Verdant View – October 2023


Fco. In Patzcuarro, Michoacan

Cempasúchil or Marigolds are a versatile, radiant flower with deep roots in practice in ancient religions: Aztec, Christianity and Hinduism. Marigolds are known as the “Herb of the Sun.” The Welsh believed that if marigolds were not open early in the morning, then a storm was on the way. 

Marigolds were used in pre-Hispanic Aztec rituals tied to the goddess Mictecacihuatl, or the Lady of the Dead, who allowed spirits to travel back to earth to commune with family members. That tradition was blended with the Roman Catholic observance of All Saints Day by the Spaniards when they conquered Mexico.

The fragrance of the bright orange and yellow flowers is said to lead souls from their burial place to their family homes. The petals of the flowers are also scattered for the same purpose. The cheerful hues also add to the celebratory nature of the Noche De Muertos holiday. Although the observance concerns death, it is not a somber festival.

When early Spanish explorers went to Mexico they brought marigold seeds back with them to Spain. Marigolds were widely cultivated in Spain. From Spain, marigold flowers were transported to France and North Africa. Marigolds flourished in these areas and now grow in the wild. 

These humble and beautiful flowers became favorites to be placed on the altar of the Virgin Mary. They were offered in lieu of gold for those too poor to contribute money to the monasteries. Eventually they became known as Mary’s Gold. Hence the name “marigold.”

In some cultures, marigold flowers have been added to pillows to encourage prophetic or psychic dreams. Water made from marigolds is thought to induce psychic visions of fairies if rubbed on the eyelids.

Scientific name: Tagetes erecta

Benefits: Marigolds can control a variety of pests including nematodes, fungi, bacteria, weeds and insects. Research has shown marigolds are most effective when planted in large quantities as a cover crop.

Hardiness: Annual.

Best time to sow seeds: Spring

Maintenance: Can be tilled under in summer or fall.

Other Uses

There are at least fifty wild species of marigolds native to the subtropical-tropical Americas and Africa. In addition to medicinal uses, traditional cultures use various species as sources of yellow dyes and pesticides. Growing marigolds between rows of potatoes may protect root vegetables from attacks by eelworms (nematodes), and they are part of one of several different companion planting systems known as the three sisters utilized by many societies throughout the world. The modern botanical name, Tagetes erecta, was given to the plant by Carolus Linnaeus.

Medicinal Uses of Marigold Flowers

Marigolds are part of the calendula or Asteraceae family, known for healing properties. Taken as a tea, they are believed to alleviate digestive ailments such as stomach ache and parasites, and also some respiratory ailments. The marigold was once thought to protect against the plague. The leaves of marigolds have been used to remove warts. Marigold tea has a mildly sedative effect.

Marigolds have antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. Extracts from marigolds can be applied topically to soothe the skin. Marigolds have been used to treat rashes, burns, and wounds. A variety of marigold-based skincare products are available. 

Practical Uses of Marigolds

Chickens eating marigold-enriched feed produce eggs with a deep yellow color. The flesh of chickens who have been fed marigolds also take on a rich color to make them more appealing for human consumption. Commercial poultry feed is low in xanthines, the yellow pigment that colors egg yolks and the skin of the chickens. There are high pigment varieties of marigolds used for this purpose; two popular ones are Scarletade and Orangeade.

Marigold flowers are quite edible for humans and are often used in egg and cheese dishes. They are used as a dye and food coloring. The bright yellow petals are an affordable substitute for saffron in Indian dishes. Marigolds can also color butter and yellow cakes.

Essential oils can be extracted from marigolds.

In other contexts marigolds symbolize purity, auspiciousness, and the divine. Their strong fragrance is believed to ward off negativity and evil spirits. The vibrant colors of marigolds also represent the sun’s energy signifying warmth, passion, and creativity.

What to plant in October

It is cooler now and time to plant flora that does not like hot weather.  Nights are wonderful and balmy. Sometimes the rains continue into October and the wild flowers are in bloom along the roadsides, at their peak in mid-October especially in Mazamitla and Tapalpa. The viveros have gerberas, fuchsias, petunias, pansies, asters, arctotis and calendulas. Plant sweet peas, stock, nasturtium, larkspur, yarrow and viola seeds now for cool weather bloom. Set out gladiola corms. Also plant root vegetables and members of the cabbage family, and of course more lettuce and peas.  Divide Shasta daisies and start cuttings of chrysanthemums for next year. Prune, deadhead and clean up all plants in the garden, especially geraniums which tend to become leggy and messy looking.

Despite the sun lowering itself slightly in the sky, the soil is still warm. The bonus is that the flavor of many crops get tastier due to the upcoming cold winter temperatures concentrating the sugars.

October is a mighty month…Emily Dickinson, 1885

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Francisco Nava
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