Herbs: Pot Marigold; History, Culinary Uses and Nutrition
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Herbs: Pot Marigold; History, Culinary Uses and Nutrition

Pot marigold, also know as Scotch marigold ( Calendula officinalis) is an herbaceous annual plant widely cultivated as an ornamental. Originally it was as a medicinal herb used to treat and heal ailments as a folk remedy. Pot marigold flower petals are used to produce a natural food coloring in the commercial food industry.

Pot marigold, botanical name Calendula officinalis, is one of fifteen species of Calendula thought to originate from North Africa. Two species in particular are popular as garden plants and are grown in containers, both indoor and outdoor; the other being Calendula arvensis or field marigold, also an annual. Pot marigold is so named, not because of its use as a pot herb, but because of its culinary uses. This herb is sometimes confused with the Targetes genus of plants which are also known as marigolds, although they are indigenous to South and Central America. Like Targetes, calendula species are also edible and have medicinal uses in traditional folk medicine.

It is thought that pot marigold may have first originated in the Canary Islands and was later naturalized in North Africa and the Middle East. Arab and Indian cultures began adding the dried, ground, or fresh orange colored petals to food as coloring, and for flavor. The flowers were used to replace the more expensive herb saffron, or to adulterate saffron and also arnica flowers. Pot marigold was also used in cosmetics and for medicine. In India marigolds became highly significant as it was believed they were sacred to the goddess Mahadevi. Marigold flowers were worn at religious festivals both by Buddhists and Hindus.

Marigold probably reached southern Europe just before 1200, according to the first recorded evidence in a text about medicinal herbs known as Physica by Hildengard von Bingen (1098 and 1179). Although experts cannot be sure, because of the lack of botanical identification and possible confusion with similar species, the Greeks and Romans may have used marigold as a medicinal plant. In fact the generic Latin name for marigold refers to the Ancient Roman calendar; calendula is derived from the word ‘calends‘; meaning the first day of the month, when marigold was said to have been in bloom.

In medieval times marigolds became associated with good luck and a symbol of love. A fact that is attributed to their bright orange color, which bring about a sense of hope and cheerfulness. Marigold flowers open at sunrise and close around sunset, therefore it was said that one could predict a rainy day if the flowers had not opened by 7am. The playwright William Shakespeare, known for his love of wild flowers, made this actuality clear in The Winters Tale, with the line; “The marigold that goes to bed wi’ the sun, and with him rises weeping.”

Marigold and its Culinary Uses: The primary culinary use of pot marigold flower petals is as a commercial, natural food coloring for cheese, butter, biscuits, cakes, ice cream, candy, soda and also poultry. The leaves, especially the young leaves, and the flower petals can be added as a seasoning to salads, soups, seafood and stir fry’s. They add an aromatic, slightly sweet flavor, that many consider compatible, but not as good as, saffron; hence the alternative name, poor mans saffron. Marigolds petals are also added to some liqueurs and used as garnish for cocktails.

Marigold; Nutrition and Medicinal Uses: Although these days pot marigold is seldom used as medicine, the herb was widely used in traditional folk medicine, especially before antibiotics. An extract made from the flowers was used to treat numerous aliments from the flu, cholera, jaundice and hemorrhoids, to tuberculosis and syphilis. Pot marigold is still used in veterinary medicine, as an anti-inflammatory, in some rural parts of Europe; mainly Switzerland and the Black Forest region of southwestern Germany.

Traditionally poultices made from marigold were used to treat different types of cancer and there has been some positive research into this theory. Extracts of marigold (Calendula officinalis) demonstrated anti-tumor activity against Sarcoma 180, which are cancerous tumor cells used in research. In vivo research on mice showed cytotoxic activity against leukemia, colon cancer and melanoma cells (Jimenez-Medina 2006). In vitro studies also suggest that marigold flower extracts can inhibit growth of various types of cancer cells.

The yellow/orange color pigments of pot marigold contain a number of antioxidant rich phytochemicals including beta-carotene,lycopene, violaxanthine and rubixanthine. Other constituents of this herb are saponins, phytosterols, mucilage, resin, oleanolic acid, resin and pentadecylic acids, essential oils, myristic and palmitic. An oil is extracted from marigold flowers, known as oleoresin, which is used in the food, pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries. 

Pot marigold is from the sunflower or Asteraceae botanical family. It is also called Scotch marigold, common marigold, holygold and shinning herb. Primary image credit, flickr.com.  

Image credit; flickr.com, Arthur Chapman.

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Comments (6)

I've learnt something new, marigolds originated in the Canaries... nice place to live!

Very interesting and informative write..thanks

Thanks for your comments guys, much appreciated.

I learned so much from your well composed article on marigolds. Promoted

So pot marigold is both beautiful and useful. great information!

Coming back with a vote up that is well deserved for your great article.