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Tagetes patula cv. L. 1753
pronounced: TAG-eh-teez PAT-yoo-luh cultivar
(Asteraceae – the daisy family)
common names: French Marigold, Marigold
Tagetes was named for Tages, an Etruscan god who sprang up from ploughed earth; patula is from the Latin patulus, spread out, open wide.
The marigold comes originally from Mexico, and many people believe that its name is really ‘Mary’s Gold’, in honour of the Virgin Mary. However, this is not the origin of the name. It is a corruption of the Anglo-Saxon name mersc-mear-gealla for the marsh gentian, Gentiana pneumonanthe. It was only later that it became associated with the Virgin Mary.
The ancient Aztecs called the plant cempasuchil, and considered it a sacred plant. To this day the marigold plays an important part in the Mexican Dias de los Muertos ceremonies. Formed into garlands, wreathes and crosses, they are used to decorate altars and cemeteries, where their scent is believed to guide the spirits of the dead back home. Sixteenth century Spanish and Portuguese explorers transported these New World flowers to Europe and India. Called gendha in Hindi, the marigold became an important flower in Indian culture and religion. Marigold garlands serve as an adornment for religious statues, or as a decoration or offering at weddings and funerals. Now a widely cultivated crop in southern Asia, marigolds are used to make dye, flavourings, essential oils, and medicines.
Marigolds make a cheerful splash of colour in the garden, particularly in the tropics where, as sun-lovers, they do so well. African Marigolds (Tagetes erecta) are the largest of the family, and are sometimes called ‘American Marigolds’. They were brought back from Mexico to Spain, and from there to the Spanish outposts in Africa, hence the ‘African’ part of the common name. They finally found their way to the USA – Thomas Jefferson cultivated them in his Monticello gardens. Most of the hybrids of this species are tall (up to nearly a metre), and have large flowers, up to 12 or 13 cm across.
The French Marigold is so called because it was French breeders who developed many new hybrids of it. It is smaller and bushier than the African, with single or double flowers up to 5 cm in diameter. Bloom colours can be found in yellow, gold. orange, rust or mahogany red, with many stripes and bi-colours available.
There is a third type, Tagetes tenuifolia, the Signet Marigold, which as delicate foliage and small yellow or orange single daisy-like flowers. These plants do not have the usual marigold smell, which some find distasteful, but have a lemony fragrance. The plant is edible, and tastes something like tarragon.
The plant was well-known to the old herbalists both as a garden flower and for use in cookery and medicine. Dodoens-Lyte (A Niewe Herball, 1578) writes:
It hath pleasant, bright and shining yellow flowers, the which do close at the setting downe of the sunne, and do spread and open againe at the sunne rising.
Shakespeare, in The Winter’s Tale, writes:
The marigold that goes to bed wi’ the sun,
And with him rises weeping.
Linnaeus assigned a narrower limit to them, writing that they were open from nine in the morning till three in the afternoon.
Stevens, in The Countrie Farme (1699), mentions the marigold as a specific for headache, jaundice, red eyes, toothache and ague, and that the dried flowers were still used among the peasantry ‘to strengthen and comfort the hart’. He goes on, ‘Conserve made of the flowers and sugar, taken in the morning fasting, cureth the trembling of the harte, and is also given in the time of plague or pestilence. The yellow leaves of the flowers are dried and kept throughout Dutchland against winter to put into broths, physicall potions and for divers other purposes, in such quantity that in some Grocers or Spicesellers are to be found barrels filled with them and retailed by the penny or less, insomuch that no broths are well made without dried Marigold.’
In Macer’s Herbal it is stated that merely to look on marigolds will draw evil humours out of the head, and strengthen the eyesight. If taken internally, ‘It must be taken only when the moon is in the Sign of the Virgin and not when Jupiter is in the ascendant, for then the herb loses its virtue. And the gatherer, who must be out of deadly sin, must say three Pater Nosters and three Aves. It will give the wearer a vision of anyone who has robbed him'.
The marigold was also used to make a hair dye. An old English herbal† states: ‘Of Marygold we learn that summe use to make theyr here yelow with the floure of this herbe, not beyng content with the naturall coloure which God hath geven the.’
† manuscript, 14th or early 15th century
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photograph © taken at Picnic Bay 2010
Page last updated 12th April 2014