Calendula has been used an herbal remedy and as coloring and flavoring for food in Central and Southern Europe since the 1100s. Commonly known there as marigold, calendula is an annual flower native to the northern Mediterranean countries. It’s well known for its skin-soothing properties — this gentle herb is used as an ingredient in all types of skin care preparations, including salves, body washes, creams, ointments and lotions.
Botanical name: Calendula officinalis L.
Botanical Family: Compositae
Common name: calendula
Synonyms: pot marigold, marigold, gold-bloom, Caltha officinalis, Marybud, Marygold, Holligold, poet’s marigold, Scotch marigold, flor de calendula (Spanish)
The Plant: Calendula is valued both as a natural remedy and as a colorful garden flower. This two-foot-tall, hardy annual can grow quite bushy, and its large, two- to three-inch flowers (which range from yellow to bright orange in color) are attractive additions to borders. Calendula blooms continuously throughout the winter in warmer climates and throughout the summer in the north. Cooler temperatures and picking the flowers promotes more flowering, while high heat in summer will stress the plant and stop flowering. Calendula is sometimes called marigold, but should not be confused with the garden marigolds of the Tagetes genus, which do not share the benefits associated with true calendula flowers.
The parts of the plant used are the flower heads — harvested while they are in full bloom — or the petals (ligulate florets), which are removed from the receptacle after harvesting. Calendula flowers open in the morning and close in the late afternoon. They are of the highest quality when harvested late morning after the dew is dried off of the flowers — this is when the resin content is at its highest. When handpicking calendula, the flowers’ dark tacky resin clings noticeably to the fingers.
Constituents of Note: There are a number of potentially significant constituents in calendula. Triterpene glycosides (guercetin, isohamnetin), triterpene alcohols and triterpene saponins are major components. Carotenoids including beta-carotene, lycopene, violaxanthin and lutein are responsible for the color of the flowers and for the use of calendula as a food coloring. Other constituents include a small amount of essential oil (60% alpha-cardinal), flavonoids (narcissan) and a bitter principle (calendnin).
Quality: Marigold flowers have a slightly bitter and somewhat salty flavor and a sweet, sharp, buttery aroma. Not more than 2% other plant parts should be present — including sepals and the fruits (seeds). Whole flowers (with the receptacle) should be carefully inspected to make sure they are properly dried as the receptacle dries much slower than the petals and can cause mold problems. Calendula flower petals do not have this problem. Good quality dried flowers have a slightly oily feel to them when rubbed between the fingers.
The flowers quickly fade when exposed to light, so they should always be stored in dark conditions. They also readily absorb moisture, which degrades the flowers, so calendula needs airtight storage, especially in humid conditions.
While both the whole calendula flowers and calendula petals are used interchangeably, the petals are considered superior for use in most applications. Between single-petaled, double-petaled, yellow-colored and orange-colored varieties, there is not, as of yet, consensus on which is the best — or even if one type is better than another.
Regulatory Status: GRAS (Title 21 182.10 and 182.20) as a spice, natural flavoring, and seasoning, Dietary Supplement
Did you know? Calendula was named the International Herb Association (IHA) 2008 U.S. Herb of the Year. IHA has been selecting an herb to honor every year since 1995. Herbs have to be considered outstanding in at least two of three categories—medicinal, culinary or decorative. Calendula is outstanding in all three categories and well