The common marigold is a vigorous, bright, and bushy annual which has been grown by gardeners and herbalists for centuries. It’s often used in bedding displays and for cut flowers, as well as medicinally. Marigold’s versatility, golden daisy-like flowers and toleration of almost any soil make it a sure winner. Read on to discover the reasons why this humble little flower is so beloved around the world.
Native to the Mediterranean, the sun-loving Calendula officinalis plant is part of the Fiesta Gitana Group. It’s a member of the Asteraceae family, making it a cousin to daisies, echinacea, and sunflowers.
At only around twelve inches in height, their large flower heads really do bring a little sunshine home. Depending on the variety, they come in all shades from pale yellow to dark orange-red. The most common varieties are golden, hence their association with summer sunshine.
Calendula, also known as pot marigold, common marigold, and Scotch marigold, is a cultivated variety. Grow it for its superb summer color, as well as its healing properties. This plant’s florets are fully edible, and often used as a garnish or added to salads. Similarly, those vibrant petals are used to dye fabrics in many countries.
Throughout India and the Middle East, marigold flowers are easily available and have a spiritual meaning of their own. In India, the marigold is known by its genus, “Tagetes” and named after the god Tages: the God of Wisdom.
The Hindu population regards marigold as the “Flower of the Soul”. Within this culture, these flowers are regarded with the highest honor and are used to make decorative garlands to celebrate every ceremonial occasion.
These garlands, called “Toranas” are often woven on thread with white Jasminium. They’re then placed on the door frame of the family home. These “Toranas” are not only used for the celebration, but also used as protection against insects and pests. Marigold’s slender leaves give off an aroma that keeps the pests at bay.
This plant was cherished by the Romans, who were the ones responsible for its first name. “Calendula” comes from the Latin “kalendae”, or “calendar. This referred to the fact that it grew year-round in their region. It was associated with joy, and was shared between friends to cultivate in their gardens to spread happiness.
Its nickname “pot marigold” derives from the fact that many Europeans added its petals to the soup pot. Those petals add color and flavor to broths and stews, and are also used to color butter and cheeses.
Marigold earned its common name in the Medieval era, as it was associated with the Virgin Mary. In addition to being used medicinally during that era, it was used as protection against the Plague. People held marigolds to their noses when out in public, believing it had magical properties that would keep them safe from infection.
Few would imagine this hardy herb has so many uses within the herbal medicine world. From teas to tinctures, and creams to capsules, we discover a little of the history and the many healing benefits of the humble marigold.
Calendula is an herb that has been used by healers for thousands of years. Even in conventional Western medicine, pharmaceutical drugs still contain healing properties derived from plants.
Archaeological evidence has shown that medicinal herbalism was practiced as far back as the Paleolithic Age, some 60,000 years ago. Ancient texts tell us that the people of Greece, Rome, Egypt, the Middle East, and India all used plants in this medicinal way.
Fast forward to today and we still see many people regarding herbalism (or herbal medicine), to be a safer and preferred alternative treatment to that of industry-produced drugs.
Obviously, the use of herbal medicine is not a replacement for surgical procedures, nor is it a cure-all for life-threatening diseases. That said, using healing herbs in their most natural form can provide a great deal of relief from irritating and sometimes debilitating ailments.
As proven over centuries, herbs are the most popular method of self-help for minor complaints and are a good introduction for those wishing to take an alternative route into natural medicine.
It seems that our common marigold has a whole range of healing properties. Many of these are used to good effect by the beauty product industry. Being a naturally soothing agent, you’ll find calendula high on skin products’ ingredient lists. Look for it in products such as soaps, toners, balms, gels, facemasks, sun creams, and even lip balms.
Petal extracts are known to maintain the skin’s natural balance: pH neutral. Most noteworthy, marigold extracts are often found in hair care products. Benefits include soothing a sore scalp, reducing dandruff, and lightening fair (blonde or red) hair. Furthermore, the whole flower head is used for its healing properties.
How the Marigold Helps Us Heal
Calendula has natural anti-inflammatory properties which have proven to aid patients with skin disorders. Eczema, psoriasis, acne, contact dermatitis, and bedsores are just a few of the skin issues it alleviates. It seems to be able to help heal any damaged or broken skin literally anywhere on the human body.
Further tests have shown that its anti-inflammatory properties also give relief to those with digestive disorders. Marigold is known to be spasmolytic (or antispasmodic), meaning that it offers relief from spasms. As such, it’s used to treat irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, gastritis, and peptic ulcers.
Calendula’s anti-fungal properties show positive results on fungal skin infections, such as athlete’s foot. Because of this, calendula is often used to alleviate this condition. It also helps with candida-related pediatric issues like thrush, cradle cap, and diaper rash.
For a topical application, soak 1/4 cup calendula flowers in 4 cups of hot water for 20 minutes. Strain into a bowl, and add 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar. If treating athlete’s foot, use a bowl that’s large enough to cover the affected foot. Soak for 15-20 minutes, and repeat 2-3 times a day. If treating cradle cap or thrush, apply this liquid to the affected area with a cotton ball several times a day.
In addition, calendula’s natural antiseptic qualities are shown to accelerate infected wound healing. It speeds up the new tissue growth, and decreases swelling.
Calendula flower tinctures are used for reducing fevers, and for relieving a sore mouth and throat. Similarly, its anti-inflammatory properties make it ideal for soothing mouth sores and ulcers, as well as sore gums. Use marigold tea as a mouthwash after a tooth extraction or dental surgery to speed healing.
Further studies indicate that pot marigold can also be used to alleviate PMS and menopausal symptoms. Its estrogenic action helps to balance hormones . As a result, this action can also regulate menstrual bleeding, and reduce menstrual cramp pain.
There are many different calendula products out there, ranging from herbal teas and essential oils to creams, tinctures and ointments. All these available products contain marigold flower head extracts.
You can even make your own products very easily. Below is the recipe for a simple healing salve you can make at home to treat sore, chapped hands. As a result, it’s particularly good in wintertime, or after long days spent working in the garden.
1/2 cup calendula-infused oil
2 tablespoons beeswax pellets (or use carnauba wax for a vegan salve)
30 drops essential oil* (optional)
Heat the oil very gently in a double boiler, on medium heat. Don’t allow it to boil. Once warmed, remove from heat, and add in the beeswax pellets. Stir constantly until the wax has melted completely.
Allow this mixture to cool for a minute or two, then add the essential oil, if desired. Stir well, and decant into a small jar.
*Note: chamomile and lavender essential oils are ideal for this, as they’re soothing and promote healing.
Simple to Grow
For the earnest gardeners among us, it is worth knowing that marigolds are easy to grow from seed. Sow them directly into well-drained, finely raked soil in springtime. The seeds germinate very quickly in warm soil, so you’ll see the sprouting seedlings emerge within a few days.
Marigolds aren’t fussy about the soil type. They’re happy to grow in the poorest of soils, so long as they’re in a nice sunny spot. Dead-head old florets, and you’ll have hundreds of bright orange flowers from May through September.
Marigold as a Companion Plant
Often used in companion planting, marigolds are known to repel insects, rabbits, squirrels and deer. Plant them next to your vegetables, as their aroma is proven to repel a large selection of the most damaging garden pests and insects.
Not all insects are repelled by marigold’s distinct aroma, however. Thankfully, the flower’s nectar attracts bees and butterflies, which pollinate your plants. By keeping selective wildlife in our garden, we contribute to creating the ideal garden ecosystem.
Finally, once you’ve grown some lovely marigold plants in your garden, have a go at making your own products!