Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Marigolds, Mary's Gold or Cempasuchil

Marigolds are native to the Americas, originally found from the southwestern United States south to Mexico and Argentina. The ancient Aztecs called the marigold “cempasuchil," and considered it a sacred plant. To this day the marigold plays an important part in the Mexican Dias de los Muertos, or the Days of the Dead ceremonies. Formed into garlands, wreaths and crosses, marigolds decorate altars and cemeteries, where their scent is believed to guide the spirits of the dead back home.

Sixteenth century Spanish and Portuguese explorers transported these new world flowers to Europe and India. Marigolds, in Hindi called “gendha,” became an important flower in Indian culture and religion. Marigold garlands serve as an adornment for religious statues, or as a decoration or offering at weddings, funerals and other celebrations. Now a widely cultivated crop in southern Asia, marigolds are used to make dye, flavoring, essential oils and medicine.

The name bestowed on the plant by Europeans was not original. People were already using the term marigold to refer to the similar-in-color Calendula officinalis (also called the pot marigold). The name marigold, a shortened form of “Mary’s gold,” came about because the plant was associated with the Virgin Mary.

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