Marigold

(Calendula officinalis) The name of the genus derives from calends, for the Romans believed that marigolds flowered all the year round. In other words, they were to be found blooming on the first day of each month, the calends. Cf the French fleur de tous les mois, and the Italian fiore di ogni mese. Presumably its very ubiquitousness accounts for the Wiltshire name Nobody's-flower (Macmillan).

What did Bloom mean when he said marigold was "a favourite at funerals"? F G Savage does mention strewing graves with marigolds, but the only other record of a graveyard use comes from Bavaria, where, according to Frazer, it was the tradition to decorate tombs with it on All Souls' Day. Some confirmation of this seems to be implicit in the acceptance of marigolds as symbols of grief (Leyel. 1937). But apart from this, beliefs in marigolds seem to be as sunny as the plant's own nature. To dream of them means property, and a happy and wealthy marriage (Raphael), and people seem to have had such confidence in marigold-inspired dreams that they tried to induce them, by using the petals as an ingredient in an ointment used on St Luke's Day for the express purpose of bringing prophetic dreams (Wiltshire). Marigolds are good to have the gardens, too, for it is said that they keep fly pests away from a vegetable patch (M Baker. 1977).

Marigold is a sun follower, something that is implicit in names like Husbandman's Dial, and Summer's Bride, and explicit in the Guernsey name Soucique, which comes directly from the Latin solsequium. One would expect some weather lore from such a plant, and indeed, they say that if it does not open its petals by seven in the morning, the signs are that it will rain or thunder that day. Marigold also closes up before a storm (Swainson. 1873). Measles-flower is a Wiltshire name. Children were warned against picking them in the garden. That would give them the measles. The reason for the name is likely to be just the opposite.

The petals have been used as a colouring agent, for cheese and butter (Grieve. 1931), and as a substitute for saffron, Maud Grieve says. Edith Brill gave an account of the way they were used for butter: the flowers were put in an earthenware pot and covered with a layer of salt, alternate layers of flowers and salt being added till the pot was full. Then it was covered to keep it airtight. When the flowers were needed, they were pounded with a pestle in a wooden mortar, the juice strained after being mixed with a little skim milk, and then squeezed through muslin into the cream before it was put in the churn. But that was not the only occasion when marigolds were used for colouring - Turner, in 1551, weighed in against people who "make their hayre yelow wyth the flour of this herbe, not beynge content with the natural colour, which God hath gyven them". But they were being used for a popular hair dye for a long time after Turner's day (A W Hatfield. 1973).

The flowers used to be candied, too, and preserved, even made into wine (Clair). Marigold puddings had the finely chopped petals as an ingredient (Clair), and marigold buns were made, too (Grieve. 1931 has a recipe). The petals were added to cordials, too, and given in possets to treat a cold. And they were at one time a common feature in salads (Rohde. 1936). In fact, the flowers were so useful that as a matter of course they were dried and stored away for winter use; they were particularly popular for boiling in soups, stews and broths, especially mutton broth (Oxfordshire & District Folklore Society. Annual Record.7; 1955). The petals give quite a distinctive taste to stews, and indeed they do to salads, and even to porridge (A W Hatfield. 1973). Pot Marigold is a name sometimes given to the plant (E Hayes) - nothing to do with growing it in a pot, rather it is because it is a potherb. Mrs Leyel gave a recipe for marigold "cheese", too (Leyel. 1973). Gerard mentions this use of what he called the "yellow leaves", particularly popular in Holland, and sums it up with "... no broths are well made without dried Marigolds".

Marigold water was for a long time a favourite for a headache (Rollinson), and for inflamed eyes (Rohde. 1936). Even just looking at the flowers was thought to help failing eyesight (Page. 1978). "The floures and leaves of Marigolds being distilled, and the water dropped into red and watery eies, cureth the inflammation, and taketh away the paine ." (Gerard). It appears, too, in a manuscript recipe of about 1600 for an "unguent to annoynt under the eyelids, and upon the eyelids, eveninge and morninge; but especially when you ... finde your sight not perfect." (Halliwell, 1845). That ointment was used too for wounds and peristent ulcers, but marigold is still used as a tincture in the same way as arnica, as it has the same properties (Schauenberg & Paris). Indeed, if marigold tea is taken after an accident, it brings out the bruises and prevents internal complications. A lotion would be applied to sprains and bruises as well (Moloney). It is said, too, that they should be used for burns. Not only does it cure, and help to relieve the pain, but it will also prevent the formation of scars. And it is even claimed that it will take away existing scars (Leyel. 1937).

Marigolds were used in medieval times for fevers (Lloyd), and an infusion of the flowers has long been a country remedy for whooping cough (V G Hatfield. 1994). Marigold tea and cider was given in Dorset, and in Scotland, though without the cider (Simpkins), to those who had measles (Dacombe). The marigold, it was said, helped to bring out the rash. Herbalists are still using the flowers, especially for heart disease; they benefit the arteries and veins (A W Hatfield. 1973), and it is prescribed for chickenpox and shingles, too (Warren-Davis). Gerard was recommending them for heart trouble four hundred years ago.

The tincture is used as a wound application (Flück), though the leaf itself would do just as well; it stops bleeding quickly, and just wrapping a leaf round a cut finger is quite effective for a surface cut, but never for a deep one (Painter & Power). The petals are still rubbed on bee or wasp stings to bring relief, and were a remedy for warts (Rohde, 1936). A Victorian cure is given as "the bruised leaves ... mixed with a few drops of reduced vinegar". The Romans were using the juice for just this purpose in their day, hence the old Latin name, Verrucaria. Chewed marigold leaves bandaged on like a poultice, helps sores (Page. 1978), and eczema (W A R Thomson. 1978), and just applying the leaves is a traditional Scottish way of dealing with corns (Rorie). Bathing the feet in warm water in which the flowers had been infused was a Somerset remedy for varicose veins and sore feet (Tongue. 1965). The Russian use for jaundice smacks rather of doctrine of signatures, but is given as a folk remedy, particularly for children. The idea was to add marigold flowers to warm baths. Half a pound of dried flowers would be boiled for half an hour in a gallon of water, then this is strained into the tub (Kourennoff). Herbalists are still prescribing the infusion for this condition (Flück).

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