Due to their intense and vibrant orange colour, marigolds represent the beauty and warmth of the sun. They are a symbol of passion, creativity and the drive to succeed. In the Middle Ages marigolds were carried as love charms by both men and women wanting to attract someone new. Perhaps all it took was a glance at a person holding a marigold to know they would welcome an advance! In Mexican culture, marigolds are seen as a way to guide the spirits of their deceased loved ones to visit them in their homes. On Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) colorful garlands of marigolds are left on the graves of deceased family members as well as around altars in the house. They believe that the scent of the flowers guides the spirits to their homes.
On the other hand, in old Victorian flower language (which was a way to ‘say’ things by sending flowers instead of actually speaking the words aloud) the marigold is meant to give an air of coldness due to jealousy. The meaning of this fascinating flower seems a bit duplicitous, but that makes more sense when you realises that there are actually two types of flowers that are both considered marigolds. Though both come in orange and are in the family Asteraceae, these two very similar plants each have separate genuses.
The first, Tagetes, which is generally what you think of when you hear the word marigold, has a fuller orange or yellow flower, sometimes accented with maroon. It has wavy petals shaped like rectangles with rounded corners and no discernible center. A Calendula, which is the second genus, has, in contrast, long ovular shaped petals with a distinct round dot in the center. They can be yellow, white, orange or pink in colour. Calendulas have brown, U-shaped seeds with small bumps while the Tagetes have straight, small black seeds with a white tip.
Marigold florets can be eaten by humans. They are often used in salads or added to dishes for color or a garnish. The leaves are also edible but not as pleasant tasting. However, marigolds are toxic to animals so do be mindful when gardening with your pets. That’s why they are often planted around gardens to keep nature's pests away. The flowers were used by the ancient Greeks, Romans, Indians and people of the Middle East as a medicinal herb and were even made into perfume. Their bright colours also make lovely fabric dye and cosmetics.
With so many uses and its sunny disposition the marigold is certainly a lovely and complex character!