (compress)
  4. Use compress (10-15 minutes) on effected area several times throughout the day

 

 

Take the Chill Out

“Ice Storm Warning” was the weather advisory statement that just came across via multiple media outlets. Here in Southwest Missouri, where we’re right on the line of freezing rain or not, it’s not uncommon to hear about sub-zero temperatures in the days to come while enjoying 70 degree weather at that moment. The winters here can be mild, with minimal snow, or can be miserable with freezing rain in the forecast. Needless to say, this winter is proving to be minimal snow so far, but definite below average temperatures and ice. 

That combination (cold and ice) will chill the body to the bones, making it difficult to stay warm and cozy. The beauty of the situation, however, is that it's the perfect time for tea. This won’t be any tea, mind you; it warrants the “big guns” — the warming teas. Those teas that warm the body from the inside out while providing some protection against the flu season bugs and giving the body a little nourishment along the way. 

The mere act of drinking tea aids in settling the mind, relaxing the body, and providing a sense of peace and quiet that the winter months do for nature overall. The bonus, then, is the warmth that grows within us and holds there from one sip to the next, helping us to make it through the winter months with joy and health. So, cozy up and let’s explore the “spice” path to winter warmth.

Cinnamon: Right from the start, just the thought of cinnamon elicits feelings of warmth, perhaps due to it’s association with the winter holidays. But this spice is a powerhouse when it comes to health benefits (antimicrobial and antibacterial to name a couple) and warming up the body naturally. One of the key constituents in cinnamon is tannins, which are, in part, responsible for having a drying effect on the body’s mucous membranes. This astringent action, in turn, raises the body temperature. We also see an increase in blood circulation with cinnamon being that it has blood-thinning properties (anticoagulant), which, again, will help increase body temperature by increasing metabolic activity. 

When choosing cinnamon, it’s important to note that there are two types — Ceylon (“true cinnamon”) and Cassia cinnamon. Ceylon cinnamon can be difficult to find, but tends to have a much sweeter taste than the Cassia variety. Cassia cinnamon has much higher levels of the aforementioned blood-thinning substance (coumarin), while Ceylon cinnamon contains much less. This is especially important for anyone already taking prescription blood-thinning medication or in a case where blood-thinning properties would not be welcomed. Cassia cinnamon still provides many of the same health benefits as Ceylon, so it’s still a worthy contender and is a wonderful addition to the spice family to help warm you up on a chilly day. 

Ginger: This little rhizome can pack a lot of heat so to speak! Ginger contains several essential oils, one being gingerol. This active constituent is related to capsaicin (think chili peppers)  and piperine (black pepper) and is responsible for ginger's spiciness and natural heat production. Similar to cinnamon, ginger also helps to improve the body’s circulation. Choose fresh ginger root to make a spicy, warming cup of tea.  While I have not tried this yet, ginger root can be grown at home to ensure a steady supply of your own. 

Ginger 

Cayenne: Anyone who has eaten something with added cayenne knows that there’s definitely some warmth going on! Capsaicin is the constituent responsible for this body warming action due to its thermogenic properties (in addition to its pain relief action). Cayenne powder can be added to any dish in which you’d like a little heat, which includes a nice cup of tea!  Grow your own cayenne peppers that eventually can be harvested, prepped, dried and ground into your very own jar full of powder. 

There are several other spices that are considered warming, including cardamom, turmeric, and nutmeg that can be used in combination to provide the body with a natural way to combat the cold. 

Basic Ginger Tea Recipe:

2 cups water
1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
honey (to taste)
lemon juice (to taste)
cinnamon (to taste)
pinch of cayenne pepper

1. Bring water to a boil in a saucepan
2. Add freshly grated ginger to boiling water
3. Turn off the heat, cover and let the ginger steep for 10 minutes
4. Strain out the ginger – now you have a very nice cup of ginger tea that can be “spiced up” to your liking with additions like honey, lemon juice, cinnamon, or cayenne pepper.

So, if you’re in the middle of the big chill this winter, don’t pass up the opportunity to warm up naturally with a few spices. It might even be time to add a few of these warming plants to your garden plan this year!