Every Wednesday, I hope to find a new ‘weed’ to investigate. My only criterion will be that I will not have deliberately planted the subject of our inquiry. Who knows what we will find…..
Dear Readers, when I was a little girl growing up in the East End of London, we used to have an allotment in Manor Park, in the shadow of the gas holders. Pot Marigold was one of the first plants that I ever grew from seed, and so I was very happy to see it along by the entrance to Cherry Tree Wood. This plant has escaped, of course, or might even be the result of some sneaky guerilla gardening, but its bright face was still welcome on such a drear and blustery day, especially as I was sneaking a few moments between hospital visits. For those of you have been following the story of my Mum’s chest infection, she is probably coming out on Thursday, so keep your fingers crossed for me please!
This member of the daisy family probably originated from Southern Europe, but it has been in cultivation for so long that its precise origins are unknown. The name ‘marigold’ is actually a corruption of the Anglo-Saxon word for the Marsh Marigold, which was merso-meargealla, a bit of a mouthful I’m sure you’ll agree. It was only later that the name was thought to be derived from ‘Mary’s Gold’. The colour of the blooms meant that it was also associated with Queen Mary, wife of William of Orange, during the 17th century.
Like all daisies, the flowerhead consists of disc florets (in the photo above, the dark middle bit) and ray florets (what we normally think of as the petals). So, what looks like a single flower is actually a mass of tiny individual flowers. The flowers can appear all year round if the conditions are not too cold, and when planted en masse, Pot Marigold can create a very fine prairie effect, as in the photo below, of an unidentified park planting.The second part of the plant’s name, officinalis, means ‘of or belonging to an officina’ – an officina means a monastery storeroom where the herbal remedies were stored. Hence, this is a plant with a long history of medicinal use. Even today you can wander into any chemist and buy Calendula cream, to use with itchy, flaky or sensitive skin, but historically its uses have included the treatment of everything from catarrh to toothache, smallpox to painful periods. During the American Civil War, the plant was used as a salve for open wounds.
There is something about its bright, sunny flowers that seems healthful and cheering, and it has a reputation as a lucky plant. A pot of marigolds in the house is thought both to bring happiness and to provide protection against ill fortune.
Marigold petals have been used as a dye, both for cloth and for hair and also to provide the yellow colour for cheese. They are a cheap alternative to saffron if you want yellow food, and in Denmark the flowers have long been grown as cattle fodder. Recently I noticed that Marks and Spencer were selling little plastic tubs of edible flowers, including marigolds, for brightening up desserts and providing a blast of orange amongst the green leaves of a salad. This truly is a plant with many uses.
As the Pot Marigold is so easy to grown, it has tempted gardeners to develop hundreds of different cultivars. In some, the ray florets have replaced the disc florets to give a ‘double’ flower.Some are yellow rather than the natural orange. And some have a rather attractive sunburst effect on their petals.
But the one that I love the most is the basic Pot Marigold, the one that I can imagine growing all those years ago in a monastery garden.Photo Credits and Resources
Many thanks as always to Sue Eland’s Plantlives website, an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the relationship between human beings and their plant neighbours.
Photograph (3) – Pixabay https://pixabay.com/en/marigold-petals-591032/
Photograph (4) – Pixabay https://pixabay.com/en/marigold-calendula-officinalis-237828/
Photograph (6) – By Rillke (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Photograph (7) – Pixabay https://pixabay.com/en/marigold-calendula-officinalis-179032/
Photograph (8) – Jacob Sturm) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons