Marigolds are bright, colorful flowers that are native to Mexico, although they are cultivated all over the world. In addition to looking attractive, the flowers are also edible, and have natural pesticidal properties that allow them to resist insect infestation. Some gardeners take advantage of this property to garden organically, protecting more sensitive species with a barrier of this plants. Any plant in the genus Tagetes can be considered a marigold, along with several other blooming plants in the Asteraceae family. The name originally was simply “golde,” in a reference to the bright color, although it later came to be associated with the Virgin Mary. In the late 1400s, the flowers began to be called marigolds by most gardeners.
Extremely hardy flowers, marigolds can be grown in USDA Zones 3-11 with success, and if well cared for, they will bloom continuously throughout the summer months. The flowers are distinguished by being bright gold or yellow and highly ruffled. Some species are bi-colored, such as French marigolds. The plants will grow into the shape of a small bush that can reach a height of about 18 inches (45 centimeters) with strongly scented lush green foliage. Some gardeners find the smell distasteful, and several companies have developed odorless varieties, although these plants lack insect repelling properties.
Marigolds can be used to create a colorful border, a potted garden feature, or a dense patch of color when planted in the garden. Many gardeners use them to line beds of other flowers, along with garden paths. To encourage the flowers to keep blooming, dead blooms should be removed with clippers along with dying foliage. The plants can be easily grown from seed, and in areas where frost is likely, the seeds should be sprouted indoors and planted after the risk of frost has passed. Otherwise, they can be seeded directly.
If marigolds are being used as a food product, the flowers should be picked and used immediately or stored for up to one week under refrigeration in a brown paper bag. While the flowers can be picked whole, only the petals are consumed, and they should be washed and dried before use. Marigold petals can liven up a salad or be dried and used to naturally color foods. A very small percentage of people are allergic to the insect-resisting compound in these plants, and cooks should warn diners if they serve the flowers with dinner.