Almost Halloween and my Mexican Mint Marigold (Tagetes lucida) plants are blooming profusely. The orange flowers are perfect for the season. My plants are not very tall and bushy but I know they can grow to several feet tall and wide. Native to Mexico and Central America, this marigold is a useful herb and a pretty garden plant. The foliage can be used as a tea for treating colds, fevers, intestinal gas, and diarrhea. The foliage also is used in an Aztec hot cocoa drink called chocolatl or xocolatl, along with vanilla, chiles, and ground cacao bean. And the foliage can be used as a tarragon substitute. The leaves have that anise/tarragon flavor, and the plant is much easier to grow than tarragon. The edible flowers can add interest and flavor to meals and garnish desserts. The petals can be sprinkled like confetti on green beans for contrast or a plate of mushroom stuffed appetizers.
This may be hard to find as a plant at the local nursery, but Mexican Mint Marigold is easy to grow from seed. Just make sure you are getting the correct species. I have seen some seed companies sell Tagetes tenuifolia as the Mexican Mint Marigold but that is a different type of marigold. Also, this plant has many common names so make sure you are purchasing Tagetes lucida.
I started mine plants from Botanical Interests seed packets in June. Later in the summer, I transplanted many plants (they germinated easily) to several areas in the garden. It was touch and go when we did not have rain for a long time, but I kept them well watered. They are in full sun and are not particular about soil except that it should be well-drained. These are fall bloomers so do not expect flowers until late September and October. Pollinators, beneficial insects, and butterflies love them.
Unfortunately, these herbaceous plants are tender perennials, hardy to zone 8. I don’t expect them to come back next year in my Zone 7 garden, but I like them so much I will start them again from seed. Next year though I may start them earlier in May after the last frost.
The flowers can be cut for floral arrangements. Recently, I learned how to make small arrangements in carved out pumpkins at my garden club. After growing Mexican Mint Marigold, I can see how these small orange flowers would be perfect for the desktop pumpkins. Try growing this next year, you will be pleasantly surprised!