Saturday, 3rd June 2023

Sunshine incarnated: Marigold, calendula

By Sereba Agiobu-Kemmer
16 July 2016   |   3:23 am
The name marigolds may refer to plants: common marigold, plants in the genus Tagetes, species of Calendula officinalis. Marigolds in the Tagetes genus are in the same family as Calendula the Asteraceae...

Call them ‘sun plants’ marigolds and calendulas, with bright yellow-orange leaves and cheerful nature they are favourites with gardeners. These bright vibrant flowers glow like the sun and thy will liven up any garden, patio, balconies, and other outdoor space. They are ideal for becks, borders and in container gardening. it is widely cultivated and can be grown easily in sunny locations and are adaptable to most kind of soils, even poor soil. It’s fantastic that this easy to grown flower is an incredibly versatile and useful plant anywhere. If you haven’t heard of all the wonderful attributes of marigolds-just wait a moment.

The name marigolds may refer to plants: common marigold, plants in the genus Tagetes, species of Calendula officinalis. Marigolds in the Tagetes genus are in the same family as Calendula the Asteraceae (sunflower family) but they are not interchangeable with Calendula.

The flowers of the Asteraceae, or Compositae family, are actually an aggregation of miniature flowers or florets. In Nepal it is called a name that means hundred-leafed flower, reference to it many florets per head, marigolds (Tagetes spp) are north American native flowers that were revered by the Aztecs in pre-Hispanic Mexico, who used them in religious ceremonies as emblems of incarnated sun and the dead as ornamental, and as medicinal plant.

They were said to relieve hiccups and the effect of being struck by lightening. No wonder they were considered magical plants. It was the Aztecs who introduced marigolds to Spanish and Portuguese explorers. Marigolds have been grown in the garden of Europe since the 12th century. By the 14th century, many have learnt of its magical powers. Once the seeds made it to Spain they quickly spread throughout Europe and North America. In Europe, the flowers were called “Mary’s gold” referring to the brightly yellow flowers and the virgin Mary. The tall varieties are called African marigolds were bred in North Africa.

Marigolds have since circled the globe. Most marigolds that are grown are hybrids, a cross between the tall African (T.erecta) and dwarf French (T.patula). Marigolds bring sunshine color to the garden. Plus the flowers and buds are edible, flavors range from spicy to bitter, tangy to peppery. ‘Lemon Gem’ (T. tenuifolia) is considered one of the best tasting marigolds varieties. There has been much hybridizing of marigolds over the years to produce larger, multi coloured flowers and various sized, vigorous plants. Many varieties are now with flower colors ranging from cream, light yellow to deep gold, orange, and red.

Pot Marigold (Calendula Officinalis)
Although not botanically the same genus as marigold, (Tagetes spp.) Calendula (Calendula officinalis is often confused with members of the Tagetes genus. Pot marigolds are a different looking plant from the Tagetes species which have pom pom heads on stiff stems. Calendula (pot marigolds) are usually larger in flower and plant size (although there are dwarf varieties). They have smiling open face daisy-like flower heads and long, narrow leaves instead of the fern type of Tagetes. Calendula is called “pot marigold” after the fact that they have been traditionally used for the stew-pot.

Calendula officinalis is native to the Mediterranean and southern Europe but is widely cultivated and naturalized throughoutNorth America, Europe and North Africa and like marigolds have spread throughout the world.

An important trait that belongs to all the marigolds is the capability of luring pollinators, beneficial insects such as bees and butterflies, to the garden due to their abundant pollen and nectar. These pollinators, we need to have for our vegetables and fruits.

The pungent scents of most Marigold would deter harmful insects and pests from the garden. They are often used as companion plants in the vegetable garden for plants such as tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes and Chili pepper. Any marigold variety (like Tagetes erecta) that has the pungent marigold trademark will work as a pest repellant by masking the delicious scent of vegetables. The pungent scent is also known to repel mosquitoes and other bugs. Plant marigolds near entrances windows and seating areas in the yard to keep mosquitoes away.

French Marigolds (Tagetes patula) produce a nematode- a repelling substance that protects both vegetables and ornamental plants. Nematodes (or eelworms) are worm-like creatures that either sucks the juices from the roots and leaves of plants or make knots in the roots causing stunted growth or death. This type of marigold is often used as cover crops to treat an area that has severe nematode problems. A gardener might plant French marigolds en masse in a garden bed, which they plan on growing carrots in the following year to clear the bed of nematodes before the crop is planted. All types of marigolds are excellent as cut flowers, as the blooms are long lasting and all of them bloom profusely.

Start marigolds from seeds directly planted in the ground or from transplants and plant in full sun on well-drained soil. Calendulas are more shade tolerant. Thin seedlings and space tall marigold varieties 2 to 3 feet apart and shorter varieties 1-foot apart. Dwarf marigolds and calendulas make excellent container potted plants.

Cultivation and uses
Marigold is an ingredient in some cosmetics. Tagetes minuta (khakibush or huacatay), originally from South America is the source of ‘targetes’ or marigold oil, an essential oil for the perfume and industry, and also as a flavouring in the food and tobacco industries. Tagetes minuta is now naturalised species in Africa, Hawaii, and Australia. It is commonly cultivated in South Africa, where it is also useful as a pioneer plant in the reclamation of disturbed land.

The florets of tagetes erecta and ‘pot marigold’ Calendula officianalis, are rich in the orange-yellow carotenoid lutein used as food colorant in foods such as pastas, rice, vegetables oil, margarine, mayonnaise, salad dressing, baked goods, confectionaries, dairy products, ice creams, yoghurt, citrus juice, mustard and more. The flowers are a traditional ingredient in Mediterranean and middle Eastern dishes used as a substitute for more expensive saffron. They can also be food for livestock. Marigolds is often added to chicken fodder to increase the yellowness of the egg yolk.

Medicinal uses of Marigold
Ancient cultures recognised and used the healing properties of Marigold. It has been highly valued by herbal healers for centuries. Only the flower heads of marigold are used medicinally. The flowers are used to make herbal tea which provides many health benefits as well as being delicious. Ointments are skin products used to treat wounds, burns, and skin irritations. Calendula is antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory.

The oil of calendula officinalis is used as an anti-inflammatory, an anti-tumour agent, and a remedy for healings wounds. Plants pharmacological studies have suggested that calendula extracts have anti viral and anti inflammatory properties in-vitro. In herbalism, calendula in suspension or tincture is used topically for treating acne, reducing inflammation, controlling bleeding and soothing irritated tissue. Limited evidence indicates calendula cream or ointment is effective in treating radiation dermatitis. Topical application of C. officinalis ointment has helped to prevent dermatitis and pain; thus reducing the incidence of rate of skipped radiation treatments in randomised trials. Marigold has been historically significant in medicine in many cultures, and it is still important in alternative medicine today.

Marigold and Calendula (pot marigold) are forgiving of low fertility soils. In fact too much compost or fertilizer will result in large plants with delayed flowering. Keep plants well watered. Large-flowered double varieties may develop blossom rot during wet weather. Deadhead all marigold regularly to promote the most flowering. Marigolds and Calendulas are vigorous self-sowers, so don’t be surprised to find seedlings scattered throughout your garden.

Though they are not pest-prone, marigolds and calendula do have some pests that attack them. During periods of dry weather, spider mites can infest and kill plants. Keep plants well watered and spray insecticide soap to control this pest. Slugs love marigold and calendula seedlings, especially during cool wet seasons. Spread slug baits and cultivate around plants to keep these pests at bay.

Harvest marigolds and calendulas as they open in the late morning for garlands, cut flowers, and edible flowers for salads, cakes, soups, and tea. Marigold and calendulas are easy to dry and store for later use. Spread flowers on a screen to dry in a well-ventilated, shady location and store in glass jars. You can remove the seeds and store them, too for sowing next season.

Now you know how fantastic these simple-to-grow flowers are that they are incredibly useful plants to have anywhere?
Nature does the most wonderful things. I love these magnificent plants in which function and beauty are in perfect harmony!These things alone should have you already itching to pick up some seeds to grow in your own garden.