M is for Marigold

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

Marigolds bloom most of the year, opening their petals to greet the dawn and closing them at dusk. This hearty annual produces an abundance of blooms varying in cheerful colors ranging from pale yellow to russet. Scientists dubbed it calendula, but other names for this cheerful plant are Holigold, Pot Marigold, and Bride of the Sun. Marigold dissuades insects from entering the flower bed.

Parkinson told of the usefulness of the plant, either green or dried, within “possets, broths, and drinks, as a comforter of the heart and spirits.” In the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, marigold was used to draw “evil humours” from the head and protected against pestilence, poisoning, and intestinal trouble. It colored cheese, butters, and custards. By the ending of the nineteenth century, marigold only grew in cottage and farmhouse gardens, and by the First World War, cookbooks didn’t mention the plant.

William Shakespeare mentions marigold six times in his works, but not as a food. Instead, he invokes its beauty with such passages as “…winking Mary-buds begin to ope their golden eyes: with every thing that pretty is, my lady sweet, arise!” Mary-bud refers to closed marigold buds. In the twelfth century, Macer wrote merely looking at the marigold plant could improve eyesight and lighten the observer’s mood.

Legend calls the flower “Mary’s Gold” for the mother of Jesus. In South Asia, families craft marigold flowers into garlands to decorate religious statues and buildings for festivals and to embellish weddings and funerals. Marigolds also feature in decorations for Dia de los Muertos. Perhaps its use stems from its floral language meaning – comforts the heart.

Marigold is used to treat skin ailments such as acne, varicose veins, and hemorrhoids. As an ointment, it remedies sunburn. The sap of the stem is a folk remedy for wart, corn, and calluses removal.  Marigold water is made from the blossoms and imparts the ability to see fairies when rubbed onto eyelids. Flowers added to pillows give prophetic dreams. Marigold pigment is used as a food coloring.