Marigolds: an (agri)cultural staple

The first seeds I ever saved were marigold seeds.

Marigold headshot

At the time, I was a garden educator at a small neighborhood environmental nonprofit in Camden, New Jersey. The Center for Environmental Transformation(CFET) is situated in the South Waterfront neighborhood, an old urban community enclosed by industrial facilities which not only restrict access to the nearby waterfront, but exhale noxious fumes and odors staining each neighbor’s home, body and mentality. CFET runs youth programs offering job-skill training and safe spaces to be outside and connect with nature.

Inspired by the social and environmental justice movements of New Orleans during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, members of the Catholic church in South Waterfront founded CFET. Hoping to transform the neighborhood into a space honoring the health and wellbeing of its inhabitants, the organization built several production and educational garden spaces in the local park, behind houses, and in empty lots. The church used marigolds for several annual celebrations, most notably the August celebration of The Feast of Assumption of the Holy Mother. Decorating their namesake, marigolds drape the numerous statues of Mother Mary dwelling on the church grounds.

Marigolds surround the Navdanya Biodiversity and Conservation Farm’s rice fields to deter pests like aphids, mosquitos, nematodes and rabbits.

CFET grew marigolds in the gardens for these celebrations, and also for the great pest control qualities the plants possess.  Several church administrators often worried about the marigolds – constantly inquiring on their status and anxiously telling us that there were not enough. My supervisor and I could only laugh at the scenario, otherwise we would need to stop growing the hundreds of varieties of vegetables and fruits we had and only grow marigolds to subdue their nerves…

Marigolds cover India, since the flowers are very popular in religious and cultural festivities.  Marigolds offer not only brilliant sunshine hues, pungent sweet musks of wood and citrus , but sturdy material to easily string garlands.  En route to the Navdanya Biodiversity Conservation Farm where I will spend the next two months, I spotted the golden clusters beaming in front of each person’s household. Meanwhile, a man biked past my car window toting a giant cart full of marigold transplants as he gracefully dodged between honking trucks, motorcycles, tuk-tuks and zooming cars. Everyone is gearing up and decorating for Diwali which is next week – the Hindu holiday celebrating the triumphs of light over darkness.

How to Save Marigold Seed:

When marigold plants produce seeds, the sepal will close up, squeezing the petals together to house the seeds. Once the bundle dries, it can easily be snapped off the stem and stored in a dry, cool space. When ready for planting, simply rip the dried sepal open to expose the seeds, or my preferred method is to grip the roof of dry petals and pull the seeds out in a glorious clump. The seeds are often half black and half white – always reminding me of a porcupine’s quill.

How to Grow Marigolds:

  • Sow seeds throughout Spring and Summer
  • Marigolds prefer full sun, but will grow in partial shade
  • Once the seed germinates, marigolds take around 45-50 days to flower
  • Marigolds requires very little care or water-about 1 inch of water per week should be sufficient

How to Use:

  • String garlands using needle and thread and decorate a space or make a necklace
  • Sprinkle petals on salad, soup, or other concoction as garnish to add golden color and a bit of zing
  • Gargle a tea made from the leaves and flowers for toothaches or mouth pains
  • Apply oils or salves made with the flowers to skin for dryness, softening, rejuvenation, and/or reducing inflammation
  • Send over your favorite uses!
Marigold tea that Rouana made this afternoon to help her toothache
Marigold tea that Rouana made this afternoon to help her toothache

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