Three Janie Deep Orange French Marigolds

Marigolds, Then and Now

Most people don’t think about flowers having a history.

They’re just plants, after all, and they can’t exactly pass down the story of their ancestors. But over time, people’s use of certain flowers can build a rich, fascinating history of the species, giving them a story of their own.

Marigolds are one such special flower that has been so popular for so long that it has developed its own sort of story. Here’s everything you need to know about marigolds–where they came from, where they’ve been, and where they are going next. 

Muddled History of Marigolds

Marigolds started with the Aztecs, who believed that the plant had sacred healing powers. Most notably, the De La Crus-Badiano Aztec Herbal of 1552 recorded every potential use of marigolds in writing, preserving the Aztec traditions and providing a clear view into the flower’s sacred origins.  When Europeans colonized Central and South America shortly after this book was published, they made sure to take marigold samples back to their home countries, and the popularity of the flower began. 

Some marigolds ended up on the African continent, since trade in those days cycled from South America to Europe to Africa, which is why some varieties today are called African marigolds. But make no mistake–this variety also originated in South America, so the name “African marigolds” is a bit of a misnomer brought about by Triangular Trade. That’s why it’s so important to learn the true history of your favorite flowers! 

Culture on Three Continents

Today, marigolds aren’t thought of as sacred or transported halfway across the world, but they do hold an important place in modern culture. One of the most prominent examples is Dia de Los Muertos, the Mexican holiday that translates to “Day of the Dead” in English. This annual festivity celebrates one’s ancestors by placing offerings at the grave of family members and close friends. Marigolds are the traditional flower used to decorate graves on this sacred day, a clear connection back to their Aztec roots. 

Surprisingly, marigolds are also the highest official honorary flower in Hinduism. Devout Hindus display marigolds at weddings, funerals, and temples to show reverence and ask for divine blessing. This connection with the religion is so deep that it’s even in the name; the genus Tagetes that marigolds fall under is actually named after Tages, the Hindu god of wisdom.

Beautiful Inside and Out

In addition to their importance in cultures around the world, marigolds also have universally acknowledged medical properties. Most notably, they are an antiseptic used to clean out cuts and wounds to prevent infection, and they work against bacteria and fungi as well. It is also rumored that marigolds can cure hiccups, though medical studies haven’t confirmed that tradition. 

If you want to grow your own marigolds, it’s important to choose the right variety and consider all of the factors that go into a successful plant. If you’re looking for a tall, imposing centerpiece for your garden, try Tagetes erecta, as it can reach several feet high. If you live in a region that’s mostly hot and dry, try Tagetes tenuifolia, since it thrives with lots of sun and little water. No matter what variety you choose, remember that all marigolds far prefer heat to cold, and marigolds planted in the shade often end up with mildewed leaves. 

Marigolds have traveled all over the world, from Mexico to Africa, and thrived everywhere they have been planted. So if you’re just getting started gardening, these versatile, resilient flowers might be a great choice to liven up your flowerbeds and set your garden apart. Who knows–they may even cure your hiccups, too.