Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Scented marigolds - Herb of the Week

The heat has not bothered the Scented marigolds, which makes them the perfect herb of the week!
Yesterday I got out to the garden for the first time since last week. and to my great surprise the border planting of scented marigolds has popped into bloom.  We've finally had some rain and not quite so scorching of heat.

Don't they look beautiful?  And with the backdrop of my Lemon Basil they accent as a border.  My production garden does not always have the luxury of being "pretty," but yesterday it surely was!
The Tagetes family is a great selection of flavored marigolds that grow much better in zone 7 and above than they do here in zone 5, but I love to grow them as an annual.  (These are not your traditional French or African Marigolds - known as Tagetes patula.)
What I mean to speak about today are the scented (also called flavored) marigolds.  The flowers are small and the leaves and flowers are strongly scented and very tasty.  They fall into the category of edible flowers (which you can check out in a former blog post here.)
The marigolds I want to talk about have several names.  In zone 5 they grow wonderfully well as an annual and can be grown from seed.  When you scatter them like I did they bloom in July, if you start them indoors they start blooming in June and they are a continuous bloomer that will decorate for the rest of the season.

 Here are the various scented varieties:
Tagetes lucida - The species Tagetes lucida, known as "pericón," is used to prepare a sweetish, anise flavored medicinal tea in Mexico. It is also used as a culinary herb in many warm climates, as a substitute for tarragon, and offered in the nursery as "Texas tarragon" or "Mexican mint marigold" (Tagetes erecta).
Tagetes minuta, native to southern South America is a tall upright marigold plant with small flowers, and is used as a culinary herb in Peru, Ecuador, and parts of Chile and Bolivia, where it is called by the Incan term huacatay. Huacatay paste is used to make the popular potato dish called ocopa. The taste and odor of fresh Tagetes minuta is like a mixture of sweet basil, tarragon, mint and citrus. It is also used as a medicinal tea in some areas.  I have never tied growing this one, but Lemon Verbena Lady has grown it.
I love the lemon and tangerine flavored the most.  I got hooked on them when I found the Lemon Gem at the Friends of the Oak Park Conservatory herb sale my very first year.  I bought them there for over a decade before they stopped carrying them.  If you are a seed saver, marigold seed is easy to collected and save so you can repeat the crop year after year.
Tagetes Lemmonii

Tagetes tenuifolia - lemon gem

Tagetes lemmonii  leaves are truly lemon scented. I like to put them on the border because when you brush past, you release the scent. Even a slight breeze will bring the scent wafting into my apartment from the potted ones on the patio.

Tagetes tenuifolia - Comes in two varieties, Lemon Gem marigold producing lemon-yellow flower heads and its sister Tangerine Gem with that hint of orange scent and pinkish orange flowers. Both are a natural insect repellant for herb and vegetable gardens. There are bushy dwarf marigolds that look great in a rock garden or in a border. Blooms are incredibly profuse on low-growing mounds of scented foliage. The petite, single blossoms of lemon and tangerine taste as good at the name suggests!
According to some I have read these plants can grow to 4 to 5 feet in perfect conditions in Arizona and TX, but here in the north they stay closer to 6 to 10 inches making them perfect for borders and pots.

Here are both Lemon Gem and Tangarine Gem at the Chicago Botanic Garden

To Grow
T. tenuifolia, which has 8-inch mounds of lacy, citrus-scented leaves and ½-inch red, orange, or yellow single flowers need only warmth to grow quickly. Sow seed indoors a few weeks before the last frost or direct-seed when the soil is warm. Give them full sun in average soil and moisture for best results, but don’t worry if the soil is poor or dry. Excess fertility may promote lush growth, few flowers, and soft stems, especially in the tall cultivars, which then need to be staked. Wash spider mites off with regular, strong hosings or control with soap spray. Remove spent flowers regularly to encourage more blooms.
To Use
Make a paste by mashing the flowers and a few leaves in a mortar and pestle with a few drops of oil.  Then use the paste to color the sauce in Ocopa.  My husband did his archaeology fieldwork outside Arequipa Peru where these flowers grow well and this dish is popular.  Called Ocopa Arequipena, the dish has some similarities to Papas a la Huancaina. It consists of boiled and sliced yellow potatoes covered with a sauce of made of aji (chili pepper), walnuts, a Peruvian herb called "Huatacay" (that gives it a vivid color), fresh or white cheese, sided with lettuce, boiled eggs and olives. It is usually served in restaurants specializing in Peruvian Food or restaurants serving food from Arequipa, a southern Peruvian City. 

Ocopa (serves 4)

  • 3 chilies mirasol
  • 1/2 cup ground walnuts
  • 6 oz. farmer's cheese
  • a maceration of scented geramiun leaves or flowers (first choice Tagetes minuta but you can substitute Tagetes tenuifolia)
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 lbs. yellow potatoes cooked, halved
1. Remove seeds from the chilies and let soak in water overnight.
2. Put in the blender the chilies, walnuts, cheese and oil. Liquify until a smooth sauce. Season with geranium leaves, salt and pepper.
3. Place the potatoes in a serving dish. Cover with the sauce and garnish with lettuce leaves.

You can also use scented marigold flowers in any dish where edible flowers are used, including cream cheese spreads and salads.  See the blog entry on Nasturtiums for some recipes you can substitute Scented Marigolds.


  1. Amazing! I never knew that Marigold's were edible. There is such an abundance of variety of things on this earth that most of us don't take the time to learn about or eat! Thank you for sharing this info and recipe!

  2. Love this marigold. Mine have burst forth with tons of flowers! I love them with cherry tomatoes in your pasta salad. Delish! xxoo Nancy


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