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How to use healing calendula flowers to make calendula oil. Includes three methods, one that’s easy, another that’s quick, and a last method for medicinally-potent calendula oil. Also, tips on how to use calendula oil in soap and skincare recipes.
Calendula officinalis, which I’ll refer to simply as calendula, is hands down the skincare herb I use the most. I’ve used it for over ten years in handmade soap, bath fizzies, lotions, salves, lip balms, skin creams, and countless other skincare recipes. If there was any plant ally that has been with me through thick and thin, it’s this beautiful and versatile flower. In this piece, I’ll take you through much of what I know about growing, harvesting, and using calendula in skincare recipes. At the heart of that is learning how to make calendula oil. Calendula oil forms the backbone of many calendula formulations, and I’ve not only shared three ways to make it below but quite a few skincare and soap recipes, too.
First off, allow me to introduce myself. I’m Tanya Anderson of Lovely Greens, an organic gardener, natural soapmaker, author, and herbal enthusiast. Over the years, I’ve shared many calendula recipes, and my most comprehensive work on this healing skincare plant is Calendula: A Guide to Growing & Using it in Skincare. Though you’ll learn much about this plant below, I encourage you to get the Ebook if you’re serious about making healing Calendula skincare at home.
What is Calendula Oil?
Not to be mistaken for essential oil, calendula oil is the extraction of the plant’s natural chemicals into a carrier oil, such as olive oil. These plant chemicals include various polysaccharides, flavonoids, triterpenes, resins, and carotenes. Big words if you’re not familiar with them, but in essence, consider them natural compounds helpful in soothing skin irritation, clearing up acne, and healing wounds and damaged skin. That includes rashes, sunburn, scrapes, diaper rash, bug bites, and eczema. The carotenes are also instrumental in naturally coloring soap or dyeing fibers. Instead of speaking about these plant chemicals individually, many people, herbalists included, refer to them as resins. You’ll often see calendula varieties touted to have more resins than others.
Calendula oil is generally yellow to orange and has a subtle scent and taste. It can have a slightly peppery flavor, especially if the calendula used to make it was high quality. Usually, you can taste more of the oil than the calendula itself. Calendula oil is also typically liquid at room temperature, but that might not always be the case, as you’ll soon learn. One important thing to understand about calendula is that its beneficial plant chemicals are easily extracted into oil. That’s why we make calendula oil and use it in skincare and medicine.
Calendula Oil Uses
Though calendula has uses in natural fiber dyeing and food recipes (think salad dressing), I will focus entirely on how to use calendula for skin care. There’s a world of difference in treating and working with this herb if you intend to use calendula to make healing skin therapies. That means choosing the best types of calendula to grow and use, harvesting at the optimal time, and gently processing the petals.
Once made, you can use calendula oil neat on the skin as a serum or massage oil. You can also mix it with other ingredients, such as beeswax and floral water, to make calendula skin cream, salve, lotion bars, and countless other recipes.
Using Calendula Oil in Skincare
Skincare, such as cleansers and creams, in their basic form, help to clean, tone, protect, and moisturize your skin. If that’s all you’re after, you can get and make a wide range of simple skincare products that contain no fragrance or additives. However, adding botanical extracts in the form of essential oils, floral waters, and infused oils, amongst others, can give products extra skin-beneficial properties. They can also scent and color the end product. Calendula oil is an amazing skincare ingredient since it can help gently promote skin healing. It also works for a wide range of products, such as these:
- Herbal Healing Salve Recipe
- Natural Calendula Skin Cream Recipe
- Herbal Lip Balm Recipe with Calendula
- Many more calendula recipes are in the Ebook
Using Calendula Oil in Soap Recipes
Calendula oil in soap recipes has two main purposes – to color soap yellow to orange and to potentially add skin-beneficial properties. I cover how to naturally color soap with calendula oil in this yellow calendula soap recipe. I’ve seen some truly orange-colored soap made with calendula oil that had been infused multiple times, too. To do this, you make calendula oil, strain it, add the infused oil to new flowers, and start the process again.
There doesn’t seem to be definitive evidence that shows that the active constituents of calendula survives cold process soapmaking, though. I’d like to think that it does, as do other soapmakers, but currently, no study shows that it does. If you’d like to make calendula oil soap with the highest chance of skin-beneficial properties, I recommend using a hot process soap recipe. If you do and add calendula oil after the cook as the superfat, it gives the oil’s herbal constituents a much higher chance of survival.
Where to Get Calendula Flowers
To make calendula oil, you’ll need two main ingredients: liquid carrier oil and dried calendula flowers. We’ll get to oils in a moment, but first, let’s chat about where to get calendula flowers. The calendula you use to make infused oil for skincare should be standard yellow and orange varieties, and they should be varieties listed as high in resin. For the most potent calendula oil, avoid using modern varieties with unusual petal shapes or different colors. They’ve been bred for looks rather than substance.
Though calendula is common enough to find for sale, quality can vary greatly. I’ve ordered it a few times, and some brands and suppliers are much better than others. However, with any packaged calendula, there’s no way to say how long ago the calendula flowers were picked and dried. It could have been a year or even longer, and the variety of calendula is never given, in my experience. The older the dried calendula is, the less potent it may be.
If you buy dried calendula, try to get it directly from the grower. More easily said than done! It’s very easy to grow yourself, though, and that’s the best place to get calendula. You might already have it in the garden and know it as pot marigold! If you grow it yourself, you know its variety, what went into the soil, and if anything was sprayed on the plants. You also control when the flowers get harvested and how they are dried. Dried, whole flower heads are what you use to make calendula oil, but you can also use dried calendula flower petals. Fresh flowers can spoil and rot during the infusion process and introduce a small amount of moisture to the oil. The smallest amount of water in oil can lead to rancidity and a much-reduced shelf-life.
Calendula Oil Ingredients
The basic premise of making calendula oil is infusing dried calendula flowers in carrier oil. The infusion time and method can vary, as can the carrier oil you use. At the end of the simple process, you’ll have a golden to orange-colored oil for making everything from skin cream and soap to water-less recipes like calendula salve. It’s straightforward to make, and homemade calendula oil will almost always be superior to any you might find for sale. Typically, commercial calendula oil is made with cheap sunflower oil, and goodness knows how old the flowers were when it was made. There are high-quality exceptions, though, like this one.
Calendula flower varieties high in resins are the best types to use in skincare. I go over some of these varieties in the calendula guide, but generally, the more orange the flower is, the higher in resins it can be. The exception that I know of is the variety Resina. It’s the most common medicinal-grade calendula variety in the USA but is yellow. Lastly, you want to use the most vibrant orange calendula you can find for naturally coloring soap. Yellow and pink colored calendula flowers won’t have much of an effect.
Choosing Carrier Oils
Oil can be pressed from many fruits, nuts, and seeds but not so from flowers. To create calendula oil, we infuse dried calendula flower heads in carrier oil. The active constituents in the flowers flow into the oil, which we can then use in healing skincare. The best carrier oils are organic, don’t have a strong scent, and are liquid at room temperature.
Many people use olive oil to make calendula oil since it’s easy to find, has a long shelf-life, and can be used in many different skincare formulas. Other oils might be better for your purpose, though, or you might not like the scent of extra virgin olive oil on your skin. Ultimately, your carrier oil depends on your skin type, allergies, accessibility, personal choices, and how you plan to use the calendula oil. My favorite carrier oil to make calendula oil with is sweet almond oil. It’s light in feel, has no scent or taste, and performs beautifully in skincare. Be aware that the carrier oil you use to make calendula oil can impact the recipes you can make with it.
For example, if you use the easy method below, you’ll need an oil that is liquid at room temperature. That could be olive oil, sweet almond oil, avocado oil, grapeseed oil, jojoba oil, or sunflower oil. If you’re making calendula oil to use in soap, you will need to use the oil(s) in the soap recipe. Sometimes soap recipes can be made entirely from oils, like tallow or coconut oil, that are solid at room temperature. In this case, you need to use the quick method to make calendula oil. Whichever oil you choose, in the end, make sure that it has a shelf-life of at least one year. Old oil close to its best-by date spoils quickly.
The Easiest Way to Make Calendula Oil
The easiest way to make calendula oil is also the gentlest and my favorite method. To begin, you’ll need just a few pieces of equipment, including a glass jar (size reflective of how much oil you want to make) with a lid, a brown paper bag, a sieve, a cheesecloth, and a funnel. For most people, a pint jar is perfect for making calendula oil.
Loosely fill the jar halfway to all the way full with dried calendula flower heads or flower petals. The more you use, the more active constituents your final oil may have, but the less calendula oil you’ll get. Next, fill the jar with the liquid oil of your choice until the flowers are submerged. Although some leave more headspace in their jars than I do, I recommend filling to about an inch from the top of the jar’s lip. The more prolonged the contact oil has with air, even inside the jar, the higher the chances that the oil will go rancid.
Seal and place in a room-temperature to warm place for two to six weeks – the longer, the more potent the oil will be. Remember to give the jar a shake every couple of days, too. If you want to keep the jar in a sunny spot, put the jar inside a brown paper bag to protect the oil from UV light.
When the time is up, strain the oil from the flowers using cheesecloth and a sieve — the dried flowers will have absorbed a lot of oil, so make sure to bundle them up in the cheesecloth and squeeze it to get every last drop. Bottle into a glass container (dark glass bottles are ideal) and store in a cool and dim place. For the best quality, use calendula oil within a year of making it.
Quick Way to Make Calendula Oil
As you have just read, the easiest and most common way to make calendula oil takes weeks. If you don’t have the time or need to make calendula oil with solid oil, you’ll need to heat the ingredients gently. Though you’ll have to use energy and keep an eye on the calendula-infused oil, the positive thing about the quick way of making calendula oil is that it’s ready in just hours.
Follow all the steps above for the easy method, but if you are working with solid oil, such as coconut oil, you’ll need to gently melt the oil before you pour it over the flowers. That way, you get the ratio right. After filling and sealing the jar, place it in a crockpot or double boiler filled with hot water. The water level should come up at least a couple of inches, and it’s best to place a washcloth or folded teatowel at the bottom for the jar to sit on. Leave the jar in the crockpot on low with the lid off for four to twelve hours.
Afterward, strain the oil while it’s still warm. For oils that will remain liquid at room temperature, bottle them in dark glass bottles. Make sure to label them with the contents and date. For those that are solid, I recommend wide-mouth jars or glass food storage containers.
Alcohol-Intermediary Method for Calendula Oil
The last way to make calendula oil is also relatively quick and a technique that is catching on among herbalists. It’s called the alcohol-intermediary method. Though calendula and many other herbs infuse beautifully into oil, more active constituents can be extracted into alcohol. If we first make a small tincture and then mix it with oil, the calendula oil can be even more potent.
To use this method, finely pulse or chop one ounce (28 g) of dried calendula flowers. Mix it with half an ounce (14 g) of high-proof vodka or brandy and allow it to infuse for a day. After that time, place the calendula-alcohol mix in a blender with eight ounces (227 g) of liquid carrier oil. Then turn on your blender and allow it to blend for five minutes. Strain through cheese cloth and pour into dark glass bottles. The above amounts make a small amount of calendula oil, but you can scale the recipe up if you wish. Just make sure it can all fit inside your blender.
Storing Calendula Oil
When you’re storing calendula oil, remember that it can go rancid if exposed to sunlight, hot temperatures, or moisture. That’s why dark glass containers are helpful. They protect the contents from UV light, even in a relatively bright place. Spoiled (rancid) oil smells like oil paint to me, but it can smell fermented or overly sweet to others. Although other sources may advise you to use vitamin e as an antioxidant to help stop rancidification, this information isn’t entirely accurate. Don’t bother adding it, as it’s just an extra expense and probably won’t help extend the shelf-life. Instead, begin the process with high-quality oil, high-quality calendula, and a clean working environment.
I tend to both make and store my calendula oil in the same place – a wooden wardrobe in my workshop. It’s room temperature, so I’ll leave oils to infuse for six weeks before straining and decanting it into jars. Sometimes, I’ll leave it for even longer. Aside from a constant ambient temperature, it’s also dark and protects the oils and other skincare ingredients inside. I store all my jars, bottles, and jugs in plastic containers to catch potential spills.
In-Depth Calendula Resource
In this piece, you’ve learned three different ways to make calendula oil and a lot about carrier oils and calendula skincare recipes. Get a copy of the Calendula ebook if you want to learn more about growing, harvesting, drying, and using calendula in skincare recipes. It’s far more in-depth than this piece and will help guide you to being confident in growing and using calendula in homemade skincare. You can also be in touch with any questions by leaving a comment below.