Marigold is valued today as a homeopathic remedy,1 but the oil extracted from the flowers, called calendula oil, is not far behind in boosting your health.2 Learn more about this oil distilled from the petals of the pot marigold or Calendula officinalis, and how you can harness its health benefits and practical everyday uses.
What Is Calendula Oil?
Marigold is a genus of about 15 to 20 species of plants in the Asteraceae family.3 This flower is native to Southwestern Asia, as well as Western Europe and the Mediterranean. The common name "marigold" refers to the Virgin Mary, with whom it has been associated since the 14th century, when it was included as an ingredient in an English recipe for fighting plague.4
Apart from being used to honor the Virgin Mary,5 marigold was also considered by ancient Egyptians to have rejuvenating properties.6 Hindus also used the flowers to decorate their temples.7
Pot marigold, or C. officinalis, is the most commonly cultivated and used species,8 and is the source of the herbal oil.9 "Calendula" comes from the Latin word "calendae," meaning "little calendar,"10 because the flower can bloom in every month of the year (in warmer climates).11
Pot marigolds should not be confused with ornamental marigolds of the Tagets genus,12 commonly grown in vegetable gardens.13 Calendula, with fiery orange and yellow petals,14 is home to flavonoids15 that are found naturally in other vegetables and fruits, and these very substances give plants their lovely, bright colors.16
Calendula oil is typically made by macerating marigold flowers,17 and the resulting product is quite sticky.18 According to “The Culinary Herbal: Growing and Preserving 97 Flavorful Herbs,” marigold flowers tend to smell honey-like, slightly spicy, woody and bitter, and this scent may transfer onto the essential oil.19
Uses of Calendula Oil
Here are three classifications of calendula plant and oil uses:
1. Health and wellness — Calendula has tonic, sudorific, emmenagogue and antispasmodic properties,20 but it is mainly used for skin care and treatment.21
Calendula oil has anti-inflammatory abilities,22 making it helpful in addressing stubborn wounds, acne, ulcers, bed sores, varicose veins, rashes, eczema and related conditions.23,24 It helps soothe sore, inflamed and itchy skin conditions,25 and also assists in soothing skin,26 making it a good addition to massage oils or when preparing a carrier oil blend.27
2. Cooking — Since the Middle Ages, the petals of marigold have been used as "the poor man's saffron" for coloring cheeses, butters and side dishes.28 Meanwhile, the petals flavored soups and stews.29
3. Practical uses — Marigold has been used as a dye.30 Dried petals can also be added in potpourris.31
Calendula oil is also added to various products, oftentimes as a base for lotions, creams, ointments,32 salves33 and personal care items.34
Composition of Calendula Oil
In a 1991 Flavour and Fragrance study, calendula oil was obtained in low yield (0.3 percent) through steam distillation with cohobation from flowers and whole plants. Researchers discovered 66 components, mainly sesquiterpene alcohols with α-cadinol as the main constituent, at about 25 percent.
The presence of monoterpenes hydrocarbons, aside from the alcohols, was used to differentiate essential oil derived from the whole plant from oils found in the flowers.35 Other useful components of the calendula plant itself include volatile oil, flavonoids, triterpenes and polysaccharides.36
Benefits of Calendula Oil
Calendula oil is traditionally used for abdominal cramps and constipation,37 but it's your skin that will receive a good bulk of the benefits thanks to the oil's anti-inflammatory,38 antiseptic39 and related properties. Here are some of the promoted benefits of this oil:40
• Skin dryness or chapping — Calendula oil is a great moisturizer for dry and severely chapped, damaged or split skin.41 It may also help soothe the affected area and reduce the pain.
• Inflammation — It works well on sprained muscles or bruises, and may aid in alleviating spider veins, varicose veins42 and leg ulcers43
• Baby care — The oil may help alleviate extremely irritating diaper rash.
• Minor cuts and wounds — Using the oil may help speed up healing of wounds and minor cuts,44 and alleviate insect bites, acne and bed sores.
• Skin issues — Eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis and other skin problems may be addressed by applying calendula oil topically. The oil's antifungal action is also great for alleviating athlete's foot, ringworm and jock itch.45
How to Make Infused Calendula Oil
Calendula oil is usually produced by infusing marigold flowers in a warm oil (ideally a carrier oil like coconut, sweet almond, jojoba or olive), and then macerating and straining them.46 The oil left over when distillation is done is calendula oil, which should be a golden orange color. You can create a homemade calendula oil infusion using the following instructions:47
Infused Calendula Oil
• Dried calendula petals
• Carrier oil (olive oil, almond oil or sunflower oil are some great options)
• A clean glass jar with a lid
1. Measure chopped and dried calendula petals into a clean glass jar. The ratio should be 1 part dried petals to 4 parts oil.
2. Pour the carrier oil over the herbs, ensuring that they are covered completely.
3. Place the jar/s into a yogurt maker or turkey roaster (the temperature must be between 110 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit) and leave them for 10 days to two weeks, stirring them every day. If you don't have these items at home, you can try placing the oil in an area with roughly the same temperature.
4. After two weeks, strain the finished oil through a cheesecloth into a clean jar. Press on the herb thoroughly to remove the essence.
5. If you notice extra particulate in the oil, allow the mixture to sit overnight and pour off the clear oil. This should leave anything that settled at the bottom of the container behind.
6. Label your oil and store in a cool and dark place for up to one year.
You can use the homemade calendula oil as an after-bath body oil,48 baby oil49 or home remedy for dry skin, inflamed areas or rashes.50
Is Calendula Oil Safe?
Calendula oil is generally safe to use, but I advise you to heed the following safety guidelines and considerations51
• Pregnant and breastfeeding women should generally avoid using calendula oil. Do not take calendula orally, as there are concerns it may lead to a miscarriage. Likewise, topical use must be avoided.
• An allergic reaction may occur in individuals sensitive to ragweed and related plants, such as marigolds, chrysanthemums and daisies. Before using calendula oil, check with your doctor if you have allergies, or undergo an allergen patch test.
• When used alongside medications prescribed during and after a surgery, calendula might cause too much drowsiness. If you're already using calendula, stop at least two weeks before the procedure.
Side Effects of Calendula Oil
If you are allergic to plants like marigolds, daisies, ragweed or chrysanthemum, exercise caution in order to prevent adverse side effects. There’s also little information regarding the safety of calendula oil for pregnant and nursing women.52 It is best to consult your health care provider before you use it, especially for therapeutic use.
Remember that sedatives, high blood pressure and diabetes medicines may interact with calendula.53 As “Natural Standard Herb & Supplement Guide” highlights, calendula may cause sleepiness and drowsiness when taken alongside sedatives, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, narcotics, antidepressants and even alcohol.54 If you want to improve your quality of sleep, I advise you to explore safe, natural ways to get a good night's rest.