How I use herbs - marigold, calendula and winter tarragon
by Liz Beavis
In some countries Calendula officinalis is referred to as “pot marigold”, but the plant I call marigold is Tagetes patula, or French marigold (Tagetes erectus is African marigold, although both originate in North America), and I call the other one calendula (originating from the Mediterranean). Fortunately, both of the flowers are edible, so it doesn’t really matter if you get them mixed up! They both have blooms ranging from yellow to dark orange, and they both self-seed and come up all over my garden, mainly in spring and autumn. And while we’re on the subject of Tagetes, I also grow Tagetes lucida, known as Winter Tarragon or Mexican Marigold, as a perennial in a pot.
I mainly use calendula flowers for tea. I just pick the flowers and allow them to air dry, and then remove the dried petals. Calendula is said to have many health benefits due to its beta-carotene content. Calendula also has skin healing properties and the petals can be used to infuse oil to make an ointment, or the cold tea used as a wound wash (Uses for Calendula and more here).
Calendula (Pot Marigold)
Marigold has health benefits too (particularly relating to controlling inflammation), and the dried petals can be added to tea, but the main reason that I allow it to proliferate in the garden is for the allelopathic compounds that it produces. “Allelopathy is a biological phenomenon by which an organism produces one or more biochemicals that influence the growth, survival, and reproduction of other organisms.” The chemicals can be positive (encourage growth of another plant or animal) or negative (discourage growth), and in the case of marigolds, the “roots release the chemical alpha-terthienyl, one of the most toxic naturally occurring compounds found to date. This compound is nematicidal, insecticidal, antiviral, and cytotoxic” (source). Although there is some disagreement about how many marigolds, and which variety, are really needed to have any impact on nematodes, they grow easily so think it can’t hurt to have a few around the garden just in case they are doing some good, and they add some colour amongst the green.
The winter tarragon is also lovely in tea, is has an anise flavour, apparently its similar to tarragon, but I don’t have any tarragon to compare it to (the calendula and marigold petals don’t add much flavour to tea). The yellow flowers can also be used for tea, but my plant has only just set flowers so I haven’t tried this yet (I want to save these flowers for seed). I hadn’t read much about this plant in my herb books, but a quick google search has revealed some surprising properties. I personally have not noticed any psychoactive effects! But then I don’t smoke it or use it in large quantities either. Apparently it can be used as a treatment for strike by lightning (have to remember that one), and also can be added to bath water. That last one is serious, I have been adding various herbs to bathwater lately and it can be quite pleasant to have a nice smelling bath, I’ve been thinking about preparing a jar of “bath tea” to keep in the bathroom (as I never remember to have the fresh herb ready at the appropriate time). If you don’t have a bath, you can fill a wide bucket with warm water and have a foot bath instead.
Winter Tarragon - nice in the bath
The flowers of all three plants can be used as a natural yellow/orange dye or food colouring.
Do you grow any marigolds, calendulas or tagetes spp? (spp means several species, I’m getting fancy with the nomenclature now!) How do you use them?