The common name Marigold refers to a variety of different plants; Tagetes and Calendua are both called Marigolds. But it gets confusing. The North American native marigold (Tagetes) is known as African Marigold, French Marigold and Aztec Marigold. The European native (Calendula) goes by the name of Pot Marigold, Common Marigold, English Marigold and Scottish Marigold. There is a perennial known as “Mexican Marigold”(Tagetes lemmonii) that is currently popular in California low-water gardens. Yikes! My head is spinning! Want to sort it all out? Read on my friends, read on.
Tagetes and Dia de los Muertos
Tagetes erecta is the botanic name for the annual Marigold that is native to the Americas, specifically, Mexico. The Aztecs used them not only as as decorative flower, but as a medicinal as well. These brightly-colored flowers are edible and in ancient times were used to cure a number of ills including hiccups and to help heal those struck by lighting.
This Mexican native, Tagetes erecta, is known as “African Marigold” and Tagetes patula is called French Marigold. No wonder most of us are confused. The Aztec Marigold, Tagetes erecta, is also called Flor de los Muertos. Because it is traditionally used to decorate alters honoring the deceased in the Dia de los Muertos celebration. It is believed that they help to guide the spirits to their alters with their vibrant colors and fragrance. The frilly, double petals come in brilliant hues of yellow and orange.
Tagetes lemmonii is the perennial Mexican Marigold that has become so popular in Southern California due to its low-water needs. I love Tagetes lemmonii for many reasons, the brilliant yellow-orange flowers “pop” in any garden. Another advantage to Mexican Marigold is that its peak flowering season is November through April, so gives a spark of color throughout the winter season when it is most needed. In addition, all it needs in terms of maintenance is a hard whack twice a year and I mean hard. Don’t allow your gardener to “hedge-clip” Mexican Marigold. Cut it half-way into the green to keep it the size and shape you want. If there is any down-side to this versatile plant is it’s distinct fragrance, one that people seem to love or hate. I happen to love the herbal pungent aroma of Mexican Marigold. Oh and it makes fabulous bouquets.
Calendula officinalis is the European import in the daisy family (Asteraceae). This Marigold has a daisy-like appearance and is known as Pot Marigold, English Marigold, Common Marigold and Scottish Marigold.
Hot tip: Any plant with the secondary name “officinalis” has uses in medicine and herbalism. The word, officinalis, literally means “of or belonging to an officina” or storeroom of a monastery, where medicines where kept.
Calendula officinalis is edible and is known as “poor man’s saffron” due to its ability to impart a saffron-like color to dishes. Its culinary use dates back to the days of ancient Rome when the use of Saffron (the powdered stigmas of the exotic saffron crocus) was a sign of wealth and power. Though Saffron isn’t as expensive as it was in ancient Rome, you can still use Calendula in cooking. The flowers have a slightly spicy taste and when used in making rice or custard the resulting dish will have a beautiful gold hue. Add them to salads for a festive touch.
This variety of Marigold was used to dye fabric, foods and cosmetics in ancient Greek, Roman, Middle Eastern and Indian cultures, plus it was a powerful medicine. Extract of Calendula officinalis has anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties that were legendary in earlier times, so much so that it was also known as “Russian Penicillin”. It was used to quell infection in the Civil War and in WWII France where doctors used it to help staunch bleeding. Calendula oil can help in the healing of most skin conditions from acne to sunburn, cuts and rashes. Calendua officinalis is often used in companion planting with cabbages, broccoli, kale and others of the Brassica family as it attracts the types of pests that would otherwise be attacking your precious vegetables.
Marigolds by any other name
I hope that I have helped to sort our any confusion with regard to this most wonderful flower. By the way, if you allow them to go to seed they will be popping up all over your garden (which is a good thing, by the way). For anyone who may still be confused, not to worry, just plant every kind of Marigold you can find. In addition to their other attributes they make a cheery addition to any garden.
Until next time, fill your garden with joy, and lots of Marigolds