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Wren's Adventures in the Herbal Remedies Branch Class by Sue James

When I reached the Infused Oil lesson, I knew I wanted to use Calendula. I’ve read multiple times of its use in salves and ointments for sore, dry skin and I knew this would really come in handy for me. I researched the herb in more detail, using a few online herbalism websites.

It’s formal name is Calendula Officinalis and is thought to be from the Latin calendae - making reference to its long flowering season. The plant is also called marigold or pot marigold but shouldn’t be confused with the genus tagetes, also called marigolds but are not interchangeable. The flowers are the part used and can be used both internally and externally. The flowers make a traditional remedy to support the immune system and the ray florets which make up the flower head are also edible. They are full of antioxidants and carotenoids.

The plants are described as easy to grow and I’d like to try them out in my herb garden this year. The seeds should be sown in mid-Spring and germinate in 5-14 days. The plant prefers full sun.

For eating, the flowers once dried can be added to soups, broths and stews for a Winter immune boost. Historical texts also mention them being added to breads, syrups and conserves. For medicinal use, it is the whole flower head that is used. Using just the dried petals misses out on the greater concentration of oils found in the resinous green bases of the flower heads (the involucres). Medicinal preparations include teas, tinctures, infused oils, salves, broth, compresses, poultices and bath soaks.

The herbal actions of Calendula have been identified as:

- anti-inflammatory

- lymphagogue

- vulnerary (promotes wound healing)

- antibacterial

- antifungal

- emmenagogue (stimulates menstrual flow)

- cholagogue (stimulates bile)

Calendula is useful in the digestive system, easing heartburn and acid reflux. It can be used alongside antibiotics to treat the heliobacter pylori infection often found with peptic ulcers. The herb stimulates the lymphatic system and is used to treat lymph nodes swollen from fighting off infection.

Topically, Calendula has widespread use in the treatment of rashes, insect bites and stings, minor wounds, burns, abrasions, bruises, eczema, acne, chicken pox pustules and cold sores. Added to a mouthwash it is used to treat gum disease and oral thrush.

Not so much in the modern day but historically Calendula has been used to treat grief and sadness as a form of antidepressant. It was used in combination with rose, lavender, lemon balm and lemon verbena.

There are a couple of safety notes/contraindications. It should not be used during pregnancy because of the stimulation of menstruation. It is also not suitable if someone is highly sensitive to ragweed or chamomile. In rare cases it can trigger dermatitis.

MAKING THE INFUSED OIL

Given I was making this in January I decided to use the heat method and tried out the slow cooker option described in the lesson. I washed and sterilised an old jam jar before filling it quarter full with dried calendula flower heads. I slowly added sunflower oil till all the flowers were submerged. I put the jar with its lid on loosely into the slow cooker which had about 3 inches of water in it. I left it on high for about 5 hours, checking periodically that all was going well. I let the water go cold and dried off the jar. Using a muslin jelly bag I strained the oil into a glass jug. I knew I was going to use it shortly to make the salve so didn’t decant into a jar or bottle. The oil was a lovely green-tinged, golden colour and smelt very different to the plain sunflower oil I’d used. The process was certainly very simple and I shall be experimenting with other infused oils when time permits. I did try a tiny drop of the oil on my knuckles as this area gets very dry and sore. It was instantly soothing and I had high hopes for my eventual salve.

MAKING A SALVE

Following on from the infused oil lesson, I put the strained calendula-infused oil to good use.

I used the ratio advised in the lesson (10:1 oil to beeswax) and added beeswax pellets into the jug of oil in a Bain marie. I kept the water at a simmer and stirred the mixture until the wax had fully melted. In the meantime I had taken some 50 ml lidded metal tins and sterilised them in a low oven. I stirred the mixture until we’ll blended and then let it cool a fraction. The process was very like candle making I found. I poured the mixture into the tins leaving a little room for expansion on cooling. Once set I put on the lids and labelled them up. As soon as it’s set it can be used. After a day or so I began to use the ointment on my dry skin. Really soothing and it made a difference almost immediately. If I had any complaint it is that the smell is a little grassy. Making it again I would add a few drops of lavender essential oil into the liquid oil/wax or use almond oil instead of sunflower. Peppermint essential oil added in would also make a lovely, refreshing foot salve for tired feet. Lemongrass essential oil instead would make a zesty, invigorating salve.



MAKING ROSEHIP SYRUP

As I had some dried rose hips in stock I decided to attempt rose hip syrup. I had a little less than the suggested amount so I recalculated the amount of sugar and water I would need.

METHOD TAKEN FROM THE LESSON - Put 50 g of cut herb, or a mixture of herbs into 500 ml water. Bring to boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain and press down on the herb with a spoon to extract all the goodness from the herb. Discard the herbs and keep the liquid. Return the liquid to the heat and simmer gently, uncovered until reduced to 125 ml. The slower the reduction the better. Add 200g white sugar and heat gently until it has dissolved, stirring all the time until you reach a syrupy consistency.

I followed the recommended method - simmering the rose hips which came in a milled form. I kept the mixture simmering and then strained the liquid into a jug through a muslin cloth. I poured the liquid back into the pan, brought it to the boil and then reduced it by half. I added the sugar and kept stirring. It was very reminiscent of jam making. In hindsight I think a few drops of lemon juice would have heightened the taste of final syrup. Whilst the mix was cooking I sterilised my bottle in a low oven. We have some Fentiman’s cola bottles which are old-fashioned looking glass bottles and just perfect for this. I tested a drop of syrup on a cold saucer to check the setting level and then poured it into a hot jug and then into the narrow necked bottle. Once it had cooled I tried a teaspoon. It tasted really nice but possibly just a smidge more sugar and some lemon juice.

I used Pinterest to get some other syrup ideas. Rose hips seem very popular as do varying versions of elderberry syrup. It’s purpose is to give the immune system a boost to help fight off coughs and colds. The recipe I found was tailored for the Instantpot which caught my attention. The additional ingredients were cinnamon stick, ginger, cloves and honey. The link is given below if you want to try it out.

A couple of other recipes for medicinal syrups included lemon, honey and thyme syrup, pineapple cough syrup (pineapple juice, turmeric, root ginger, pepper and honey) and the other for a cough was pine needle syrup. I found a few syrup recipes which were herbal but used as a base for sun tea (steeped for a couple of hours in hot sun) or for long drinks rather than intended for medicinal purposes. These were honey and chamomile syrup and lemon balm syrup.

Certainly lots of recipes to try out.



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