For some unknown reason, serendipity maybe, specific herbs feature in my practice at certain times. At the moment, the herb of the hour for me is Calendula officinalis, the bright and cheerful marigold. The flowers are already out, adding some colour to gardens. I have been using it on my family and patients for various different reasons.
Topically (i.e. on the surface of the skin) it acts as an anti-inflammatory and vulnerary, healing the skin and reducing redness and swelling. It has also been found to increase the growth of new skin in wounds and leg ulcers, helping them to heal up faster. To add to this, Calendula is also antimicrobial, and was found to be more effective than methylparaben at inhibiting a range of bacteria and yeasts, indicating that it could be used in cosmetics to prevent bacterial or yeast growth. I use Calendula in all sorts of creams and oils to help heal up the skin, particularly on my accident-prone toddler!
Quite a few trials have focussed on the use of Calendula in mouthwashes for both mucositis (inflammation of the mucous membranes in the mouth) and to prevent gingivitis (gum disease) and dental plaque. Both its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties will be useful here. I have found the tincture made with 90% alcohol and mixed with myrrh has great results on bleeding gums and mouth ulcers.
It can also be used on burns to help reduce the inflammation and speed up healing, and one study found that healing from burns was improved even when the Calendula was taken internally. This was thought to be due to promotion of new skin regrowth, and improved antioxidant defence mechanisms. This antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity when Calendula is taken internally may explain some of its traditional uses, such as the treatment of inflamed or enlarged lymph glands, painful menstruation and inflammation of the gall bladder.
As Calendula is anti-inflammatory and healing to the skin of the body and mouth, it also has the same effect on skin of the digestive tract, so can be helpful when there is gastritis or damage due to acid reflux. My son recently had a nasty stomach bug and a tea with Calendula along with some other soothing herbs such as marshmallow, liquorice and chamomile was very effective at reducing the pain and stopping him from vomiting.
So pick yourself some beautiful orange Calendula flowers and experiment with them in teas and on your skin.
If you are unsure whether Calendula is suitable for you and your skin, then check with a medical herbalist first. Some people do have allergies to plants that are members of the daisy family, which Calendula is, and if you are you should not use these plants internally or topically.
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