Meditating with Marigolds: Uses and Guides to the Plant
Today, on a grey late October morning, feeling unsettled by a light and erratic north wind, I set out to gather Marigolds to inspire the day’s writing. I’ve invited them close to me for the last month, every day bringing them into my meditations.
A curious thing seems to happen after a couple of weeks of doing this. As I reach out towards a plant, it also seems to reach out towards me. This morning I hold five flower heads in my palm and my eyes are dazzled by them, almost to the point of giving me a slight headache. They seem to hover on my palm, something alive, buzzing with excitement.
Everything around seems to fade away against their brightness, like exploring a cave with a candle. As I have guided many a student to do, I look for the edge where my being meets their being, and in that very moment their radiant vibrancy rushes through my body and I spontaneously laugh.
The immediacy of it surprises me, even though by now I really shouldn’t be surprised since it happens so often. Our herb garden, now a canvas of decomposing Elecampane, Mallow and Mugwort, has a bright spot in the middle, which, even as we enter the depths of winter can still manage the occasional explosion of bright, heart-warming, smile-inducing orange.
Walking the Stroud footpaths will take you over bright commons, clear grasslands with broad views over the Severn to Wales. In a matter of minutes you might then be meandering through damp valleys full of mosses, lichens and fungi. The constant flow of springs from the hillsides keeps the valleys from becoming stagnant, but occasionally you will find a corner, more forbidding, thicker, darker, where the decay processes dominate, unchecked by freshness, movement or sunshine. Always, these are places of semi-conscious human engagement, projects abandoned, canals, once busy, now silent.
It is these dark places within us where Marigold can penetrate with resinous brightness. These places, where the consciousness guiding our vitality has lost its focus, crave brightness, though fear often keeps them hiding in the shadows.
Whilst Dandelion can help release the stagnation and Cleavers can wash it through with living water, it is Marigold that brings the light.
Growing: Marigold (Calendula officinalis) can be grown easily from seed, sending out flowers throughout the year. On the warmer edges of this island, following the coast of Devon and Cornwall, I have seen Marigolds flowering in the deep winter of late January. The flowers should be harvested when fully open, and a single plant, if harvested regularly, can keep flowering for months with an almost inexhaustible vigour. Marigold is my favourite plant for introducing children to herbalism: it grows easily, has very peculiar seeds and engaging flowers and can be used for all sorts of projects.
Sight and scent: Marigold is sometimes easier to meet on a grey day, possibly because the grey, through contrast, amplifies the brightness of the flower. Nothing seems to dampen Marigold’s brightness. Lie down really close and let your eyes absorb the colour and nose soak up the unique scent. Let a flowerhead sit in your palm. Notice the edges between you and it, how do you meet it? For contrast, compare the feeling of a Lady’s Mantle leaf or a Primrose flower in your palm.
Ritual offering: In Mexico, Marigolds feature hugely in the Mexican ‘Day of the Dead’ celebrations since they are often placed around graves to help guide in the spirits of the ancestors. A similar theme can be found in India where a garland is sometimes given to Tara, a form of Durga in Hinduism and closely related to Kali. I find myself drawn to place a small number around our household shrine around the time of Samhain, where they offer some much appreciated colour and vitality at the time of honouring the dead.
Drying: My preferred way to preserve Marigolds is to dry them, though they are one of the slowest flowers to dry. This is probably because of the density of the flowerhead and the waxes that prevent easy evaporation of water. We dry them in a dehydrator where they can easily take 36 hours at twenty five degrees centigrade, almost three times longer than most other flowers.
Infusion: A simple infusion with boiling water works well for Marigold. We have long sold a blend of Mint and Marigold at the cafe near the Apothecary; it’s a popular and simple blend which feels bright and cleansing.
Oil: Finely chopped Marigold heads (including the green sepals) can be covered with oil (my preference is cold pressed Sesame oil) and left on the lowest setting of a slow cooker overnight. The resulting bright orange oil can be sieved, whilst hot, through a paper coffee filter. This oil forms the basis for making ointment, cream or lotions, the simplest of which (ointment) can be made by melting in 10% by weight of beeswax.
Suggestions for a 21 day immersion: Due to the brightness of the flowers, this is one of the easiest plants to appreciate through simply sitting with them, particularly at dusk, meeting them through sight and scent. I recommend growing them yourself, they grow easily and abundantly. Even a window box could hold ten to twenty plants, each producing many flower heads. Themes for meditation whilst working with Marigold might include exploring your relationship with exuberance and happiness.
Safety notes: Marigold (Calendula officinalis)
Safety: Unusual allergic reactions are possible as Marigold. Professional advice is recommended for using Marigold internally during pregnancy.
Misidentification: Mainly with other types of Marigolds, such as Tagetes.
Drug interactions: Low relative risk. Some sources note caution due to a mild sedative effect.
Weeds in the Heart by Nathanial Hughes & Fiona Owen, is out October 2018, published by AEON Books, priced £29.99 each. For more information see: http://www.aeonbooks.co.uk/product/weeds-in-the-heart-the-practice-of-intuitive-herbalism/93338/