There are times when I could almost give up on organic gardening. Sigh.
I dug the second spud patch; it had blight too. The whole garden is a slug café. Snails have been practising climbing on the beanpoles. My nasturtiums are being eaten by blackfly, but I don’t mind that too much; in defiance of the seed packet, they’re not remotely trailing, even though they are pretty. Were pretty. Next door’s cat has killed and decapitated something large and left it by the dustbins, not that this has anything to do with organic gardening as such; it’s just another irritation. Grr.
I’d almost give up, except for these:
I love, love, love marigolds.
I seem to have grown them forever – I’m pretty certain they were part of the garden I had as a child – and value them as a herb and companion plant; they attract the pests away from my beans. This year the beans are very late and the blackfly are busy elsewhere, and the marigolds are flourishing. (Calendula officinalis, that is; I’m not over-fond of Tagetes myself.)
In the sunshine, the deep orange ones almost seem to reflect blue – not surprising, really: blue is the complementary colour to orange, so that makes sense.
They’ve been used as a colourant, which possibly isn’t surprising given the amazing range of colours, but you don’t get the same intensity. Even with an alum modifier and deep orange petals, you get a pale lemony yellow. Pretty, but pale by comparison.
They’ve been used all over the world, all through history – from India to Arabia, in Ancient Greece and Rome, in monastery herb gardens – for their medicinal properties. They’re good for healing, reducing inflammation, and have long been used in creams and ointments. They even have antiseptic properties combined with low toxicity.
And they’re beautiful, of course.
In the Middle Ages, they were used for intestinal problems, and for all sorts of other things – like smallpox (!), jaundice and snake bites. One Spanish king wanted his subjects to wear marigolds, picked when the sun was entering Virgo – sorry, the sign of The Virgin – wrapped up in a bay leaf with a wolf’s tooth, but I’m not quite sure why. Because he was a medieval Spanish king, perhaps, and they were an eccentric (for want of another word) bunch. Marigolds and wolves’ teeth evidently did nothing for the effects of inbreeding.
Externally they were – and sometimes still are – used to treat burns (that’s as a lotion or compress), and the leaves were used against warts, corns and callouses. Maybe I’ll give that one a go on my feet – you’re supposed to rub the leaves on your hard skin morning and evening. They’re also recommended for chilblains, and make great skin and hand creams.
As a tea, they’re used by herbalists to soothe stomach disorders, including ulcers, and are supposed to work for period pain (I find drinking half a bottle of gin while banging my head against the wall more effective, myself). They’re used in cooking, too. Petals can be used to colour butter and cheese as they are being made, and if you soak some petals in warm milk before using it in baking (sieve them out), they add a gentle warm yellow colour to cakes. They have been used as a saffron substitute, often without the purchasers realising what they’ve actually bought.
For myself, I use the petals to add colour – if not fragrance – to pot pourri. And almost every surface is covered at the moment:
It’s been a good year for lavender, too. Very, very strong scent – so maybe I will stick with the organic thing as then I can use my herbs for anything. Oh well, I’d not really stop, not even if the biggest blackfly in the world came and knocked on my door, demanding nourishment like the Bug in Men in Black.
It’s dark, it’s late… why on earth did I conjure up such an image?