Tagetes Erecta are known almost universally in North America as Marigold, or variously as Mexican marigolds (or cempasúchil), African marigolds (usually referring to cultivars and hybrids of T. erecta, although this species is not native to Africa), or French marigolds (usually referring to hybrids and cultivars of T. patula, many of which were developed in France although the species is not native to that country). At least one species is a naturalized weed in Africa, Hawaii, and Australia.
“Marigold” is derived from “Mary’s Gold”, and the plant is associated with the Virgin Mary in Christian stories. Tagetes is not to be confused with the genus Calendula, which goes by “marigold” in some areas.
The foliage has a musky, pungent scent, though some later varieties have been bred to be scentless. It is said to deter some common insect pests (although it is recorded as a food plant for some Lepidoptera larvae including Dot Moth), as well as nematodes. Tagetes are hence often used in companion planting for tomato, eggplant, pepper, tobacco and potato. T. minuta (Khakibush or Huacatay), originally from South America, has been used as a source of essential oil for the perfume industry known as tagette, and as a flavourant in the food and tobacco industries in South Africa, where the species is also a useful pioneer plant in the reclamation of disturbed land. Some of the perennial species are deer, rabbit, rodent and javalina resistant. The petals of Tagetes are rich in the orange-yellow carotenoid lutein and as such extracts of T. erecta are used as a food colour.
The species Tagetes lucida, known as “Pericón” is used to prepare a sweetish, anise flavored tea in Mexico. The tea can be used to cure stomach illnesses, but can cause hallucinations when consumed in large amounts. It is also used as a substitute for Tarragon.
The Marigold is very significant in Nepalese culture where marigold garlands are used almost in every household especially during the Tihar festival.
The marigold was regarded as the flower of the dead in pre-Hispanic Mexico, parallel to the lily in Europe, and is still widely used in the Day of the Dead celebrations. The marigold is also widely cultivated in India and Thailand, particularly the species T. erecta, T. patula, and T. tenuifolia. Vast quantities of marigolds are used in garlands and decoration for weddings, festivals, and religious events.
Tagetes minuta or Mexican Marigold, a tall upright marigold plant with small flowers, 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. Having both “green” and “yellow/orange” notes, the taste and odor of fresh Tagetes minuta is like a mixture of sweet basil, tarragon, mint and citrus.