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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Medicine from Marigolds

You may not think of medicine when you see a marigold flower, but that might change after you read this.

Two species of marigold are used in Chinese medicine - the big, or Aztec, marigold and the French marigold. Big, or Aztec, marigold is known scientifically as Tagates erecta and French marigold as Tagates patula, both of the composite family. In Chinese, Aztec marigold is called wan shou ju, meaning "long life chrysanthemum", and French marigold is known as xi fan ju, meaning "Western chrysanthemum", denoting its foreign origin. The whole French marigold plant, when used in traditional medicine, is called kong que cao, or "peacock herb".

Marigolds are strong-scented annual herbs, usually 0.3 to 1 m. (1-3 ft) tall. Aztec marigold bears flowers that range in color from yellow to orange and can reach as much as 10 cm (4 in.) across, while French marigold bears yellow to golden-yellow flower heads that are much smaller, only about 4 cm (1.6 in.) across and usually with red patches. Both marigolds are generally considered to be natives of Mexico. They are now extensively cultivated throughout the world, with numerous varieties.

Although both marigolds are commonly seen as ornamental plants in Western countries, Aztec marigold is quite extensively grown for its yellow flowerheads. The flower petals are used in chicken feed to give the skin and egg yolk of chickens the familiar yellow color. This practice has been going on for so many years, and western consumers have grown so used to the yellow color of the chicken skin and egg yolk, that most of them believe this color to be natural and actually consider chickens without a yellow skin and eggs without yellow yolks unnatural and undesirable. Marigolds also yield a fragrant volatile oil called tagetes oil that is used in perfumes and in many types of processed food products, including alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, frozen desserts, candies, puddings, condiments and relishes.

In Western folk medicine, the flower heads and leaves of Aztec marigold are used in treating intestinal worms and colic, as well as in promoting menstrual flow.

Scientists have found tagetes oil to have various effects on experimental animals. These include sedative, anticonvulsive, hypotensive, bronchodilatory, and anti-inflammatory effects. Tagates oil also has insecticidal properties.

As is typical in plants of the composite family, marigolds can cause contact dermatitis in some sensitive individuals. Consequently, if one is allergic to chrysanthemums, daisies, or other composite plants one should be careful about handling marigolds also.

The uses of marigolds in Chinese medicine are described only in modern herbals that are mainly of southern Chinese origin. Despite this lack of written record, marigolds have probably been used for generations as a folk remedy in some southern Chinese provinces, particularly Yunnan, Guizhou, Sichuan, and Guangxi. Both the flower heads and leaves of Aztec marigold are usually collected in the summer or fall and are used either fresh or sun-dried.

The flower heads of Aztec marigold are considered to have properties that dissipate heat (in fevers), expel colds, and break up phlegm. They are used to treat whooping cough, coughs due to colds, convulsions in children, acute conjunctivitis, dizziness, mumps, and mastitis. The usual daily internal dose is 3 to 9 g. (0.1 to 0.3 oz.) of dried flower heads taken as a decoction. Externally, the decoction is used to wash affected areas.

The leaves of Aztec marigold are used mainly for treating carbuncles, sores, and boils. The usual daily internal dose is 4.5 to 9 g. (o.15 to 0.3 oz.) of dried leaves taken as a decoction. For external use, the decoction is used to wash the affected areas or the mashed fresh leaves are applied directly.

The whole French marigold plant, also collected and dried in summer or fall, is used in traditional medicine. Said to dissipate heat, it is also used in treating coughs and diarrhea, with a daily internal dose of 9 to 15 g. (0.3 to 0.5 oz.), taken as a decoction or powder.

Recorded remedies using marigolds are few. Following are two that don't combine marigolds with other herbs.

To treat toothache or sore eyes, 15 g. (0.5 oz) of dried flower heads of Aztec marigold are boiled in water and the liquid is drunk.

To treat whooping cough, 15 fresh flower heads are boiled in water and the resulting decoction is taken along with red sugar (a type of crude cane sugar).

Marigolds are widely grown as ornamental herbs in home gardens and are also sold in garden centers or by florists.

This information is excerpted from Dr. Albert Leung’s book, Chinese Healing Foods and Herbs. This publication includes further information and home remedies using marigold as well as over 45 other herbs.

Learn more about marigold and read further about Dr. Leung and his writings! Visit www.earthpower.com.

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