The familiar marigold – that simple little flower – turns out to be an amazing power-house of treatments for a variety of human illnesses, particularly skin care. The genus Calendula includes approximately 20 species, but there are now many cultivars (hybrid breed types) which have been developed by gardeners over the centuries. In the wild, the most well-known marigold species are the pot marigold (C. officinalia) and the field marigold (C. arvensis). This flower is a perennial, which means it grows from its roots year after year. In most species and breeds, plants in the Calendula genus grow to a height of approximately 24 inches, but some of the cultivars created by the French have been bred to only grow to 8 or 10 inches. The flowers of these plants are usually yellow, but some cultivars have orange or red blossoms. The genus apparently had its origins in the Mediterranean region, but it is such a popular flower and so easy to grow that it is now found throughout the world.
The plants in the Calendula genus are so easy to grow -- and their flowers so attractive – that they soon became popular among gardeners: From their original homeland in the Mediterranean region, flower-lovers in classical Greece, ancient Rome, northern Europe and India became great fans of marigolds. Soon after adopting these flowers for their simple beauty, though, these people began to discover the strongly curative powers of the plant. In addition to using the leaves in salads and using dried leaves in hot herbal beverages, local cultivators discovered the medical benefits of the plant. The marigold soon entered into the traditional medicine systems of many countries around the world. It quickly became obvious that the extracted juices of the leaves and flowers would almost immediately control bleeding and sooth irritated skin. In addition, the extract was found to almost miraculously cure ear-ache, particularly among children.
It was not until the 20th century that a systematic analysis of all of the species in the marigold genus -- Calendula -- began to be examined. The resulting information was very informative:
In the flower petals and pollen of the Calendula species, there are two specific compounds which have very powerful healing benefits. Triterpenoid esters provide direct anti-inflammatory reactions to skin, promptly soothing damaged skin. There are also carotenoids (the same chemical which creates the color in the marigold’s flower), which have been identified as strong antioxidants. These carotenoids are able to provide long-term anti-aging benefits, helping to prevent the signs of both skin and internal aging. The leaves and stems of marigolds contain such compounds as lutein and zeaxanthin, both of which have been found to be very useful in helping to counter-act the basic causes of anti-mascular degeneration (the most common cause of blindness in elderly people) and general eye health.
The direct benefits that Calendula extract provides in a skin care product, however, are both broad and specific. The ingredients in this extract are antiviral, anti-inflammatory and astringent. Skin inflammation, such as caused by over-exposure to the sun, contact dermatitis, general skin itching or infection can be treated with skin products including Calendula extract. More specifically, the value of the ingredients in Calendula extract means that Calendula extract can help control skin surface bleeding, sooth swollen and inflamed tissues, reduce puffy areas of the skin and directly fight infections. For anyone who suffers from break-outs of acne, this means that skin products which include Calendula extract can help to address all of the most annoying, painful and stubborn symptoms of acne. Skin care products which contain Calendula extract have actually be shown to have greater benefits than the artificially produced medication trolamine. Puffy areas under the eyes can also be treated by skin products including Calendula extract. The bioactive ingredients in marigold extract-containing products are also able to restore and encourage the growth of skin collagen, which helps provide a smooth and more youthful appearance to the skin.
Unfortunately, there are some potential adverse reactions to Calendula extract. With such an effective plant come potential side-effects. Any woman who is pregnant or breastfeeding should certainly contact her physician before using any skin care products containing marigold. Individuals – men or women – who have an allergic reaction to ragweed or chyransthemums (distant cousins of marigolds) should also consult their physicians before using any products containing Calendula extract.