History of Calendula
Known by its more famous name, Marigold, this versatile and celebrated herb has long been tied to various religions and religious ceremonies throughout the world. Common to many gardens, the Marigold blooms well into the colder months of the year, and is tied to the magick of the sun. The calendula’s history is as rich and deep as the gold color of its petals.
So Calendula v. Marigold?
One of the first things to consider about this herb is to understand the difference between the marigolds that go by the name calendula versus other kinds of marigolds.
Our focus here is the Calendula officianalis. Often this type of marigold is called a “pot marigold”, “common marigold”, “ruddles” or “Scotch marigold”. It belongs to the Calendula genus and is thought to be native to Europe. These are the typical marigold, with flat leaves and often a yellow or gold coloring.
Other marigolds are from the Tagetes genus. They are different in shape and are often called French Marigolds. These flowers are the type used in religious ceremonies in India and most famously, on offrendas and decorations for Día de Los Muertos in Mexico. This flower is more round and ‘frilly’ than the calendula variety.
Although I am focusing on the calendula variety today, separating the many, many, different types of marigolds is almost impossible. When I refer to ‘marigold’ in this post, I am referring to calendula, unless otherwise specified =).
What’s In a Name?
Tracing down the origins of how the calendula got its name is quite an adventure. Because calendula is also known as marigold, both name origins must be traced. Luckily, both are filled with interesting folklore and etymological evolutions. Both of these names also helps us understand this herb and it’s energetic properties.
The name calendula comes from the Latin term “kalendae”, which refers to the first day of the new moon, which in the Roman calendar was the first day of the month. The calendula is a plant which flowers constantly, and it got its name from the fact that it would flower and bloom almost every day of the month – hence the named “the calendar flower”1.
Like the dandelion, calendula is a sun flower. It opens its flower in the morning, turns its head and follows the sun all day, and closes its petals in the late afternoon.
Because the common name of calendula is marigold, the history of how it came to be is more, shall we say…entangled.
The old Anglo-Saxon word merso-meargealla, meaning “Marsh Gold”, refers to a type of marigolds that grow near wet, boggy marshes. The meargealla part of the name was taken and used to refer to marigolds that grew in different conditions. There was also an Anglo Saxon word ymbglidegold, which referred to the same flower because it was “that which moved round with the sun”. To make matters more confusing (or interesting!), an ancient Latin word (solsequium – the sun follower) changed into the Old French soulsi, which changed to sponsa solis (bride of the sun), to Mariée (bride) solis = Mariée-gold (bride of the sun).
In English, marigold was sometimes spelled “Marygold” or “Mary Gowle”. These names especially refer to the flower’s associated with the Virgin Mary in Christianity. One association is that the Mary part of the word refers to the mother of Jesus, while the gold portion refers to Christ himself (i.e. Christ is Mary’s gold, golden child, etc.). It is also observed that the arrangement of the petals appear like rays of light emanating like a halo from Mary’s head, a symbol of her sacrifice for God and his benevolence upon her. One of the most fun ties to Mary however, is the story involving her new family (baby Jesus and hubby Joseph) on the run to Egypt. As they fled in the night from Herod’s wrath, robbers attacked. They grabbed Mary’s (ancient equivalent to a purse) but instead of finding riches inside, they found calendula flowers – Mary’s Gold.
Medicinal and Culinary Uses
Calendula was quite the popular herb when it came to cooking. Known as the “herb-general of all pottage“, calendula was often thrown in pots on the fire to add taste, color, and texture to meals. Marigolds were used to flavor and color cheese, and as ingredients in herbal butters.
Because of their pungent smell, especially the Targetes genus, marigolds are often kep in gardens to keep pests away. The use of calendula infused oils and balms make great lip ointments and bug bite creams. Calendula is known to help heal and sooth minor cuts and abrasions, and calendula salves are especially effective for cracked, dry skin. In the past, Romans used it to treat scorpion bites and Egyptians used it to moisten and rejuvenate their skin.
In A Winter’s Tale Shakespeare writes, “…the Marigold that goes to bed with the sun, and rises with him weeping”. Indeed, the marigold sometimes ‘woke’ in the morning with dew on their petals and when it dripped off it looked if they’d been crying. In German folklore marigolds were said to predict rain if they stayed closed past 7 a.m.
Calendula was used as a protective herb, and was used to keep out disease, robbers, and evil spirits. It was also thought to help in prophetic dreaming. By taking a bath in calendula flowers, it was thought that the bright petals would bring you wealth and admiration from others. Nicholas Culpepper described calendula as “comforter of the heart and spirits.”
In Indian Culture
Calendula, both in ancient times and the present, is used in India as part of many celebrations such as weddings, festivals, funerals, and other religious rituals. The flowers are made into garlands and placed around holy statues as offerings and adornments. Representing peace, beauty, and serenity, the calendula is a revered herb in the culture.
In Mexican Culture
In Mexico, the marigold (in this case the Tagetes genus) is more closely associated with death. One myth says that the flower grew from the blood that was spilt by Spanish invaders in the 1600s. It was used extensively and in magickal workings by the Aztecs and is now synonymos with Dia de los Muertos, where it is used to decorate offrendas, to make offereings to ancestors, in hair and clothing, and on special breads and cakes made for the day. It is actually refered to as “Flor de Muerto” (flower of the dead).
In Magickal Workings
For modern witches, calendula has many uses, both in spellcraft and ritual. In fact, its magickal properties are as varied as the plant itself. Calendula can be used for:
- Sun magick
- Legal issues
- Psychic powers
You might buy/harvest calendula flowers to place in a vase to bring peace and harmony to a workspace, or grow them around your house for protection and positivity. Place some calendula under your pillow for prophetic dreams, or better yet, drink a calendula infused tea to really get that psychic energy flowing. Use calendula in prosperity work, in love work, and in sun magick. Make a charm bag with calendula to carry with you if you’re headed to court for extra luck. The possibilities with calendula are endless!
This week’s recipies include one food and one body balm. Both of them are easy to make and will help you connect to the sunny, healing, and rich energy of calendula.
Calendula & Marjoram Herb Butter
To prepare 1/2 cup of herb butter, soften 1 stick of unsalted butter. Finely chop the calendula petals and marjoram leaves, about 2 to 3 tablespoons of flowers and herbs to 1/2 cup butter is a good ratio. Blend the herbs with the butter. I like to add 1 tablespoon of olive oil; it gives the butter a more spreadable texture and a good flavor. You may want to add a bit of salt or pepper, lemon juice, or even minced garlic or shallots, depending on how you are going to use the butter. Pack into a small crock and refrigerate or freeze until ready to use.–Susan Belsinger (found on pg. 34 of “CALENDULA
An Herb Society of America Guide” 2007