Colombia’s natural medicine cabinet: A fist full of Caléndula


Marigold mostly grows in Colombia’s central Andes mountains and harvested on small arable plots along with chamomile, thyme, mint, basil and wild flowers. In the southwestern department of Valle del Cauca, production is industrialized with calendula officinalis cultivated for pharmaceutical companies as an ingredient in dermatological creams, insect bite lotions and mouthwash.

Step into any market and caléndula can be identified by its bright orange petals, velvety leaves and coarse stems. They are usually sold by how much the clients wants, starting approximately with a dozen for Mil pesos (US$0.30). So, you walk away with a generous newspaper bundle of flowers. Unless you’re a forager chef or experienced homeopath, the majority of us don’t really know what do with a fist full of caléndula. They look pretty in the kitchen, but not much else. Then, the unexpected happens, a mouth sore, gum inflammation or toothache caused by an abscess.

While locating a dentist for expert intervention is always recommended, there are times when caléndula comes to the rescue as I learned with a tooth emergency during the strict coronavirus lockdown. After dodging police checkpoints to reach my oral hygienist at the other extreme of the city, the only remedy for irritated gum pain was a time-tested remedy: a hot cup of caléndula. Fortunately, for me, they sold small bunches of “Mary’s Gold” at my local supermarket, but 10 times the price I pay for a stash in Mercado 7 de Agosto. But given a slate of mobility restrictions, I crave resolution.

The doctor ordered a straightforward recipe: pluck some flower buds and petals and place them in boiling water. Once the water is warm enough to drink, rinse your mouth thoroughly with the infusion, as many times a day until swelling subsides. As caléndula is an edible flower – used widely in the 17th Century as a garnish for wild game – Bogotá restaurateurs use petals in salads and substitute for Spanish saffron. Among many medicinal properties of this flower-turned-condiment is helping the body fight intestinal parasites (especially useful in the tropics), containing nosebleeds, treating varicose veins, hemorrhoids, gastric ulcers, menstrual pain and amenorrhea (absence of menstruation). In Colombia’s natural medicine cabinet, caléndula ranks second after the artichoke in numbers of heath/sanitary registrations.

Taking easily to dry soils and thriving in temperate climates, wild marigold has been used ceremoniously since Roman and Greek times. From garlands and crowns in weddings, the flower’s natural oils are still used, to this day, in cosmetics and perfumes. On the Day of the Dead (November 1) in Mexico and across Central America, the flower decorates home altars. And India, everything from Tuk Tuks, to elephants, car dashboards and entrances to temples. The ancient Britons and Celts believed the healing plant made fairies visible. I’ll take their word on that.


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