Calendula (Calendula officinalis), the pot marigold, is a great herb for skin care, and has perhaps the longest history of use of any herb in skin care. Even though its name is marigold, do not confuse it with the common ornamental marigold which is the genus Tagetes. Calendula is most widely used for skin and digestive issues, but also for menstrual symptoms.
The useful components of calendula include a volatile oil, carotenoids, flavonoids, mucilage, resin, polysachharides, aromatic plant acids as well as saponins, glycosides and sterols. Extracts of calendula can include an infused oil, alcohol tincture, water soluble tea, or distilled and used as essential oil or watery distillate (hydrolate).
The water soluble polysaccharides and saponins have been used as a tea to heal stomach ulcers as well as in a compress for various types of skin damage. These benefits can be reaped by using calendula as a tea to drink or to use as a skin wash. A poultice of calendula flower can be applied to a wound to help stop bleeding and promote healing.
Calendula is probably best used for chapped and otherwise irritated skin. The oil soluble components including the essential oil seem especially good at stimulating wound healing. Scientific studies find that extracts of calendula can speed the healing of skin wounds and burns. Calendula ointment has also been used to decrease dermatitis following skin irradiation for breast cancer.
The hydrolate or watery distillate of calendula can help with skin irritations and rashes. Used as a distillate it can be sprayed directly on the skin or can be substituted for any or all of the water portion of a cream or lotion. You can also use it for mouth sores and hemorrhoids. This distillate contains minute amounts of essential oil as well as organic acids.
Dried calendula petals are a great addition to soap because they maintain their color imparting an orange color to the soap. The petals are antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and immune stimulating. These properties are useful for treating various types of dermatitis such as eczema.
Much of the healing properties of calendula are because of its high levels of carotenoids (vitamin A like compounds). Because these compounds are oil soluble, an infused oil is a good way to go. Calendula also contains oil soluble sterols that help plump the skin and keep it thick. An infused oil is easily made by filling a jar with dried calendula flowers and covering the flowers with a carrier oil of some type; almond oil, olive oil, etc. You can get more out of the flowers by macerating the mixture in a blender. Let this oil set (infuse) for two weeks or more shaking it periodically to help extract the properties from the flowers. When ready to use filter the oil through cheesecloth. You can use this oil directly in a balm or as part of the oil portion of a cream or lotion. This infused oil can help with skin regeneration, diaper rash, sunburn, bed sores and various inflammatory conditions. Do make sure that your calendula is dry and that the oil completely covers the plant material to prevent mold growth.
As an edible flower the fresh petals can be used in a salad, dip or rice. I find the flavor a little too resinous though. Although rare, there are cases of people having allergy to calendula when used in skin care. Always be aware that a person can have an allergy or sensitivity to anything and usage should be stopped immediately if any reaction occurs.
Duran, V., et al. Results of the clinical examination of an ointment with marigold (Calendula officinalis) extract in the treatment of venous leg ulcers. Int. J. Tissue React. 2005 27(3):101-6.
Pommier, P., et al. Phase III randomized trial of Calendula officinalis compared to trolamine for the prevention of acute dermatitis during irradiation for breast cancer. J. Clin. Oncol. 2004 22(8):1447-53.