On your birthday it’s not uncommon to receive a present featuring your birthstone or zodiac symbol. However, few people know about their birth flower. In this series, we’ll be looking at the birth flower of each month, according to Joseph Hammer-Pugstall’s The Language of Flowers.
For me, October marks the beginning of my favourite season. The days get colder, jumpers get woolier and drinks get warmer. Still, the sun shines and provides the very last of its warmth as the days get shorter and shorter. It’s perfect, then, that warming Marigolds are the birth flower for October. However, with there being so many different kinds, which one best represents the month?
Just like September’s birth flower, the aster, Marigolds are from the Daisy family (Asteraceae). However, Marigolds don’t fall into one genus. There are two main genera of Marigolds, and a few individual species who also bear this name. The genus Calendula includes Common Marigolds and the genus Tagetes includes French, African, Mexican and Signet Marigolds.
Calendula officinalis (Common Marigold) and Tagetes patula (French Marigold)
I’ve shown you extreme examples from the two genera so you can see their immediate differences, but it’s not always so easy to tell them apart from their inflorescence. Calendula species are usually sticky to touch and have long, round-tipped leaves. Tagetes species are the opposite, and are smooth to touch with toothed-leaves.
While both Calendula and Tagetes are from the same family, only one is a close relative of sunflowers. The Tagetes genus is in the sunflower supertribe (great name) as Helianthus, the sunflower genus. Tagetes species are a popular garden plant, as they provide food for butterflies and are natural pest deterrents. However, Calendula officinalis is the species that really interests me.
As well as being edible, Calendula officinalis flowers have been harvested for their medicinal properties, and were used in traditional medicine to make balms and salves, for wounds and pain. In fact, picking their flowers encourages them to produce more. More recent pharmacological research has demonstrated their antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and anti-genotoxic properties.
Peacock butterfly sitting on a French Marigold
Calendula officinalis has also been used for match-making. In Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, a ritual for a woman struggling to decide between two suitors is described:
“…take dried calendula flowers, marjoram, thyme and wormwood; grind them to a fine powder; and simmer them in honey and white wine. Then she should rub the mixture over her body, lie down and repeat three times: ‘St. Luke, St. Luke, be kind to me; In dreams let me my true love see!’ And in dreams she would see the man she was to marry.”
Although I cannot guarantee how successful this ritual would be, I have to say, that mixture sounds like it would make a great marinade.
Calendula officinalis flowers beside a cup of herbal tea
In common vernacular, French Marigolds are often what a person means when they say Marigold. However, the Common Marigold is probably the original Marigold, but is now usually referred to by its Latin name, Calendula. Either way, gifting a little ray of Autumn sun to someone in the form of either Calendula or Tagetes is guaranteed to put a smile on their.
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