Across the world the marigold flower holds powerful symbolism, and it has become a part of many cultural celebrations throughout its painted history. This member of the daisy family, also known as Tagetes erecta or the Mexican marigold, are native to North America, despite the marigolds we love and know often being referred to as African marigolds.
They are used to make natural dyes, as a poor man’s saffron, to make garlands and eaten as an edible flower in cakes and other dishes. Their seeds were spread around the world by the Spanish and Portuguese explorers and thus, hybrids have naturalized in other countries. As a result, these frilly and fragrant flowers have taken on their own meanings in various regions far beyond the Americas.
The marigold, whose English name comes from the Virgin Mary and their golden color (“Mary’s Gold”) was revered by the Aztecs in Mexico where a wild version grew. Used in religious ceremonies, they also used it as a medicinal plant. Said to relieve hiccups and cure those who were struck by lightning, the plants were considered magical.
The marigold is the dominant flower used during Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead, a celebration that originated in Mexico on November 1st and 2nd that honors the lives of friends and family members who have died. Known as the Flower of the Dead or Flor de Muerto, the marigold is said to attract the souls of the dead. During this important celebration, grave sites are decorated with marigolds and the flowers are used to decorate private altars or ofrendas constructed in honor of those passed. Sugar skulls, fruits, the favorite drinks of the deceased and their possessions are also used to decorate the altars. Some family members even build elaborate tapestries using marigolds. It is believed during Dia de los Muertos that the spirits of the dead visit the living during the celebration. The marigold flowers guide the spirits to these alters by following the flowers scent and vibrant colors. Wild varieties of marigolds are found growing across Mexico although during this time of year, more traditional varieties are brought in by the truckloads.
The marigold is also widely cultivated in India. Huge quantities are grown to use in garlands and in decorations for weddings, religious events and festivals. They are an important part of Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights, one of the largest and most beautiful Hindu celebrations on the calendar. For many it is the mark of the Hindu New Year, and one of its most recognizable features is rows and rows of lamps and lanterns lighting up the night. Adding elegance and beauty to the Diwali celebrations, these religious flowers are brought in to complete the elaborate decorations and often stand as offerings to the Gods.
In my garden the marigold always symbolizes the coming of Halloween, Dia de los Muertos and Thanksgiving. The fragrant varieties are also said to repel insects and nematodes in your veggie patch. In recent years I have built my own private alters in celebration of Dia de los Muertos, and these cheerful, decorative daisies are always an important part to decorating our ofrenda.
Did you catch our last article about ways to use your pumpkins post Halloween? There is a super pumpkin seed recipe that goes well with Dia de los Muertos celebrations. And as always, stop by Buchanan’s today to pick up your own beautiful marigolds.