Marigolds: History and Culture
They are all desperately vulgar, and no cottage garden can be without them. Rand B. Lee
The name marigold is straightforward and translates as 'Mary's gold'. They were called Mary's gold
because they were considered to be the Virgin Mary's flowers.
The Latin name for the European marigold was calendula which derives from the Latin word
calendae 'the first day of the month.' It has been variously translated as 'a little calendar or little
clock.' The name was apt as the flower bloomed throughout the entire calendar year and provided
monastery gardens and altars with a constant supply of golden blooms.
Calendula was often called pot marigold because it was used as seasoning in the cooking pots of the
poor and was used as an inexpensive substitute for saffron, adding its color to cakes, butter, and
The more popular French or African marigold bears the Latin name tagetes. The tagetes variety of
marigolds were named after Tages who was the grandson of Roman god Jupiter. Tages was known
for teaching the Etruscans haruspicy, which is the art of divination using animal entrails.
Calendula is native to the Mediterranean region and has spread throughout the world as a popular
garden plant. The Egyptians attributed rejuvenating properties to it and the Greeks used it in their
food. In India gods and goddesses were given golden crowns of calendula. And during the
superstitious Middle Ages it was used in potions that gave young maidens the ability to discover who
they would marry.
Superstitions surrounding calendula were often a derived from its brilliant color which caused
people to suppose that it could remove 'wicked humours' from the head (Macer's Herbal, 15th
Century). This was translated into an even more bizarre remedy of creating an amulet of marigold
petals, a bay leaf, and a wolf's tooth to ensure that only peaceful words were spoken to the wearer
(Book of Secrets of Albertus Magnus 1560).
During the Civil War, American doctors relied on its antiseptic properties and packed open wounds
with calendula leaves.
The calendula's common name, pot marigold, was given during Tudor times when the petals were
dried and sold to flavor stews.
The average height of calendula is 12-24 inches tall. The leaves are a rich green and spread to a
width of 12-18 inches. Flowers come in singles, doubles and semi-doubles. The colors come range
from white through gold, yellow, and orange. The blossom can be up to 4 inches wide.
Description Tagetes Marigold
The height of tagetes marigolds can range from 12 inches up 36 inches. The leaves are serrated and
dark green. Their flowers are available in white through gold, yellow, and orange with fabulous
combinations of shadings, picotee, and spots available. Tagetes are available in single and double
sizes and the blossoms of the largest can reach nearly six inches.
Both calendula and tagetes varieties of marigolds are easy to grow. They are best propagated by
seed. They require full sun and well-drained soil. Calendula can tolerate poorer quality soil than
Uses for CalendulaMedicinal: Calendula is full of wonderful anti-properties: it is anti-inflammatory,
antiseptic, antibacterial, and anti-fungal. Used in lotions and ointments it is helpful for chapped skin,
eczema, bug bites, and sunburns.Culinary: Calendula's name pot marigold is a result of its culinary
usage amongst the poor. Who used it as a substitute for saffron and to enhance the color of yellow
dishes.Aromatic: While not tremendously scented the leaves add vivid color to pot-pouri.Uses for
Tagetes (African, French, and American Marigolds):Medicinal: WARNING - some forms of tagetes
are toxic and all tagetes are inedible. Culinary: WARNING - some forms of tagetes are toxic and all
tagetes are inedible.Aromatic: The tagetes varieties of marigolds smell bad. Horticultural: Tagetes
are useful as companion plants in the garden. Their roots give off thiophenes which will kill
nematodes. As a result, partnering tagetes with vegetables can deter pests.Sources
Dahl, Jurgen. The Curious Gardener. Timber Press, 2002.
Houdret, Jessica. PracticalHerbGarden Hermes House, 2002.
McVicar, Jekka. The Complete Herb Book. Kyle Cathie Limited, 1994.
Treasury of Gardening. Publications International, Ltd. 2001.
Wells, Diana. 100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1997.
This article reports the common medicinal uses of the herb known as dandelion. Any herbal
remedies attempted by the reader are done so at his or her own risk.