Calendula: Medicine from the Garden
Annual Flower is Surprisingly Useful for Healing

By Conrad Richter

Gardeners are surprised when I tell them they have a medicine chest growing their gardens. Many annual flowers, perennials, shrubs, and trees found growing around the home have secret double lives as valuable sources of herbal medicines. Take for example, the popular garden annual Vinca rosea, the periwinkle (German: Immergrün): it is the source of one of the leading drugs for leukemia used today. Or the purple coneflower (Sonnehut): a beautiful perennial flower whose root is a proven stimulant of the immune system often used in alcoholic tincture form to ward off colds and the flu. Even weeds are medicinal; for example, Japanese research has shown the the burdock (Klette) helps to prevent tumours. The root is a key ingredient in a herbal cancer remedy called Essiac that is available to patients under Canada’s emergency drug program.

The homely calendula (Ringelblume) is more modest in its medicinal exploits, but is definitely worth getting to know because it is one of the most versatile of herbs. Calendula is a hardy annual with showy orange or yellow daisy-like flowers, easily grown from seeds scattered in the garden in spring. Often, if some flowers are allowed to set seed, it will come back to offer up a splash of colour year after year.

Calendula flowers contain a variety of compounds which are know to stimulate wound healing. Applied directly to wounds in the form of ointments and creams, calendula is anti-inflammatory and constricts blood vessels to stop bleeding. It may also be anti-bacterial – it was used during the American Civil War to "draw out infection" – but this effect has not yet been verified by modern science.

A healing cream made with calendula flowers, beeswax, lanolin and cocoa butter is excellent for rough, dry or chapped skin, especially when comfrey (Beinwell) is added to stimulate cell regeneration. Calendula creams and ointments are now available in health food stores or you can make your own. Lesley Bremness’s book, The Complete Book of Herbs (Reader’s Digest, 1988), has a good recipe.

My favourite use of calendula flowers is in salads, where a few fresh petals sprinkled over the greenery add visual excitement. How convenient too that calendula excites the liver to secrete bile to help digest the meal. Many herbs when used in cooking help digestion and the assimilation of nutrients in similar fashion.

Elsewhere in the kitchen, calendula petals are used lavishly to give a saffron colour and light tangy flavour to rice, and can be used in soups, cheese yogurt, butter, omelettes, cakes and breads. Even as a garnish for meat platters and fruit salads, calendula flowers raise the art of good eating to a new, healthy level.

Originally published in German in Kanada Kurier.
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