marigolds, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
The replacement of pot marigolds by different plants with similar names, French and African marigolds, has created a literature that sloppily reports information about calendulas as if it was written about marigolds (Tagetes) (see previous post). As marigolds were substituted for calendulas they have picked up the calendula folklore. Only when the literature is from before 1492 is it easy to tell which plant is indicated.
|Calendula officinalis, calenulas|
Around the Mediterranean, calendulas have been grown, eaten, and used medicinally since prehistoric times.
Why did the Romans name a plant after the first day of the month? The Oxford English Dictionary says calendula is based on calendulae, meaning either little calendar, little clock or little weather-vane. Anyone who grew calendulas knew they opened their flowers early in the morning and closed them again in the evening. That seems sensible to us but in the Roman era the best clock was a sundial, so I'm not quite sure what kind of calendar a calendula was, especially since it had a very long growing season. In his Herbal in 1597 Gerard wrote that they bloom from April "even unto winter and in winter also if it be warm" (Gerard p. 603 link). Gerard said that the word calendulae meant "throughout the months." An alternate interpretation was that calendulae should be interpretted "the first of every month"--every calends--another way of saying that it had a long growing season. I don't know how to choose between the explanations.
Like Asians, Romans (and Mediterranean cultures before them) used calendulas in ceremonies and as decorations...and as garlands, for medicine and for food. When Christianity replaced paganism in Europe, Christains embraced calendulas as well, renaming them marigolds (Mary's gold, for the Virgin Mary, the gold being either the flower color or describing the plant as a treasure). Jack Goody, writing of the role of flowers in culture, pointed to many European plants that were renamed by Christians, in some cases to be rid of pagan names, in other cases to Christianize them.
The historical European application of calendula salve for eye ailments and jaundice probably stemmed from the Doctrine of Signatures. In medieval European medicine, all cures came from God, all plants were here on earth for some use by people and God had marked the plant so that plant characteristics would cue people as to their medicinal uses. link Many sunflower family plants were used for eye ailments because the flowers look like eyes. Similarly, jaundice creates a person with an orangy or yellowish tinge to them: yellow or orange healing flowers would seem to be marked for treatment of jaundice. Since calendulas are have no known counterindications or side effects, treating eye ailments or jaundice with them did no harm. (Doctrine of Signatures shows up on the web a lot, but is a disproven approach to medicine see: link link).
|Calendula flower, looking like an eye|
Calendulas are edible. Leaves and flowers have been eaten raw and cooked across the world. It was the "poor man's saffron" from ancient Egypt to Renaissance England, coloring foods golden at a fraction of the price of saffron (but no saffron flavor). Flowers were used as seasoning, in broths, in wine, as tea, and on meat. Gerard describes the Dutch drying barrels of petals of calendula for winter "insomuch that no broths are well made without dried Marigolds." (Woodward p. 169). Today, popular recipes put calendulas in stuffed eggs, cream soups, fruit breads and of course use them as a garnish. The orange color is a pretty good dye and the flavor is mild, so calendula flowers easily enhance both raw and cooked dishes.
|calendulas, for centuries called pot marigolds|
Lovely plants. I have grown them in my garden for years. Most years they self-seed. They are good cut flowers and, as Gerard says, bloom into the fall.
Comments and corrections welcome.
Buy the book! Similar stories in Curious Stories of Familiar Garden Plants by Kathy Keeler, A Wandering Botanist. Now available at Amazon link
Back to Nature. 2016.Sacred Flowers Used in Worship link
Best, M. R. and F. H. Brightman. 1973. The Book of Secrets of Albertus Magnus. The Claredon Press, Oxford.
Blumenthal, M., A. Goldberg and J. Brinckmann. 2000. Herbal Medicine. Expanded Commission E Monographs. American Botanical Council, Austin TX.
Calendula "calendula, n." OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2016. Web. 26 September 2016.
Garden Guides, Calendula History. link
Goody, J. 1991. The Culture of Flowers. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Gerard, J.1597. Of Marigolds. The Herball or General Historie of Plantes. link
O'Hanlon, D.P. translator 1981. Macer's 'Virtue of Herbs' (original about 1200). Hemkunt Press, New Delhi, India.
Sacred Flowers in Hindu Worship link
Thome', O. W. 1879. Text-book of Structural and Physiological Botany. 3rd ed. Longman Press, London.link (this kind of detail does not appear in more modern texts since they are pressed for space).
Valder, P. 1999. The Garden Plants of China. Timber Press, Portland, OR.
Woodward, M. 1964. Gerard's Herbal. The Essence thereof distilled by Marcus Woodward from the Edition of Th. Johnson, 1636. Spring Books, London.
Kathy Keeler, A Wandering Botanist
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