#7: Calendula, Herb of the Year, 2008

in Contributors/Pets by

By Tracie Korol

Juliette de Bairacli, author of the book “The Complete Herbal Handbook For The Dog and Cat” and founder of the Natural Rearing Movement, considered Calendula an important tonic and heart medicine. From her “Complete Herbal Handbook for the Farm and Stable,” she states, “The flowers possess important restorative powers over the arteries and veins, and thus are much fed by the Arabs to their racing horses. The flowers are fed also to make miserable and fretting animals cheerful.” Beyond fancy race horse chow, calendula also makes for a cheerful perennial in your garden and is prized by herbalists for its versatile benefits.
Calendula officinalis, also known as pot marigold, has bright yellow, orange, or red-orange flowers first to arrive in the spring and often the last to leave in the fall. It is among the first herbs to consider in minor first aid situations.
A broad array of medicinal compounds in the flowers of the plant, including various essential oils, flavonoids, saponins, triterpene alcohols, carotenes and others, combine to help speed cell reproduction and inhibit bacteria and fungi at the site of injury. For minor cuts, insect bites, abrasions, or post-surgical incisions, calendula salve will bring quick, soothing relief to pain and swelling, while lending wound-healing, antimicrobial properties to the body’s healing effort. It is often found in ointments for diaper rash, gentle enough for a baby’s bottom.
During the summers in Vermont, I would harvest the plants and prepare calendula ointment for use on the paws of the dogs in the mushing community come winter time. The mushers I worked with were professional, working dogs that by starry night happily toured resort visitors though waist-deep snow.  By day, they rested, lounged, played, ate heartily and had their paws massaged with calendula cream. We never had a problem among the 176 paws that did tough duty daily nor did our hands chap exposed as they were all through the season. I made a lot of good dog friends those winters; big, gnarly mushing dogs become real goobers when you massage their paws.
Infusions of the flowers are effective as a soothing and healing skin wash for various forms of inflammatory dermatitis, too, such as fleabites, poison ivy, eczema, or sunburn or external ear irritation. A calendula herbal flush will help keep your dog’s ears free of discharge and reduce irritation. Use it once or twice daily and you can eliminate ear goo without chemicals.
The antimicrobial and astringent nature of this plant also make it useful for treating burns as well — that would be more for people, I hope.
Calendula has an exceptional safety record and is recommended for dogs of all ages. However, in one study, calendula may have triggered miscarriages in pregnant rats so there is a caution against feeding calendula to pregnant dogs in the early weeks.  However, if your yard is overtaken with the cheerful orange flowers, know that you can add the blossoms, teas or hydrosols to your dog’s food with no ill effects. Calendula has been shown to improve digestion, treat colitis and other chronic gut problems as well as prevent yeast or fungal overgrowths. In addition, animal studies have shown that the saponin constituents in calendula may possess antitumor activities.
Dampen your dog’s toothbrush with calendula tea or wrap gauze around your finger, soak it, and massage your dog’s gums to fight gum disease and mouth irritations. Apply calendula salve to any cut, scrape, bite or other injury and remember to treat your dog friends to a calendula pad massage after a run on the hot sand at the beach.