You’ve likely seen brightly orange-colored marigolds in flower or vegetable gardens many times before, but did you know that certain species of marigold flowers actually have many impressive health benefits as well?
A particular species of marigold flower, Calendula officinalis (commonly just called calendula or “pot marigold”), is used to make healing herbal ointments, teas, tinctures and topical treatments that have been in existence for almost 1,000 years.
While marigolds of the tagets genus are usually planted in gardens to repel bugs, add color and give off a pleasant smell, marigolds of the Calendula genus are utilized for their many anti-inflammtory, antispasmodic and antifungal compounds. (1) In fact, according to a report published in Pharmacognosy Review, more than 200 different commercial and medical formulations now contain concentrated calendula marigold extract. (2)
Benefits and uses for Calendula officinalis marigolds include treating conditions, such as rashes, allergies, eczema and dermatitis; pain, swelling and redness caused from muscle cramps, muscular injuries or sprains; eye inflammation and itchiness caused by conjunctivitis; and fungal infections, including athlete’s foot, candida, ear infections and ringworm.
Marigold Flowers Chemical Description and Marigold Uses
Calendula officinalis is in the plant family known as Asteraceae or Compositae. Calendula marigolds are yellow-orange in color and form small florets of petals that are harvested and dried for their numerous medicinal properties. While there are various species of marigold flowers grown around the world, calendula is considered to be the most medicinal. It’s native to Egypt and parts of the Mediterranean but is now grown in every continent, usually blooming during the warmer months of the year (from about May through October in the Northern Hemisphere).
Botanical research shows that calendula marigolds contain many active constituents, including various antioxidants and volatile oils. These are responsible for the flowers’ bright color and strong smell; ability to repel certain fungi, pests and insects; and also its capability of improving blood flow and controlling inflammation. (3)
Due to their antioxidant properties, uses for marigolds include:
1. Homemade Skin Treatment
Ointment can be used to soothe sunburns, warts, bites, acne and ulcerations, in addition to healing wounds, dry skin and blisters.
2. Digestive-Soothing Tea
Tea can be made with marigold flowers to lower symptoms caused by inflammatory bowel diseases/colitis. Marigold tea is also beneficial for treating gastritis, acid reflux and ulcers, as well as reducing stomach or menstrual cramps.
3. Immune-Boosting Formula
Marigold (calendula) drops or extract are sometimes used to manage symptoms of coughs, sore throats, or fevers.
4. Eye, Genital or Skin Infection Treatment
Salves made with marigold have long been used to treat fungal infections of the genitals, feet, eyes, mouth, skin, and also to lower hemorrhoids, anal tears and candida.
Some of the active ingredients found in marigolds (calendula) that give it these capabilities include: (4)
- Plant sterols known as calendulin
- Calendic acid
- Linoleic acid
- Triterpenes saponins, such as triterpenoid
- Oleanolic acid glycosides
7 Benefits of Marigolds
1. Lowers Inflammation and Free Radical Damage
Research shows that calendula’s dozens of active chemicals make it a natural cytotoxic, hepatoprotective and spasmogenic herb that’s been demonstrated in both animal and human experiments. Extracts taken from the flower have been shown to lower C-reactive protein and cytokine levels and protect cells from being damaged by free radicals — one of the primary causes of aging and cell deterioration. Calendula not only controls oxidative damage from free radicals that can affect delicate tissues, such as those of the eyes, but also defend against infections of the skin, GI tract and genitals caused by viruses or bacteria. (5)
In addition, research also shows that calendula marigold helps fight growth of bacteria in wounds and might even be able to reduce symptoms associated with chemotherapy and cancer treatments. (6)
2. Reduces Eye Inflammation and Conjunctivitis
Findings from animal studies show that calendula extract is capable of treating conjunctivitis and other chronic ocular inflammatory conditions.
These extracts have demonstrated antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and immuno-stimulating properties that not only reduce eye infections, but protect vision by guarding delicate tissues of the eyes from the effects of UV light, deterioration/aging and oxidative damage. (7)
3. Has Natural Antiseptic Properties
One well-researched use of marigold/calendula extract is applying it in drop form to the inside of the ear canal to help treat bacterial ear infections and decrease pain. It’s been found that calendula drops can lower inner-ear swelling and inflammation within just a couple short days of use, even without the use of antibiotics in some cases.
Due to its antifungal properties, calendula can also be used to treat vaginitis/vaginal infections and jock itch. Applying an ointment or cream containing marigold/calendula, probiotic “good bacteria” like Lactobacillus sporogenes and lactic acid to the affected area of the groin/genitals for four weeks can help decrease symptoms, including pain, itchiness, burning when urinating and dryness. (8)
4. Heals Skin Wounds, Burns and Rashes
Historically, and still today, one of the most popular uses of calendula has been applying it to irritated skin (or to the eyelids and elsewhere) to reduce itchiness, redness, sensitivity, dryness and swelling. It’s been found that calendula has the ability to promote the growth of healthy new tissue, increase blood flow to the affected area, boost collagen production, which firms and strengthens skin, hydrate dry skin, and speed up the process of skin repair following surgery or damage.
Marigold’s ability to help treat wounds is believed to be due to stimulation of epithelial cell production, mostly as a result of the presence of glycoproteins and nucleoproteins. It’s also linked to increased cell turnover and improved collagen metabolism stimulation. In folklore medicine, marigold products were applied to various ulceration (both internal and external) and wounds to prevent infections, and even today calendula is used post-surgery to promote faster incision healing.
For those with dry, flaking or rash-prone skin, calendula can be combined with natural lubricating products like coconut oil or shea butter to improve skin hydration and firmness. In addition, marigold is used topically in order to:
- reduce diaper rash and protect sensitive skin
- decrease the appearance of discoloration due to scarring
- reduce unsightly varicose veins
- treat swollen bug bites
- treat burns
- reduce dermatitis and eczema
- reduce bruises
- heal infected cuts
- soothe skin after shaving
- treat ingrown hairs
- reduce dandruff on the scalp
- decrease other signs of poor blood flow and inflammation affecting the skin
5. Helps Reduce Hemorrhoid Pain
Because marigold treatments can promote tissue healing and reduce swelling, many find that applying it topically to the anal or genital area helps reduce symptoms of hemorrhoids or anal tears (also called anal fissures). One animal study that investigated the effects of marigold treatment on bleeding wounds found that using the product for an eight-day window resulted in almost 90 percent closure of the tissue wounds, compared to only 51 percent of those who had not used the treatment. (9)
6. Eases Cramps and Spasms
Calendula’s antispasmodic actions are beneficial for relieving muscle spasms, “charley horse” pains, stomach cramps and PMS/menstrual cramps. Marigold is able to decrease cramping by improving blood flow to the painful area and lowering inflammatory responses. (10) The florets can be consumed in tea form to help ease digestion internally and improve liver health or applied over the abdomen in ointment/extract form in order to seep into tense muscles through the skin.
7. Naturally Repels Bugs
Due to their pungent odor, antioxidant content and volatile oils, marigolds can be used to naturally repel mosquitoes, pests and other insects. This is one reason marigold flowers are commonly planted in vegetable gardens and also used in extract form in candles, room or bug sprays, and many skin lotions in order to prevent mosquito bites.
Using marigold products on your skin helps repel bites, but you can also plant the flowers directly in your yard or garden to protect soil. The flowers’ aroma works underground to keep away nematodes (microscopic worms) and other pests that can eat your crops, sometimes for up to three years after being planted, according to the Farmer’s Almanac. (11)
How to Buy, Prepare and Use Marigolds in Recipes
Look for various marigold or calendula products in health food stores and online. Purchasing extract or drops allows you to add a small amount to skin products you already have as well, such as shampoo or moisturizer. For the best results, keep marigold products away from direct light and moisture, and use the products within one to three years of purchasing in order to prevent spoilage.
- Some research suggests that for babies with diaper rash, applying a 1.5 percent calendula ointment to sensitive skin for seven to 10 days can help reduce symptoms.
- In adults, stronger ointments containing 3 percent to 8 percent concentrated calendula extract can also be used to decrease symptoms like itching and swelling.
- Calendula cream might be especially effective at soothing rashes or healing sensitive skin reactions when combined with other anti-inflammatory topical ingredients — such as tea tree, lavender essential oil, coconut oil or aloe vera gel.
- These skin-healing ingredients can be combined to make some of the following DIY natural lotion, salve and ointment recipes:
- Homemade Diaper Rash Cream
- Anti-Itch Cream
- You can also try making your own homemade marigold cream (if you don’t have extract) by chopping fresh flowers, drying them and grinding/stirring them into virgin coconut oil. Heat the mixture lightly and allow it to cool to room temperature before applying to the skin.
- For treating ear infections, apply a product containing calendula along with mullein, garlic and St. John’s wort for the best results. Drops can be applied to the inside of the ear for three to four days to help curb pain.
- You can use calendula oil, extract or drops to make Homemade Bug Spray.
Marigold/calendula tea and products taken by mouth:
- Dried marigold flowers can be used to make tea. Dry the flower petals at a low temperature and then boil water and add a tablespoon of dried flowers to the pot of tea before letting it steep. Drink several cups per day based on your symptom severity.
- While it’s much more common to use marigold topically on the skin, concentrated marigold flowers can also be found in certain homeopathic remedies that are taken by mouth. These are used most often for marigold’s anti-aging, anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic effects.
- Because the dose depends on the condition you’re treating and concentration of the product, always read dosage recommendations carefully or speak with a homeopathic practitioner for recommendations.
Interesting Facts and Historical Uses of Marigolds
Records show that calendula marigold flower petals and florets have been used in folklore medicine tinctures, extracts and salves since at least around the 11th or 12th century. Ground marigold petals have a deep color that some compare to saffron — therefore historically it’s also been used as a less expensive coloring agent, addition to soups or digestive tea, and/or as a perfume ingredient in some cases.
Calendula gets its name from the Latin word “calend,” which means every month. According to the Roman calendar, calend signified the start of the new moon cycle, when marigold flowers were said to be in full bloom. Calendula marigolds historically also had religious meaning in Christianity, since their golden color earned them the nickname “Mary’s gold.” For this reason, they were sometimes used in religious ceremonies and to decorate sacred spaces.
St. Hildegard of Bingen was one of the first to record use of calendula marigolds in historical texts. As an herbalist and nun in Germany, she used the flower over 1,000 years ago to treat patients. Marigolds have also been prized in Ayurvedic medicine and today are still grown widely around India, including in large quantities in the famous Valley of Flowers in the Ranthambore National Park. (12)
Marigolds even have decorative or culinary commercial uses, such as dying food products and adding color to salads (since the petals are edible). Certain types of marigolds have even been added by farmers to chicken or livestock feed in order to make the chickens’ egg yolks a darker yellow or butter a deeper orange. The florets come in brass, copper, orange, yellow and bronze colors and can be dried to make long-lasting flower arrangements that give off a smell for many months, helping purify the air and keep pests away.
Possible Side Effects/Precautions of Using Marigolds
Calendula cream is known to be well-tolerated, even for people with sensitive skin. However, you should avoid marigold products if you have a known allergy to ragweed, daisies, chrysanthemums, chamomile, echinacea and other plants in the same family as marigolds. For women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, little is known about the effects of calendula, so it’s best to get your doctor’s advice before taking any internally or using extract on the skin.
Do not apply calendula directly to open wounds without being directed to do so by your doctor, as this can cause irritation. Start with a very small amount on the skin to test your reaction, and then you can increase your dose slowly.
When taking calendula internally by mouth (including drops, liquid extract, tea, etc.), it’s possible to experience interactions when combined with sedative medications. Some notice that marigold/calendula increases drowsiness, especially when combined with sleep medications, anti-anxiety medications or tranquilizers. If you take any of the following medications speak to your doctor before using calendula:
- clonazepam (Klonopin)
- lorazepam (Ativan)
- phenobarbital (Donnatal)
- zolpidem (Ambien)
Final Thoughts on Marigolds
- Marigold is a medicinal flower that’s dried and concentrated in order to make ointments, teas and drops that are used both internally and externally.
- Marigold calendula contains many potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that fight infections, decrease swelling, improve blood flow, reduce muscle spasming, slow down effects of free radical damage/aging and more. These include flavonoids, polysaccharides, linoleic acid, carotenoids and triterpenes.
- Look for marigold products in homeopathic sections of natural health stores or online. You can also make homemade marigold extract yourself using dried petals or herbal tea.