Calendula: The Mover and the Shaker

Calendula is likely one of the most common remedies used in folk and clinical herbalism and has a broad spectrum of uses and applications. From German folk medicine, to the ancient Greeks, to the homeopaths and clinical herbal traditions of North America- everywhere Calendula pops up it is adopted and used as a valuable medicinal agent.

It get’s it name Calendula because it has been seen to flower throughout the “calends of every month,” as we see it has the same root of our word for calendar. As a remedy that is ruled by the Sun astrologically. While commonly thought of as simply a topical remedy used for minor cuts, scrapes and wounds, it’s common for people to overlook the other uses of Calendula as an internal agent. In our modern world of chronic digestive imbalances, leaky gut syndrome and food intolerance, it is in my opinion one of the most important remedies for a symptomatic pattern that is almost universal amongst modern humans.

Common Name: Calendula, Marigold, Pot Marigold

Latin Name: Calendula officinalis

Part Used: entire flowering head. It is important to use the entire flower and not just the petals, for it is underneath the flower base that contains much of the aromatic and resinous properties of the plant which are responsible for it’s medicinal actions. The petals themselves are relatively mild and sweet, but the entire flower is distinctly much more medicinal. Some practitioners also use the leaves, which are said to contain a degree of iodine.

Family: Asteraceae

Clinical Uses

1. Food Intolerance, Leaky Gut Syndrome and Antibiotic Trauma: This is a major subject these days. It is unfortunate that most modern humans living in western culture have had to take antibiotics at some point in their life. Even more unfortunate is the lack of education amongst medical professionals as to the adverse impact they have upon our health and fail to educate their patients on some simple things they can do to mitigate those adverse effects. Antibiotics are like atom bombs- they just go in there a nuke every sign of life, both good and bad. After all, the word “antibiotic” literally means anti-life! So they kill the pathogenic bacteria, but also the beneficial bacteria which inhabit our gastrointestinal tract. It is this microbiome of bacterial ecology living in our intestines that are a critical facet of our immune system, nervous system, and of course digestive system. So we get what I call “antibiotic trauma:” impaired digestion, lowered immunity and host resistance, and a heightened sensitivity to everything that comes into contact with the digestive system (IE: almost everything you put into your body). This weakens the gut lining and makes it much more sensitive and prone to an immunological hyper-reactivity to various substances- including those present in food. This localized immune and inflammatory reaction in the GI tract further weakens the gut wall, making it more permeable to these food antigens and other larger than normal substances that shouldn’t normally be able to cross the gut wall. This is what we commonly refer to as Leaky Gut Syndrome. As this occurs, the web of lymphatic tissue in the gut (called GALT- Gut Associated Lymphatic Tissue) becomes inflamed, congested, and overworked, which leads to the classic “bloated belly” associated with food intolerance and GI inflammation.

Ultimately as these substances cross the gut wall, they congest the liver, blood, lymph and other tissues in the body leading to inflammation. First and foremost, Calendula is an astringent/vulnerary which knits tissues together and heals wounds. Most people think of this only as a topical action, but in truth our digestive system is our inner skin- what you use to treat the skin topically can be used to the same end internally for the gut. Think of it, essentially the gut is like a big scrape, a wound, a laceration. So first Calendula goes in there and starts to repair these wounds and thus the leaky gut. Secondly, as a lymphagogue Calendula will facilitate in the digestive bloating by cleansing the lymphatic system and providing the immune system with support. As an inflammation modulator it will also help to damp down and overly reactive inflammatory response and on top of that, the polysaccharides will help to sooth the overly irritated mucosal membrane.

2. Immune Deficiency and Lymphatic Swelling: This is probably the main way in which Calendula is used internally in modern herbalism. As mentioned previously, this remedy is excellent for dispersing stagnant and congested fluids within the lymphatic system- as commonly seen by swollen nodes. The picture here is someone who is run down, weak, tired, melancholic-depressed, and just can’t get over that cough or cold from a few weeks ago. As Matthew Wood notes, it is specific for “lingering unresolved infections.” This could be a respiratory infection, a fever, or simply the common cold.

3. Wound Healing: No other remedy truly surpasses Calendula in it’s ability to effectively keep wounds clean, facilitate healing, and prevent infection. From the run of the day cuts and scrapes and road-rashes, to more intense wounds like lacerations, puncture wounds and traumas, Calendula is your go to topical first aid remedy. Once again, it’s major benefits is that it is not just healing the wound, nor is it “killing the bacteria,” but it is operating on the level beneath the skin and the wound itself, maintaining a healthy flow of lymphatic fluids and thus keeping a consistent supply of immunological components and preventing any infection from spreading. As with all things Calendula related, it is best for wounds which are swollen, puffy, red, inflamed, and filled with pus and fluids.

4. Female Reproductive Actions: Calendula is widely used in European traditions as a reliable emmenagogue, used to help stimulate a stagnant menses (amenorrhea) and to relieve any associated pain (dysmenorrhea).  This remedy also has applications as a mucosal membrane tonic and soothing agent when the vaginal wall is overly dry and irritated, especially if there is any bleeding. This is especially applicable post childbirth if the vaginal wall tears at all. As an overall lymphagogue and bitter, it can be used for states of vaginal discharge (leucorrhea). As a remedy with shown anti fungal actions, Calendula becomes an important remedy in the treatment of systemic candidiasis, which commonly goes along with Leaky Gut Syndrome (actually the leaky gut is usually the root cause).

So we can see that Calendula’s net global action set addresses this concern on many levels- lymphatic, gut, immune, and now even the female reproductive system. That is an herb you want around!