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Prized for their showy orange flowers, marigolds bring sunshine to summer and fall gardens. Let’s take a closer look at this vibrant bloom and its significance across cultures today.
About the Marigold
Native to Mexico and some regions in America, marigolds are the brightly colored flowers from the Tagetes genus of the Asteraceae family. Its common name comes from Mary’s gold, which first referred to variety of marigolds known as ‘pot marigolds’ . These flowers are commonly seen in golden orange hues, but there are also creamy whites and maroons.
Marigolds are composite blooms, so they commonly have disc and ray flowers. However, some of them have petal-jammed flowers similar to the carnation. There are several varieties of this flower. Some of the most popular are:
- Mexican marigold or the T. erecta, which is the tallest and bears big, pom-pom flowers. Sometimes, they are also called the African or American marigolds.
- French marigold, the T. patula, is a smaller kind.
- The signet variety boasts daisy-like and dime-sized blooms, which look beautiful in pots or in the ground. While the flowers themselves are almost odorless, they have citrus-scented leaves.
Meaning and Symbolism of the Marigold
We commonly associate marigolds with the heat of the summer, but these flowers have more associations than that. Here are some of their symbolic meanings:
- Passion and Creativity – Also referred to as the Herb of the Sun, marigolds became associated with passion probably due to their warm colors of yellow, orange and maroon.
- Prosperity – Marigolds can be seen as a symbol of aspiration and wealth. This association may be due to the golden color of the flower.
- Jealousy and Despair – In some cultures, when marigolds are given with cypress, they’re an expression of despair.
- Grief and Pain – Even though they can be found in cheery colors, they’re also associated with sorrow. In Mexico, marigolds are the traditional flower used during the Dia de Los Muertos holiday, where families welcome back the souls of the dead for a festive celebration.
Here are the specific meanings of marigolds according to its variety:
- Mexican marigold (Tagetes erecta) – While the bloom symbolizes sacred affection, it can also be associated with grief and embarrassment. They’re commonly referred to as the African or American marigold, but in some regions, they’re known as the Twenty Flower, Aztec Marigold and Flower of the Dead.
- French marigold (Tagetes patula) – Sometimes called the Garden Marigold or the Rainy Marigold, it symbolizes creativity and passion. It’s also thought that the flower has magical powers associated with prophetic dreams, legal matters and protection. However, it can also represent jealousy, grief and uneasiness.
Uses of Marigold Throughout History
Marigolds have been an inspiration in arts and are also known for their medicinal and culinary uses.
In Magic and Rituals
Marigolds served as important ceremonial flowers for the Aztecs, where they had been associated with human sacrifices and the paradisiacal world of the afterlife. In Indian culture, marigolds are made into garlands during religious ceremonies.
The Welsh believed that they could be used for predicting storms, especially if the flower didn’t open in the morning. It’s also thought that marigolds will provide protection when crossing a river and from being struck by lightning.
During the early 16th century, the flowers were brought into Spain as an insect repellent. It’s also thought that the Spaniards made marigold teas with whisky or brandy to promote a good night’s sleep.
In Mexico, marigolds are often incorporated in medicinal teas since they have a diuretic effect, which relieves indigestion, heartburn and other kidney diseases. Also, there are marigold baths and hot compresses of warmed petals for alleviating rheumatism.
Certain varieties of marigolds are edible, but most of them are toxic. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the petals were sprinkled over dishes. In Peru, the dried petals are used as a culinary herb for making ocopa, a popular potato dish, as well as in sauces, soups, mixed spices and stews.
Sometimes, they’re even cooked with rice to impart color, not flavor—though it’s said that the taste of marigold is a mix of citrus, sweet basil and mint.
Traditionally, they’re utilized as a food color for ice cream, mustard, deviled eggs, salad dressing, baked goods, pasta and other dairy products. However, they’re also confused with the pot marigold or calendula, which is also incorporated in making broths, puddings, butter and cakes.
In Arts and Literature
The golden flowers have been an inspiration in various works of art, including the painting of Nicolaes van Veerendael in 1662, where marigolds were depicted in A Bouquet of Flowers in a Crystal Vase along with carnations, tulips, hibiscus, iris, peonies and others. Aztec lyric poetry have often highlighted the beauty of marigolds.
The Marigold in Use Today
These brightly colored blooms give a spectacular display all summer long, making them ideal for gardens, borders and containers. Marigolds are a versatile flower and can be easily paired with other ornamental plants. Also, they’re a fantastic choice for bouquets, adding a pop of color and festive vibe to the arrangements.
In India, marigolds are a favorite flower in garlands, wind chimes and other wedding decorations. In fact, exchanging floral garlands is a traditional part of the ceremony. It’s thought that the blooms can shower the newlyweds with blessings since they’re sacred to the Hindu gods. Sometimes, they’re even worn as pieces of jewelry.
When to Give Marigolds
Did you know marigold is one of October’s birth flowers? In some cultures, they’re seen as sign of optimism and prosperity due to their vibrant colors. It makes them an ideal present for October celebrants, as well as to encourage those starting a new career. In India, they’re even regarded as the friendship flower.
However, be careful when giving them as gifts, especially on regions where All Saints’ Day is celebrated, since marigolds are also a traditional funeral flower. This is especially true in countries such as Ecuador, Thailand and Columbia. In Mexico, they have a deep association with the holiday Día de los Muertos, which makes them a meaningful way to express your deepest sympathy.
Even if marigolds have become associated with a few negative connotations, they remain one of the most coveted garden flowers. They look vibrant and beautiful in landscapes, reminding us of the fun, festive spirit of summer season.