The Difference Between French Marigold and Pot Marigold (Calendula Officinalis)

I love marigolds. They're cheerful, hardy and colorful. As herbs go, when I find one with relatively large, appealing flowers, it's a keeper. There's some confusion where marigold is concerned, though.

This happens with plants from time to time, which is one reason every plant has a specific scientific (Latin) name. Depending on its geographical origins, a plant may have a dozen or more common names, so common names can be -- confusing. Many plants can have the same name, whether they look alike or not.

The Difference Between Calendula and French Marigold

In the case of marigold, pot marigold (Calendula), a native to Europe, and French marigold (Tagetes), an American native in the same family as the daisy, are very different plants. Calendula is edible and often appears on lists of attractive edible flowers. *Most French marigold varieties are not edible.

Calendula is also a common herbal remedy used in skin preparations (among other uses). French marigold is a nice companion plant in the garden, makes an effective bug spray and looks lovely in a border. It doesn't have the herbal range of calendula. Depending on the cultivars involved, both pot marigold and French marigold can look pretty similar.

If you're filling a flat with spring flowers at your local nursery and come upon a display of wonderful plants marked "MARIGOLDS," you're probably looking at French marigolds (Tagetes).  They're very popular annuals in gardens across the country. They aren't fussy and bloom throughout the summer months. There are also many French marigold cultivars that can look like anything from intricate lemon yellow puff balls to russet daisies.

Your best bet if you're looking for pot marigold is to search for it by its scientific name, Calendula Officinalis. In all likelihood, if your nursery carries it, you'll find it in a small display of herbal or specialty plants.

How to Grow Marigold Calendula

Calendula is also an easy to grow annual. It reaches a height of about 18 inches and has longish, medium green, slightly hairy leaves. Although you can purchase plants, pot marigold is easy to direct sow from seed in spring after the last threat of frost has passed.

Provide calendula with a sunny location and soil that drains well. Although it's tolerant of neglect, when you fertilize it as you would other spring annuals, you'll have brighter, more prolific blooms. Calendula is somewhat drought tolerant, but if you experience punishing summers in your area, provide plants with a little afternoon shade and a layer of mulch. Dead-head plants regularly (remove spent flowers) to encourage flower production. Once calendula is established in the garden, it self-seeds readily and comes back year after year.

When thickly planted, marigold looks attractive and cheerful. It is also available in multiple shades from buttery yellow to dark russet, and with somewhat different petal configurations depending on the cultivar. Online suppliers also offer pot marigold "variety" seed packs with multiple cultivars represented in one packet.

Using Marigold Calendula

Calendula was named for the Virgin Mary, and was once commonly dried and added to winter dishes to give them color and enhanced aroma. It was often added fresh to salads, too. This was at a time when manor house salads could number 100 ingredients or more. It's also a culinary coloring agent. A calendula rinse will color Easter eggs and tint rice and mayonnaise an attractive yellow. It's sometimes called "poor man's saffron." Whole dried flowers retain much of their color, too, and look attractive in potpourri or added to decorative candles.

Medicinal Uses for Marigold Calendula

Calendula is an antibacterial, antiseptic and antifungal. It also has anti-inflammatory properties. You'll find it as an ingredient in herbal skin ointment recipes to treat:

  • Dry skin (It makes a nice moisturizer.)
  • Minor skin irritations
  • Chapped lips (Tried this and it is great)
  • Diaper rash
  • Insect bites
  • Eczema
  • Sunburn

Although research is still ongoing, calendula has been used to treat conditions like fever, nosebleeds, varicose veins, muscle spasms and hemorrhoids, to name a few. At this writing, there isn't enough evidence for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or the National Institutes of Health to rate its effectiveness in these treatments. Follow the links at the bottom of this page for more information about other medicinal applications for calendula.

Even though calendula is considered safe, it is contraindicated if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, sensitive to plants in the Asteraceae/Compositae family or are currently taking sedative medications like CNS depressants. For updated information about the safety of herbal preparations, please visit MedLine Plus (a service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) or WebMd.

If you think you'd like to make a calendula moisturizer or lip balm, the recipes for both are easy and fun. (I'll walk you through them in an upcoming post.) You might want to try growing your own calendula this season and then supplement your harvest with purchased (dried) calendula flowers, if necessary. If you're just getting into making herbal remedies, dried marigold and dried lavender buds are two versatile ingredients you can use in lots of preparations.

French Marigold
I'll leave you with a quick literary reference. Marigold petals open at sunrise and close at dusk, a habit Shakespeare describes in A Winter's Tale:

    The Marigold that goes to bed wi' the sun
    And with him rises weeping.

*French marigold has a few edible cultivars. If the French marigold you have in your garden -- or are interested in planting -- is not marketed or labeled as edible, then it is probably not safe for human consumption. Don't confuse it with edible calendula.


Clevely, Andi, Katherine Richmond, Sallie Morris, Leslie Mackley. "Cooking With Herbs and Spices. Hermes House. 2003.

 Discovery Health. "Calendula Herbal Remedies." Brett, Jennifer, N.D.>

Garden Guides. "Calendula Flower Information."

Houdret, Jessica. "Practical Herb Garden." Hermes House. 2002.
MedLine Plus. "Calendula." Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health.

WebMD. "Calendula Overview."


Photo 1 -
Wouter Hagens (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo 2 -
By Wouter Hagens (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo 3 -
By Wouter Hagens (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo 4 -
By Johann Georg Sturm (Painter: Jacob Sturm) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo 5 - By Andrew Bossi (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons


  1. Awesome post. thanks! i was wondering, if you had both, would you have to worry about cross-pollination?

  2. So far I have yet to find a source that says WHY a french marigold might not be edible. According to the plants for a future, they found several references of people eating the leaves and petals:
    PLus most plants in the Asteraceae/Compositae have some kind of edible or medicinal part to them.
    I keep hearing people quote some source that it's not edible, but no one has yet said WHAT toxins it has in it...

  3. North Carolina State University has a nice toxic plant list with details. You can find information about French marigold (Tagetes) there, or perform a general search on French marigold toxicity. Here's the link I found:, which references tagetes as photo toxic. It also contains thiophene derivatives. I hope this helps.

  4. Tagetes erectas is GRAS. I just read an entire paper on the studies done to test it. In humans it was only tested at 20 mg. but in animals it far exceeded what you could eat if that was all you were eating. 20 mg/kg body weight. There were no adverse reactions. NONE I'm not sure how it got the bad rap. It's used in nearly all lutein supplements. In my research I found multiple websites that list the more common marigolds as safe to eat. They were very specifically speaking of the Tagetes, not Calendula which is also safe to eat. In Canada it is listed as a food coloring, where in the USA it is listed as a food additive, not coloring. Apparently that makes a huge difference in marketability. It is also listed as a supplement. Almost all Lutein and Zanthanene (sp) come from common Marigold not Calendula.

  5. Hi I've been drying French marigold for cream making , I'm a complete novice and this is my first attempt . It seems I've been mistaken as I thought that all marigolds were edible , I've put the dried flowers into oil to infuse , but should I discard them , would French marigold be harmful as cream ?, any advise would be help full
    Thanks in advance ..... Gill

    1. Hi Gill,

      There are a number of French marigold varieties available. Some are toxic and some can have beneficial properties. Without knowing which variety you have, I can't speculate. You probably intended to cultivate and dry calendula, the other type of marigold, which has a number of beneficial properties. You can grow it easily and it's also available dried for DIY use in creams and salves. You can find it on Amazon and through other online suppliers.


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