Favourite Herbs: Marigold

Marigold

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Calendula officinalis (pot marigold, calendula), Tagetes erecta (African marigold), Tagetes patula (French marigold), Tagetes signata (signet marigold)

Annuals; may self-sow

Pot marigold: Height 20 to 50 cm; spread 20 to 30 cm. Flowers closely resemble chrysanthemums.

African marigold: Height 15 to 90 cm; spread 30 to 45 cm. Tall plants with large, round, solidly coloured flowers.

French marigold: Height 15 to 30 cm; spread 15 to 20 cm. Shorter plants; flowers vary in colour, size, and petal type.

Signet marigold: Height to 30 cm; spread 30 to 45 cm. Fragrant plants with lacy, fern-like foliage and masses of tiny, brightly coloured single flowers; mounding growth habit.

Try these!

Calendula officinalis (pot marigold, English marigold): mildly spicy flavour; available in a wide range of colours

Tagetes signata (signet marigold, rock garden marigold): flavour is best of all marigolds, like a spicy tarragon

Planting

Marigolds and calendula are best grown from young plants purchased from a garden centre. However, both can be started indoors from seed or seeded directly into the garden as soon as the ground is workable.

How much: At least six plants; more for ornamental use.

When: About one week after the date of average last spring frost.

Where: Full sun; will tolerate some light shade. Good in containers and borders. Prefers rich, well-drained soil. Space plants 15 to 45 cm apart.

Care and Nurture

Marigolds are easy to grow! Deadhead regularly to encourage continuous blooming.

Harvesting

Cut flowers often: the more you cut, the more these plants will bloom. Young calendula leaves can be served boiled or steamed as a green vegetable.

For best flavour: Harvest mid-morning, after the dew has evaporated and before the day gets too hot.

Leaves: Pick smaller, more tender leaves for mildest flavour. Cut leaf stalk and use whole.

Flowers: Harvest as soon as the flowers open. Clip flower head from stalk; pick off the outer petals and discard the bitter centre.

Preserving the Harvest

Use flowers fresh, or dry petals immediately for best flavour. To dry, spread petals on screens and put them in a warm, dark, dust-free area with good ventilation. Store dried petals in an airtight jar.

Tips

  • Use French and African marigolds for colourful garnishes and attractive table settings, but don’t bother eating them in large quantities, the flavour is strong and bitter: they’re the least palatable marigolds, although they are safely edible.
  • Pot marigolds can stall (stop blooming due to high temperatures) in the midsummer heat. Make sure to water well when the weather is hot. I plant my calendula in areas that get light shade in the late afternoon and they usually bloom throughout the summer.
  • Signet marigolds are an excellent choice for windy locations such as balconies. Both signet marigolds and calendula are excellent for container-growing.

To Note:

  • In Britain and Holland, flowers are added to butters for colour and to soups for flavour.
  • Calendula flowers are known as the poor man's saffron and are often used as a subtitute.
  • Pot marigolds are attractive in rock gardens and make excellent cut-flowers. They also attract bees.
  • Pot marigold petals are good sources of vitamins A and C.
  • The petals from the marigold mixed with the mordant combination of either alum or cream of tartar makes a pale-yellow dye.
  • The pungent lemony fragrance of tagetes foliage is reputed to repel insects. Brushing the leaves as you walk by releases their fresh, clean scent.
  • Pot marigold has been used as a dye and used as a hair rinse to add golden tints to brown or auburn hair.
  • According to the Victorian language of flowers, signet marigolds signify jealousy.
  • Calendula has long been associated with romance because it has traditionally been thought of as an aphrodisiac.
  • Calendulas are native to the Canary Islands and south-central Europe and Asia. In ancient Rome, peasants couldn't afford saffron, so they used powdered calendula petals as a substitute. Early Indian and Arabic cultures used calendulas to colour fabrics, foods, and cosmetics.
  • Pot marigold leaves were used to treat wounded soldiers during the American Civil War.
  • Pot marigolds were said to bloom on the calends (first day of the month)—hence the Latin name Calendula.