The Health Benefits of Calendula

Learn about the anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial benefits

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Calendula, otherwise known as Calendula officinalis, is a marigold plant that has historically been used for a host of different ailments, mainly those affecting the skin such as in the healing of wounds. The medicinal part of the plant is found in the beautiful, deeply rich colored orange and yellow flower.

The colorful petals are rich in flavonoids—naturally occurring compounds found in vegetables and fruits—that have been shown to exhibit anti-inflammatory, anti-thrombogenic, antidiabetic, anticancer, and neuroprotective activities through different mechanisms of action in vitro and in animal models.

Background

Calendula is a member of the Asteraceae/Compositae family and comes from the Asterales order. According to the USDA, its native locations are in Canada and the lower forty-eight states of the United States. Calendula is an annual plant, easily grown in average, moderately fertile, well-drained soils in full sun. It can be planted in flower beds, borders, cottage gardens, cutting gardens, or pots/containers. The fragrant leaves attract butterflies and the petals can be consumed and used in cooking.

Calendula oil is made by infusing the flowers in a carrier oil (such as olive oil or coconut oil). The oil can be used on its own or as an ingredient in ointments, balms, creams, or lotions. It can also be produced in tincture, tea, or capsule form. Decoratively, calendula petals have been used in floral displays and potpourri mixes. Be sure not to confuse calendula with ornamental marigolds of the Tagetes genus, which are commonly grown in vegetable gardens.

Common Names for Calendula

  • Calendule
  • English Garden Marigold
  • Scotch Marigold
  • Fleur de Calendule

Health Benefits

Calendula has been used to treat a variety of ailments affecting the skin as well as infections and fungus. Research suggests that calendula may be effective in treating diaper rash, wounds, vaginal yeast infections, and other skin conditions. Calendula has also been used as a pain reducer and inflammation reducer. It also has been used as an aid in treating cancer—specifically for treatment-related side effects (like radiation).

Some research suggests calendula may be useful as a sunscreen. Others use calendula simply as a moisturizer.

While there is some research suggesting the positive effects of calendula, the long-term use of calendula has not been studied and more research is indicated. Before beginning any treatment or supplement make sure to clear it with your healthcare professional.

How It Works

Active ingredients of the calendula flower are naturally occurring chemicals, such as triterpene saponins (oleanolic acid glycosides), triterpene alcohols (α-, β-amyrins, faradiol), and flavonoids (quercetin and isorhamnetin). 

The photoprotective effect of topical gel formulations is thought to be associated with an improvement in collagen synthesis in the sub-epidermal connective tissue. It is thought that the chemicals in calendula enhance new tissue growth in wound healing and decrease inflammation.

Wounds and Pressure Ulcers

Animals studies have shown a relationship with calendula use and improvement of wounds. What about humans? A recent study published in The Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care examined the effectiveness of calendula ointment on cesarean scars in 72 women.

Researchers found that as compared to standard hospital treatment, those women treated with calendula ointment had a quicker healing time. They reported their incisions to be less red and swollen.

In a 2016 study published in The Journal of Wound Care, researchers used Calendula officinalis extract on people with venous leg ulcers. Their findings indicated that those treated with calendula had a 7.4 percent "healing velocity per week" as opposed to only 1.7 percent in the control group. In addition, researchers reported, "No adverse events were observed during the Calendula officinalis extract treatment."

Early research shows that using a calendula spray in addition to standard care and hygiene might prevent infection and decrease odor in people with long-term foot ulcer from diabetes.

Eczema, Diaper Rash, and Other Skin Conditions

Calendula is heavily marketed in the treatment of eczema and dermatitis; however, the research on calendula for treating eczema and dermatitis is limited. Because the plant has anti-inflammatory properties, applying it to skin conditions may reduce inflammation. However, there is no real clinical evidence to support its use for eczema.

In fact, the use of calendula may actually be irritating for young children with severe eczema, especially if they have an allergy to ragweed, daisies, marigold, or any other plant variety within that family.

Calendula's use for children may be contraindicated, so always ask your physician before beginning.

Using calendula creams on diaper rash may be advantageous when compared to certain treatments, such as aloe vera gel. However, research indicates that calendula is inferior to bentonite solution. Researchers found that when treating infants with Bentonite, 88 percent of lesions in the Bentonite group started improving in the first six hours while this rate was 54 percent in the calendula group.

Bacterial Vaginosis and Vaginal Yeast Infections

Researchers compared the use of calendula ointment to metronidazole (a common drug used to treat bacterial vaginosis) in 80 women who had been diagnosed with bacterial vaginosis. They found that after one week of intervention, both groups of women were cured of their bacterial vaginosis and none suffered any side effects.

They concluded that for those women who would like to avoid taking drugs to treat bacterial vaginosis, calendula ointment may be a viable option. As for its effectiveness in treating yeast infections, one study published in Women and Health found that calendula cream was effective in treating vaginal yeast infections, but had a delayed effect as compared to standard medication (Clotrimazole).

Though there have been claims that calendula can be used for the treatment of menstruation, further evidence of this is lacking to support this use.

Calendula as Sunscreen

The efficacy of calendula as a sunscreen was tested in vitro (meaning in a petri dish or test tube). The idea behind this study is that the properties of calendula as a cell rejuvenator may also hold true as a sunscreen. More research needs to be done in this area. Therefore, it's prudent to use an approved sunscreen for UV protection.

Radiation Dermatitis

There is mixed research as to whether or not applying calendula on the skin can reduce radiation dermatitis (skin irritation) post radiation therapy. It may not be better than petroleum jelly (vaseline), but more research needs to be conducted.

Possible Side Effects

You should not use calendula if you are allergic to ragweed, daisies, marigold, or plants in the Asteraceae/Compositae family. Doing so could cause an allergic reaction.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should also avoid calendula because ingesting calendula may affect your hormone levels and induce menstruation.

Anyone taking medication or scheduled for surgery should discuss calendula use with their physician first.

Dosage and Preparation

It is hard to come up with a generic dosage of calendula considering it is not approved by the FDA. Depending on the form, and what you are using it for, the dose of calendula will be different. Before starting any new supplement be sure to ask your physician or health care provider.

If you decide to grow your own calendula plant, you can get the benefits of the plant by drying the petals. Dried petals (which you can make if you pick a flower and put it on a paper towel away from the sun) can be used to steep tea and make oils. If you are making calendula tea you can also use fresh flowers as garnish. To prepare the tea, you'll need to:

  • bring water to a boil
  • add dried flowers (most people use two teaspoons) to a tea infuser or teapot
  • pour hot water over the leaves and allow it to steep for 10 minutes
  • strain and add any type of flavoring you'd like such as cinnamon, vanilla, honey, (etc.)

Storage

Store calendula products in a dry, dark place free of moisture. Check for a "best by" date for expiration on the package on which you buy it if you get a calendula product from the store.

If you are storing the dried petals, be sure to use an airtight container. If you've made an oil, tincture, or cream with calendula, be sure to store in an airtight container as well and keep in a cool, dry place.

What to Look for

Companies that claim calendula to be an effective treatment for certain health issues will need to follow up with a disclaimer that states, "these statements have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration." The FDA has not approved therapeutic claims for calendula.

Selecting products from a reputable source is important because it prevents adulteration or addition of any harsh substances or chemicals. Look for organic products when possible or products that have a third party certification.

Instead of buying products with calendula in it, you can also opt to grow your own calendula at home. If you choose to do this you can purchase your own seeds and use the calendula flowers to make tea and oil infusions.

Other Questions

Can I eat the petals?

Yes, the petals of the calendula flower are edible. Some people like to use them as garnish. The flavor profile is thought to be mildly sweet and peppery.

Is calendula used in beauty products?

Yes, the petals have been used as coloring agents and the oil has been used in perfumes.

Can I use it as a dye for coloring fabric?

Yes, it has been used as a natural yellow dye for coloring wool and other clothes.

A Word From Verywell

Calendula officinalis is a plant that has been used for a variety of ailments. To date, most research suggests the benefits of calendula for skin health. Its anti-inflammatory properties may make it effective in wound healing. Calendula can be incorporated into lotions, balms, or ingested into teas, oils, and garnish. If you'd prefer to make your own infusions you can do so by drying the petals of a homegrown calendula plant.

Keep in mind that calendula is not approved by the FDA and before using it you should consult with a medical professional. People who are allergic to ragweed, daisies, marigold, or plants in the Asteraceae/Compositae family should avoid calendula.

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Article Sources

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