Marigold Flowers

The Magical World of Marigolds

Marigolds are native to Mexico and Central America and have been cultivated domestically for more than 2,000 years for ornamental, medicinal, and ritual purposes. The Aztec people considered marigolds to have magical powers and marigolds were an integral part of the rituals honoring their dead ancestors. This ritual lives on in the Day of the Dead ceremonies that take place today in Mexico and South America, where marigolds are used to decorate the graves of the dead.

The garden variety marigold (Tagetes erecta ) grown in North America is often referred to as African marigold, French marigold, or Aztec marigold. In parts of the southern United States, Mexico, and Central and South America, the leaves, stems, and flowers marigolds have long been used in medicinal teas, beverages and as condiments in Chile and Argentina for stew and rice dishes.

As members of the Aster family (Asteraceae), they are characterized by their bright vibrant colors ranging from yellow to orange to red and large showy multi-petaled flower heads and should not be confused with pot marigold or calendula (Calendula officinalis), an entirely different species that originates in the Mediterranean. Marigolds are annuals that continuously bloom as long as the flower heads are cut before going to seed. They prefer full sun and will tolerate normal to dry soil conditions.

Some species such as the wild marigold (T. minuta) are grown commercially for its essential oils, which are used in perfumes and food products. Wild marigold is a weedy species with a pungent aroma, which functions as a natural insecticide. For this reason marigolds are often planted by organic gardeners to keep nematodes (worms) away from their vegetables, despite the fact that most domesticated species of marigolds have been cultivated to remove most of this aromatic odor.

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Recommended reading:

Aztec Thought and Culture

Lonely Planet Mexico

Colonial Mexico

Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening

Natural Insect & Disease Control

Folklore and Symbolism of Flowers, Plants and Trees