Monday, November 28, 2011

Blooming Today: Mint Marigold

Frost finally blackened the tips of pineapple sage, made fuzzy gray mush of Cuban oregano, and killed basil to the ground, but Mint Marigold (Tagetes lucida) is going strong.  It starts into bloom late; even as tardy pineapple sage unfurls its flower spikes in late September, mint marigold is still tight in bud.

Just around the time we expect the first frost (after October 15 in zone 7b), golden yellow blooms appear.  They bloom for several weeks showing no signs of cold stress; this year an early 23 degree night did no harm.

Cute, late season marigolds make this plant good for the border and nice for autumn arrangements.  The bloom time is perfect for the Thanksgiving table.  I often put small vases full on my kitchen windowsill.

Spicy anise/tarragon flavored leaves are an even better reason to grow it.  French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) is not well-suited to the South because it needs colder winters, so growing it here can be a pain.  Mint marigold is a satisfactory substitute in most dishes; in many ways it's more versatile than French tarragon.

Herb gardener and cookbook author, Lucinda Hutson, is a fan of  mint marigold, listing many uses for it in The Herb Garden Cookbook.  Here are a few of her suggestions:

  • try steeping the leaves for tea -- serve hot or cold
  • mix it into herb butter mixed with orange zest and minced green onions, serve with pasta and creamy tomato sauce
  • try whole leaves mixed into a jar of pickled beets
  • mix it into vinaigrette and serve with spring greens and chicken, tuna or shellfish salads
  • add it to fruit punch or sangria
  • mince it with garlic and put it under the skin of chicken before you roast it
  • use the flowers as an attractive edible garnish

I like mint marigold in chicken salad and, along with its flowers, in green salads.  I find the flavor is lost fairly quickly with cooking and prefer to eat it chopped fresh.  It tastes strongly of anise with a little heat, but lacks the hint of vanilla-like sweetness that tarragon has.  Tarragon is easy to overdo; not so much with mint marigold.

You can grow mint marigold from seed or cuttings.  It likes full sun, though mine grows acceptably at the edge of the woods in part sun.  It is considered an annual north of zone 8, yet in 7b, mine stays green for all but the coldest winter weeks and then comes back with the first warm days.  I divide the clumps nearly every spring.  South of here, it is an aggressive grower; you might have to contain it or be prepared to dig up unwanted seedlings.

Mint marigold is known by several other common names -- Mexican marigold mint, Mexican tarragon, Texas tarragon, yerbanisanisillo, Santa Maria, periconyerba de las nubes, cloud plant, sweet mace.  In Mexico, where it is native, mint marigold tea is commonly used to soothe upset stomachs.


1 comment:

  1. I'm not usually a big marigold fan but this one is lovely!