Herb of the year learning | Calendula herb and Health care blog

Herb of the year learning

Sussex House member Angela Giuliano shows some of the thousands of calendula flower petals her group used to make a healing calendula salve.
NEWTON — Located on the Newton Memorial campus, Sussex House is a psychiatric rehabilitation and recovery program for adults experiencing psychiatric illnesses that have interfered with their lives in some way. The program provides a safe, welcoming environment in which participants, called members, can belong, feel needed and gain the skills, knowledge and support needed to rejoin the community in meaningful roles.
One of the staff members at Sussex House is a psychiatric nurse practitioner named Deborah Drumm. She’s greatly admired by the members with whom she works, and it’s no wonder. Through her class, Medication Education, Drumm thinks outside the box and uses projects to both broaden the members’ horizons and teach them about something about which they’d otherwise probably never know.
Drumm is also an aromatherapist and avid herb enthusiast currently enrolled in the herbal study program, David Winston�s Herbal Therapeutics School of Botanical Medicine. By day, she splits her time between her private practice and working at the hospital, and one evening a week for the next two years, will also work school in to her busy schedule.
This spring, Drumm sparked an interest in herbs among her group, and taught them how to identify herbs through smell and by examining the leaves.
Growing the herb

One thing led to another, and the group and Drumm decided to try to grow calendula in Sussex House’s greenhouse, then make the petals into a therapeutic ointment for dry skin and other epidermal maladies listed in an herbal recipe book Drumm had picked up at a garage sale. “I thought it would be fun and interesting to make something as a group project,” Drumm said. She ordered the seeds and the project began in March.

By June, calendula plants were growing everywhere outside in the garden. “We planted them and �pop,’” exclaimed Sussex House member Angela Giuliano, of Andover, “Suddenly they were everywhere.” Another member, Ken Wu, also of Andover, said, “We go out and pick the flowers and then we made a jar of the calendula ointment for every one of us. That’s a lot of flowers.”
Deborah Drumm shows her class some calendula in the Sussex House garden.

Preparing the ointment

Once the flowers were ready, Drumm and the members said it was “a work in progress” to come up with a formula that worked to create the salve. Take one was a bit of a disaster, but after that, a formula was created and each member took on a role in the process of cooking the flowers in oil, then adding the wax, which they obtained at the New Jersey State Fair.

“The whole thing has been an amazing experience,” said Sussex House member Theresa Budzinski, of Hamburg. “I think it brought everyone in our group together and we learned a lot about plants which is a lot more interesting than only learning about pharmaceuticals in a group.” Of Drum, she added, “We also have the best teacher in the world.”

Kevin Karpowich, of Sparta, said he joined Drumm’s group at the urging of a friend. “This has been a great learning process,” he said, “Calendula is something I never would have known about had it not been for this group.”


As for results from the ointment, the members can’t sing its praises enough. Giuliano has found relief from eczema that’s affected her for years, as well as dry lips she gets from some medicine she has to take. Wu said it worked “like magic” on a bad case of poison ivy he had on his leg. “It was so itchy and nothing worked. I’d made it worse by scratching, too, then I put the calendula ointment we made on it, and it was better within a few days.”


Ironically, part way through the project, one of the members in the group stumbled upon the fact that calendula was the herb of the year. Also known as pot marigold, calendula was chosen by the International Herb Association as the 2008 Herb of the Year. According to the Association, “ to receive this honored title, it has to be outstanding in at least two of the three major categories: medicinal, culinary, or decorative. Calendula’s medicinal history is busy which continues in present times. The petals can be used in the bath, ointments and salves where it contributes anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties which help with external sores, cuts, bruises, burns and rashes.”

The experience

There are still flowers in the Sussex House garden that Drumm’s group is harvesting. “We’ll make one more big batch,” Drumm said, “And now we seem to have everything down pat. This has been a wonderful learning experience for not only the members — about herbs and how they can work — but also for me.” Some of the goals of Sussex House is to teach members how to gather feedback, look at situations themselves, learn skills and make the best choices possible, and then gather support for their choices and carry them out. “This has been a real team building experience,” Drumm said, “Everyone had roles in the process of making the ointment and worked well as a team.”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.