The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications

Tagetes spp.






Compositae: Asteraceae (Aster Family); Helecieae Tribe

Species of Ethnobotanical Significance


Tagetes erecta L.—cempoalxóchitl, flor de los muertos (the subspecies Tagetes erecta nana is primarily used for cultivation purposes; Tagetes erecta hybrids)

Tagetes lucida Cav.—yauhtli

Tagetes minuta L. [syn.

Tagetes glandulifera Schrank]—wild marigold

Tagetes patula L.—French marigold

Tagetes pusilla H.B.K. [syn. Tagetes filifolia Lag., T. congesta Hook et Arn., T. multifida DC.]—pampa anis

Folk Names


Most of these names are used for all species of Tagetes: anisillo, belbop (Nepali), cempoal, cempoalxóchitl, flor de los muertos (Spanish, “flower of the dead”), flor de tierradentro (Spanish, “flower of the underworld”), gainda, gendha, hierba anis, hierba de nubes (Spanish,“herb of the clouds”), marigold, marygold, pericirituela de muerto (Spanish, “rose of the dead”), sammetblume, Santa María,301sempoalxochitl, stinkende hofart (Switzerland), studentenblume, tagète, yerbanis

“To dispel evil spirits, the Garinagu prepare a mixture of orange peels and marigolds. At burials, the helpers wash their hands in a water to which the flowers were added. The priests at the ceremonies of the Maya wash their hands and faces with a decoction of the leaves so that they will be better able to invoke the spirits.”






(1994, 147*)



Macuilxochitl (“five flowers”), a manifestation of Xochipilli, the Aztec god of inebriating plants (Florentine Codex, book 1; sixteenth century). One Tagetes species bore his name.



The typical flower of Tagetes erecta.



Tagetes erecta with filled flowers.



An interesting type of Tagetes aff. erecta from Nepal.



The fresh herbage of Tagetes lucida has a very pleasant scent.




Tagetes species were bred and cultivated in pre-Columbian Mexico. They were first described in the Aztec Badianus manuscript of 1552 (Emmart 1940*). The Aztec name for those Tagetes species that were used as ritual incense is yyauhtli (also written yyahitl); the word is derived from ujana, “to offer incense in sacrifices” (Siegel et al. 1977,

20). The Spanish physician Fernando Hernandez wrote in his colonial-period work that Tagetes stimulates sexual desire and relieves the insane.

Most Tagetes species (especially T. erecta and T. patula) quickly spread throughout the world as ornamental plants. In India and Nepal, they even took on ritual significance as flowers for offering to the goddess Bhagwati and to Shiva (Majupuria and Joshi 1988, 221*). Tagetes has also acquired a certain significance as “American saffron,” used to counterfeit the considerably more expensive true saffron (see Crocus sativus).



All species of Tagetes originated in the Americas, where they occur from the North American Southwest to Argentina (Ferraro 1955). The main area of distribution and the area in which the greatest variety can be found is in southern Mexico (Neher 1968, 317). Tagetes lucida is very common in Nayarit and Jalisco at altitudes of up to 2,100 meters (Siegel et al. 1977, 20). Tagetes erecta is originally from Mexico (Dressler 1953, 147 f.*).


The diminutive Tagetes minuta.



One of the many cultivated sorts of Tagetes aff. patula.



Illustration of the variety of Tagetes erecta known as cempoalxóchitl (b) in the Aztec-language work of Fra Bernardino de Sahagun. (Paso y Troncoso edition)



Illustration of the variety of Tagetes erecta known as macuilxochitl (a) in the Aztec-language work of Fra Bernardino de Sahagun (Paso y Troncoso edition); macuilxochitl is the flower of Xochipilli.




All Tagetes species are easy to grow from seed. The seeds are scattered onto the ground in March or April and covered only lightly with soil.



Most of the species discussed here are available in numerous cultivated forms and strains (Kaplan 1960). They are often difficult to distinguish from one another. This difficulty is compounded by the fact that most plants have double flowers (Graf 1992, 330*). The plants, which grow from 20 to 50 cm in height, almost always have yellow flowers that either have five distinct petals or are filled to some degree, and most have pinnate leaves. All Tagetes species exude a strong, sometimes pungently “medicinal” scent.

Psychoactive Material


—Flowering herbage

Preparation and Dosage


The herbage can be infused, boiled, or ground to produce a paste. Bundles of fresh or dried flowering herbage of Tagetes lucida are sold in markets in Mexico; these may be used as a spice for preparing food (the aromatic herbage is used to flavor maize dishes), as a remedy, or as a ritual plant (Bye and Linares 1983, 6 f.*).

Two to three cups of an aromatic tea (infusion of one bundle) made from Tagetes lucida are sufficient to produce potent stimulant effects (Neher 1968, 321).

The leaves of Tagetes pusilla, which is known in southern Peru as pampa anis (“prairie anis”), are heated until they turn to ash and then added to coca quids (see Erythroxylum coca).302

In Lesotho (Africa), the leaves of Tagetes minuta are burned to ash and then finely ground with tobacco leaves (Nicotiana tabacum), an Aloe species, maize cobs, and millet stalks (Sorghum spp.) to produce a (medicinal?) snuff(Neher 1968, 320).

Unfortunately, no information is available concerning precise dosages.

Ritual Use


The Mexican Indians have attributed Tagetes species with magical properties since pre-Columbian times. One variety of Tagetes erecta with filled flowers is known in Aztec as macuilxochitl (according to Sahagun). Macuilxochitl(also spelled macuilsuchitl), “five flower,” is a manifestation of Xochipilli, the god of psychoactive plants (Nicholson 1967*). The Maya used this flower as an additive to the sacred balche’ drink. It is said that contemporary Mayan shamans still use the plant they call xpuhuc (tagetes lucida) as an inebriant (Ott 1993, 402*). The Mixe of Oaxaca drink a tea made from nine flowers for divination (Lipp 1991*).

In Mexico, the flowers of Tagetes erecta and Tagetes patula are known as flores del muerto, “flowers of the dead.” They are offered to the dead the night of the All Saints’ Day festival (November 1). The blossoms of these species are also used as flower offerings in many Hindu ceremonies in India and Nepal.

The Aztecs referred to Tagetes lucida as yauhtli, “plant of the clouds.” They would sprinkle a powder of the plant into the faces of war prisoners who were to be burned as sacrifices so that they would be sedated during their ordeal. Even today, many Mexican Indians burn the dried herbage of Tagetes lucida as an incense on their house altars or at public ceremonies (Neher 1968, 322).

The Huichol Indians of the Sierra Madre (Mexico) call Tagetes lucida either tumutsáli or, more rarely, yahutli. They smoke the dried herbage alone or mixed with equal parts of the leaves of Nicotiana rustica. Although Tagetes is also smoked recreationally, the mixture does have a ceremonial character. The leaves and flowers are smoked in cigarettes made from corn husks. The smoking blend is often smoked in combination with the ingestion of peyote (Lophophora williamsii), tesquino or nawa (maize beer), or homemade  or soter (cactus liquor; cf. alcohol). These combinations are said to produce lively hallucinations. Bundles of the dried herbage are placed as offerings in temples, administrative buildings, and sacred sites (Siegel et al. 1977, 20).303


“Yellow flowers open wide;

It is our mother, she with the masked face.

You, who have come from


Yellow are your flowers.”




(A. GARIBAY, 1971)


A number of herbs are used in Mexican brujería (“witchcraft”) for limpias, “purifications,” to dispel diseases. Tagetes lucida and Tagetes erecta are among these.



Representations of flowers having five petals are often found in pre-Columbian art. It is possible that some of these are depictions of Tagetes species. The Museo Carlos Pellicer Camara (Villahermosa, Tabasco) has on display a cylindrical polychrome ceramic vessel from the Classic Mayan period (300–900 C.E.) that depicts a yellow flower whose form and color suggest that it may represent Tagetes lucida.

In Mexican folk art, a wide variety of skulls, skeletons, et cetera, are produced for such purposes as the All Saints’ Day festivals. These objects of wood, papier-mâché, or sugar are sometimes decorated with painted Tagetesflowers.

The album IN Mixkoakali (Cademac Records, 1996), by the Mexican music group Tribu, includes “Sempoalxochitl,” a piece played with pre-Columbian instruments that is dedicated to the “flower of twenty scents” (Tagetes erecta).

Medicinal Use


The Aztecs used all species of Tagetes for medicinal purposes, e.g., to treat hiccups and diarrhea. People who had been struck by lightning were treated with extracts of Tagetes lucida.

Today, the fresh herbage of Tagetes lucida is made into a tea that is drunk for abdominal pains (Bye and Linares 1983, 8*). In Mexico, it is believed that the herbage promotes lactation (Jiu 1966, 252*). It is also used as a bath additive to treat rheumatism (Siegel et al. 1977, 20).

In Uttar Pradesh (India), juice that has been freshly pressed from Tagetes erecta leaves is administered to treat eczema (Siddiqui et al. 1989, 482*).

In Mexico, the crushed leaves or the juice that has been pressed from the herbage of Tagetes erecta is mixed with water or wine (pulque; cf. Agave spp.) and drunk as an aphrodisiac (Neher 1968, 318). A tea of the plant is used as a stimulant.

In Argentina, a decoction of the leaves of Tagetes minuta L. is drunk for coughs (Filipov 1994, 186*). It is also a well-known insect repellent.



All Tagetes species contain potently aromatic essential oils. Tagetes lucida and Tagetes erecta contain salvinorin-like substances (see salvinorin A) whose structures have not yet been fully clarified. Also present are thiophene compounds, e.g., α-terthienyl (Roth et al. 1994, 689*). Benzofurans are present in Tagetes patula (Sütfeld et al. 1985).

The fresh, flowering herbage of Tagetes minuta contains mono- and sesquiterpenes (carvone, linalool, tagetone) as well as ocimenone. (5E)-ocimenone has been found to have lethal effects upon the larvae of the mosquito species Aedes aegypti (Maradufu et al. 1978).



Research is still needed to clarify the mechanism of activity of Tagetes species. When the eyes are closed, the Huichol smoking blend is said to be able to produce images and visions similar to those produced by peyote (Lophophora williamsii) (Siegel et al. 1977, 20 f.).

Commercial Forms and Regulations


The seeds of many Tagetes species, breeds, and cultivars as well as living plants can be obtained from any well-stocked flower store or nursery.



Ferraro, Matilde. 1955. Las species Argentinas del genero Tagetes. Boletín de la Sociedad Argentina de Botánica 6 (1): 30–39.


Kaplan, Lawrence. 1960. Historical and ethnobotanical aspects of domestication in TagetesEconomic Botany 14:200–202.


Maradufu, Asafu, Richard Lubega, and Franz Dorn. 1978. Isolation of (5E)-ocimenone, a mosquito larvicide from Tagetes minutaLloydia 41:181–83.


Neher, Robert Trostle. 1968. The ethnobotany of Tagetes. Economic Botany 22:317–25.


Siegel, Ron K., P. R. Collings, and José L. Diaz. 1977. On the use of Tagetes lucida and Nicotiana rustica as a Huichol smoking mixture. Economic Botany 31:16–23.


Sütfeld, Rainer, Felipe Balza, and G. H. Neil Towers. 1985. A benzufuran from Tagetes patula seedlings. Phytochemistry 24 (4): 876–77.



The earliest European illustration of Tagetes erecta, which was introduced from Mexico. (Woodcut from Fuchs, Kreüterbuch, 1543)