Sorting out the Marigolds

calendula flowers
Calendula officinalis, one of the plants known as ‘Marigold’


Tagetes, calendula, marigold, pot marigold…… I got asked what the difference is by a customer the other day when she saw a Facebook post I’d put up about the plantings in my sacred medicine wheel garden. Great question!!!!

Calendula officinalis is the ‘marigold’ that is used in many skincare and herbal medicine preparations. It has a lovely big orange flower with long smooth petals. The flower and stem can feel a little sticky to the touch. The leaves are a nice mild green and are more or less oval. I use Calendula officinalis in many of my Archeus formulas and I make a beautifully positive and sunny plant essence from the flowers growing in my garden.

Calendula officinalis is the ‘marigold’ that is used in many skincare and herbal medicine preparations

Tagetes erecta is native to North Africa, Central America and Mexico and also has a bright orange flower, its flower has tight curly petals and can be described as sort of um, fat. Its foliage is much darker green and is deeply serrated. It has a very pungent smell, so while technically, it is edible, the smell is somewhat off putting. It’s a great companion plant in the veggie garden, as it keeps all sorts of bugs at bay.

Tagetes are also a key part of the Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations. Families would decorate graves with the flowers as it was regarded that their bright orange  colour would light the way for spirits of departed loved ones to return to the grave where the family could reconnect on the Day of the Dead.


Tagetes, also known as ‘Marigold’

Tagetes are also a key part of the Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations.

So where did all the marigold references come in? In England, in the middle ages, Calendula was also known as ‘Pot Marigold’ because it could be put in the stewpot and eaten.  In fact today I love putting calendula petals into salads, and I infuse oils like camellia or flax see with fresh calendula flowers to make a delicious infused oil for use on salads.

Tagetes erecta was brought to England from North Africa in the late 1600’s and it seems that because of its bright orange flower it got confused with our friend Calendula (don’t forget there was no internet in those days to do a quick check!). The word, marigold, simply means ‘golden flower’, which explains why there was a mix-up!

So, in my garden – I plant Calendula officinalis for its beauty in the garden and for its food and medicine properties. I plant Tagetes in the garden to help keep bugs at bay in the veggie patch and, in the case of my sacred medicine wheel garden, to symbolise connections to the afterlife.

Oh and there is a legend that says that if a young girl walks barefoot on marigold petals, she will understand the language of birds! I love that, don’t you!?


PS: Here is a short video I made about Calendula last year (2019) the garden looks so new then – this year it is wild and wonderful (I’ll paste a photo of that below too).

And here is a photo of the same part of the garden in November 2020:

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