Calendula is the genus name of a flowering plant more commonly known as the marigold, which is not only an attractive border plant, but is edible and has useful medicinal properties as well. Be warned, however, if you want to collect and dry your garden marigolds for herbal uses, that a number of other plants are also called 'marigolds'. Make sure yours are true Calendula officinalis before drying or eating them. Calendula flowers and leaves are edible and make an attractive addition to salads and soups. The flavor is usually slightly bitter and can add a tangy or tart flavor to your usual greens.
Calendula has a long history as a healing herb, most notably for the healing of wounds. It has antiseptic, antibacterial and antifungal properties that prevent infections, and it can support coagulation and scab-formation in sores that resist healing. For this reason, it is contraindicated in wounds that need to remain open until all the infection has drained away, since it may cause premature scabbing that would necessitate reopening the healing wound. Calendula can be applied as a poultice - a warm mash of the flowers held in place with a cloth - over wounds to stop bleeding, aid healing and prevent infection, and was a common battlefield first aid during the nineteenth century and beyond. Calendula was also widely used in tinctures, or herbal extractions with alcohol, and infusions, or teas made from the dried herb.
Today, calendula is often used in ointments or lotions to assist with skin conditions such as acne, eczema, rashes and sunburn. Internal calendula remedies are suggested for disorders of the liver and stomach. A recent laboratory study suggests that calendula has some counteractive properties against the HIV virus, although animal and human studies have yet to be conducted. Since calendula stimulates the uterus, it should not be used internally during pregnancy, since it might increase the risk of miscarriage. External uses pose no risk.