Written and Photographed by Juliet Blankespoor
Calendula’s sunny blooms are an external remedy for practically every manner of skin complaint. The flowers are used topically as a wound healing, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory herb. For optimal strength, be sure you’re using the whole flower—including the green flower base—instead of the “petals” only (the herb is sometimes sold this way). Calendula-infused oils and salves are some of my favorite topical applications for soothing and repairing the skin—see my recipes below.
Calendula is also an edible flower, a cheerful garden medicinal, and an internal remedy for the digestive and lymphatic systems. Take a peek at our article on Growing and Using Calendula for more on this plant’s floral intrigue. It’s incredibly easy to grow your own calendula, and it’s one of the most beautiful medicinals for the garden.
Calendula’s Skin-Healing Benefits:
- Insect bites
- Chicken pox
- Cold sores
- Cracked nipples from nursing
- Bacterial vaginosis (douche)
- Yeast infections (douche)
- Cervical dysplasia (douche)
- Postpartum perineal tears (sitz bath)
Calendula’s Herbal Actions:
- Vulnerary (wound-healing)
Safety and Contraindications: Do not use calendula internally during pregnancy since it has traditionally been used to bring on menses. As calendula is in the aster family, it may cause a reaction for people who are highly sensitive to plants like ragweed (Ambrosia spp.) and chamomile (Matricaria recutita); this possibility is rare, but sensitive individuals should proceed with caution when using calendula for the first time. Rare incidences of allergic contact dermatitis have occurred with the topical use of calendula.
How to Make Herbal-Infused Oils
Herbal oils are made by infusing plants into high-quality oils that have a long shelf life and readily dissolve into the skin. I typically use extra-virgin olive oil. If your oil is for massage or broad application, consider using sesame, sunflower, coconut, jojoba, or sweet almond oil. Look for oils that are unrefined and cold-pressed or expeller-pressed. Preparing herbal oils is quite easy, especially if you follow a few basic guidelines (see our recipe below).
After preparing an herbal-infused oil, you may then use it as a stand-alone oil or transform it into an herbal salve by adding beeswax or carnauba wax (a vegan alternative), and other optional amendments like essential oils and vitamin E.
In general, herbal salves are beneficial for soothing skin irritations, dryness, and inflammation. We share our recipe for Calendula Salve below.
As mentioned previously, take care that you use the whole dried flowers when making oils and salves, as calendula’s medicinal resinous oils are found mostly in the involucres (green bases of the flower heads). Sometimes calendula is sold as “petals” only; this is a weaker medicine for topical use.
When to Use Water-Based Applications Versus Infused Oils and Salves:
In certain situations, the application of herbal oils and salves is not recommended. Oils and salves hold in moisture and heat and are thus contraindicated in weepy skin conditions, infections, and fresh burns.
Avoid the use of oils and salves on poison ivy rashes, weepy eczema, pimples, boils, fresh sunburn, and fungal and bacterial skin infections. Another contraindication includes deep wounds and cuts. Instead of oil-based preparations, use water-based applications such as herbal compresses, soaks, baths, and poultices. Also note that if oils are used as a sexual lubricant, they can degrade and break most condoms.
Infused Calendula Oil
This is a wonderful all-purpose herbal oil. It can be used as a base for salves or prepared into a cream or lotion. Combine it with other skin-healing herbs for a soothing anti-inflammatory and wound-healing remedy. I keep calendula oil stocked in my refrigerator, as it’s a handy stand-alone remedy. I like to combine the flowers with plantain (Plantago spp.), chickweed (Stellaria media), Saint John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum), and violet (Viola sororia and others), but calendula oil can just as easily stand on its own as a versatile skin-healing preparation.
- 1 cup whole dried calendula flowers (Calendula officinalis), or combination of herbs mentioned above (equaling to 1 cup)
- 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil (or substitute jojoba or almond oil)
Yield: ¾ cup (360 ml)
Note: You can double or triple this recipe by following the same proportions outlined above: 1 part herb (or combination of herbs) by volume to 1 part oil by volume.
Step 1: Dry your herbs. If you're using homegrown or gathered herbs, gather your plant material and dry thoroughly. If purchasing dried herbs, make sure they are fresh and high quality. It’s important to remember that oil can ferment or mold in the presence of water. If you are new to preparing medicinal oils, I recommend using dried herbs rather than fresh herbs. You’ll also want to make sure all your tools are completely clean and dry.
Step 2: Combine the whole dried flowers with your oil of choice in a blender, food processor, or Vitamix and aim for a thick, pesto-like consistency (see the photo in Step 3 for an idea of the desired texture). This increases the surface area of the herb(s), leading to a stronger oil (concentrated).
Step 3: Heat the herb/oil mixture in a double boiler for four to eight hours. You can improvise a double boiler by nesting two pots together or placing mason jar bands upside down in a saucepan filled with water. The trick is to nest one pan (for your herbs and oil) inside the other (filled with water) without the bottoms touching. Heat slowly and keep on low heat for four to eight hours. Try not to let the oil get hotter than 110°F, or 43.3°C (a little warmer than bath water). Watch closely to make sure the water does not completely evaporate and the oil does not get too hot. You do not want deep-fried herbs!
Step 4: Strain your oil. After your oil has infused for four to eight hours, strain it into a glass jar or measuring cup using a muslin cloth, fine-weave cloth or cheesecloth. If the oil is slightly warm, it will be easier to strain. Place the cloth in a stainless-steel or ceramic strainer and pour in the oil/herb slurry. After the oil ceases to run through the cloth, wring out the herbal material with clean, dry hands or press with a potato ricer.
Step 5: Label and store. Make a label and cap your oil when it cools to room temperature (this prevents condensation from developing inside the jar). Herbal-infused oils will typically last two to three years when refrigerated and one year unrefrigerated, depending on the stability of the oil used.
Notes on preparing herbal oils with the stovetop method
I’ve found that in the case of infused oils, it’s beneficial to use a little bit of heat to extract medicine from herbs. This is because oil isn’t the strongest solvent and makes for weaker medicine than other solvents like water, vinegar, or alcohol. Heat is especially helpful for melting and extracting resin into oils.
As mentioned earlier, much of calendula’s healing properties come from the resin, which is concentrated in the undersides of the flowerheads. To prepare the strongest possible oil, you’ll want to optimally extract the resin with heat. Thus, I recommend using a stovetop method for preparing your infused oil.
How to Make an Herbal Salve with Calendula
I always keep a healing salve on hand in my apothecary. Thicker than an infused oil, this remedy has extra staying power that’s amplified by the moisturizing and anti-inflammatory properties of beeswax.
- 4 oz infused calendula oil (Calendula officinalis) by volume
- 1 oz grated or beaded beeswax (substitute carnauba wax for a vegan salve) by volume
- Vitamin E oil, optional (For every 5 ounces of salve, add 1 capsule of vitamin E oil, or a ¼ teaspoon of liquid vitamin E oil.)
- Salve jars (enough for 5 ounces total)
Yield: 5 oz
Step 1: Measure out your oil, and then bring it slowly up to 110°F (43.3°C) in a double boiler (see notes in the Infused Oil Recipe above on fashioning an improvised double boiler).
Step 2: For every 4 fluid ounces of oil, add 1 ounce of grated or beaded beeswax, by volume. (Beeswax beads are also sold as beeswax pellets or pastilles.) Depending on the size of your beeswax shavings or beads, these proportions will yield a salve with a soft consistency. It’s easy enough to adjust the texture by adding more beeswax or more oil. Keep in mind that harder salves will be less likely to melt in a hot car or bag but will be more difficult to apply.
Step 3: Completely dissolve the beeswax into the oil. To test the consistency of your salve, place a spoonful of the mixture in the freezer for two minutes, pull it out, let it come to room temperature, and test its hardness. If it’s too soft, add more beeswax. If it’s too hard, add a little more of the infused oil.
Step 4: Label and store. Vitamin E is often added to salve (right before it’s poured into jars) as an antioxidant to prevent rancidity as well as for its own skin-healing attributes. This is also when you would add any essential oils at the proper dilution rate. While your salve is still warm, pour it into jars, label the contents, and allow it to cool before capping. Salves typically last one to three years unrefrigerated. Refrigeration is not necessary but prolongs the shelf life.
Meet the Green Mastermind Behind Blog Castanea:
JULIET BLANKESPOOR founded the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine in 2007 and serves as the school’s primary instructor and Creative Director. She's been a professional plant-human matchmaker for close to three decades. Juliet caught the plant bug when she was nineteen and went on to earn a degree in Botany. She's owned just about every type of herbal business you can imagine: an herbal nursery, a medicinal products business, a clinical practice, and now, an herbal school.
These days, she channels her botanical obsession with her writing and photography in her online programs and here on her personal blog, Castanea. She's writing her first book: Cultivating Medicinal Herbs: Grow, Harvest, and Prepare Handcrafted Remedies from Your Home Garden. Juliet and her houseplants share a home with her family and herb books in Asheville, North Carolina.
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