I was surprised to learn the common name honors the Virgin Mary. Evidently the sunny orange and golden flowers were often in bloom during the Feast of the Annunciation of Mary on March 25th, so earlier Christians called them Mary’s Gold. Later this became shortened to marigold.
Worshippers also liked to offer the blossoms to statues of the Virgin Mary in place of money. Because of this association, some thought the marigolds to be powerful tokens of good luck to protect against evil and witchcraft.
The genus name “tagetes” is from the Etruscan god Tages who first taught taught persons the art of divining. The dwarf variety became beloved in Parisian gardens, so the nursery industry named these smaller plants Dwarf French Marigolds just to add an exotic twist. These are the seeds the Marigold Man gave me. For centuries, this ordinary, easy care, sunny annual has offered extra-ordinary gifts of meaning and enjoyment to people all around the world. With brilliant hues of copper, orange, gold, maroon, and blended mixtures, the merry marigold blooms from May until the first hard freeze. In a recent trip to India, my husband and I marveled at the stunning abundance of marigold garlands and religious offerings which allowed persons of limited income a way to give remembrances and blessings.
Lots of diverse varieties
Besides the Tagetes patula Dwarf French marigold, there are other major varieties, plus hundreds of hybrids. Only the Calendula officinalis has a long history of medicinal use, considered an ancient herbal to treat various maladies. In the American Civil War and the First World War, poultices or an infused oil were created from these marigolds to treat wounds and to keep them from becoming infected with toxins and bacteria. The term “pot marigold” refers to the early practice of including marigolds in recipes, such as soups and stews. The Calendula officinalis common marigold grows twice as tall (up to two feet) as the Dwarf French marigold, has a daisy like flower, and traditionally is bright golden-orange. Many cultivated species now exist which have yellow, red, or double flowers.
Another variation is the Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris), which is actually a member of the Ranunculaceae plant family. The African or Aztec marigold (Tagetes erecta) also grow up to two feet tall and is rich in the anti-oxidant “lutein.” The lutein content gave chicken skin and egg yolks a rich color, so it was common once to feed marigolds to chickens! Mexican or sweet marigold (Tagetes lucida) is sometimes sold as Mexican or Spanish tarragon and used in cooking for its sweet flavor. Rather than the lacy leaves typical of Dwarf French marigolds, these have long slender leaves that can grow up to three feet tall.
I love that one common, low maintenance plant gives such uncommon joy around the world. Drought and heat tolerant, if placed in a sunny spot, it actually thrives in all 50 states in America!