Calendula is one of my absolute favourite herbs. So gentle it can be used with babies and young children, yet it’s gentleness belies it’s potency and versatility. From topical healing of minor grazes and rashes, to having a markedly cleansing effect when taken internally, Calendula is one of my most used herbal allies.
I describe Calendula as a herbal ally, because this is how I see the relationship I have with it. In many traditional healing cultures, a herb’s effectiveness is directly proportional to the depth of relationship the herbalist has with it. The more intimately the herbalist understands a herb, the more powerful and versatile the herb will be for that healer and their clients. I have been developing an intimate relationship with Calendula for several years now and it is a truly wonderful and loving experience. How does one ‘develop a relationship’ with a plant you may be wondering?
About 6 years ago I wanted to more deeply understand a group of herbs we call ‘Nervines’, so-called because they have a primary effect on the nervous system and are herbs used very frequently in practice. They are the wonderful stress relieving herbs we turn to in times of need. While researching, it occurred to me that they all sounded so much the same that I was unable to differentiate between them. How is Lavender different to St John’s wort or Passionflower I wanted to know? Even more importantly, how do I determine which one a client will respond best to? I was getting mixed results, sometimes they worked beautifully and sometimes not at all; occasionally they even made some clients feel worse. I realised my understanding of them wasn’t clear enough and reading text books wasn’t giving me the answers I sought. So with a courageous plunge into trusting my intuition, I decided to see if I could ask the plants themselves.
On a mid-winters’ day, off I went to the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens with notebook in hand to sit with my first plant, which just happened to be a large Morton Bay Fig. A big Granddaddy of a tree. I had loved these trees for a long time: their size, expansive branches, trunks and strength have a steadying feeling to me. I had often gone to sit beneath them when in need of a little solace from the hectic pace of the city. At the time I was also reading about Shamanic healing traditions and there was a practice described in those books of how to tune in and connect with a plant. The process was to use all the senses available to experience it: look at the shapes of the leaves, flowers, fruits, trunk and bark. Smell the different parts, feel the textures and if possible also taste it. See where it grows naturally, does it prefer sun or shade etc. Enthusiastically (and with some degree of self-consciousness being in such a public place) I did this and dutifully recorded my perceptions.
At one point, while examining the leaves, a voice that was loving, amused and at the same time a little offended, boomed into my mind “if you want to talk, all you have to do is ask!”. I was so surprised, it was such a clear communication that it couldn’t possibly have come from my imagination! Then I burst out laughing at my own foolishness, apologised to the tree and sat down to have a ‘conversation’. It was somewhat stilted at first due to my inexperience, but the information just felt right. This ‘information’ appears to me in the form of mental images, direct perceptions, feelings, sensations, insights and sometimes words.
Over the years my ability to connect with and intuitively communicate with the plants has developed. I’ve also had the opportunity to witness the profound healing that is possible with the herbs, especially when prescribed with a deeper understanding gleaned by taking the time to establish and maintain these relationships.
The core focus of my practice is to understand and support clients personally, looking at both their physical body and the emotional aspects of illness. All illness occurs within an emotional context; this is the life experience a person is currently going through and how they feel emotionally, which may also include experiences and feelings from the past. It’s what makes healing a very personal and ultimately beautiful journey. When the emotional states are acknowledged and the body is supported, deep and lasting healing can occur. I see it in practice all the time; the best results really only occur by supporting both the body and emotional states.
The deeper understandings I’ve been gifted with, through communicating with the plants, is firstly how they support the body and where they act; and secondly, their distinctive emotional and spiritual picture. This is what makes each plant unique and it is what I was searching for before starting on this journey to understand the herbs more.
Calendula is a wonderful cleansing and healing herb. Externally, it is traditionally used to wash wounds, to stop bleeding and promote the cellular regeneration that closes and heals a wound. It is calming and soothing to red and inflamed skin issues such as eczema; and it’s anti-fungal and drying properties makes it a wonderful herb for moist and weeping skin conditions such as nappy rash. As an oil infusion it promotes skin softness, suppleness and reduces redness, inflammation and improves complexion.
Internally, Calendula also has a cleansing and drying effect. It has an affinity for the lymphatic system, helping to move old stagnant fluids and debris out of the body, for example mucous buildup or pus after an infection. I liken it to an internal scrubbing brush for it’s ability to remove congestion and get things moving again. It can be particularly helpful for pelvic congestion, but should only be used for this purpose under professional supervision. Calendula has a noticeable effect on digestion and liver function, gently promoting increased activity of liver cells and healing gut inflammation. The flowers are edible, being rich in carotenes, vitamins and minerals. In Europe, the flowers were traditionally added to soups and stews to increase nutrition and support immunity throughout winter.
My experience with Calendula on the emotional sphere is that it helps to let go of stagnancy, such as out-dated and unresolved feelings, thoughts and beliefs. It’s bright and sunny, orange and yellow coloured flowers instil feelings of joy, happiness and lightness. The kind you feel when you’ve released something that was weighing you down. It promotes feelings of cleanliness and relief to move through and release the old emotions.
An amazing thing I have learnt from the herbs is that they usually have a ‘core essence or theme’, that they help resolve across the physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual spheres. For Calendula, it is the ability to heal and soothe the body, soul and psyche; and to cleanse out old waste, whether it is physical or emotional in origin. Once cleansed, the body, soul and mind are lighter, brighter and more joyful.