Magical Marigold By Ellary Allis
In the Peruvian Amazon, marigold (Tagetes of the Asteraceae family), known colloquially as Rosa Sisa, is a staple in the toolkit of both the pan-Amazonian curandero (shaman, or folk healer) and the Peruvian homemaker concerned with preserving and restoring harmony to the household. Peruvians often grow the flower, which has always looked to me like a crepe-paper sun, near the entrance of homes to burn off the jealousy of passersby who may covet possessions viewed through windows and open doors. Folklore holds that the flower turns black as it absorbs the energy of envy. As the energy is absorbed down through the earth, the petals are restored to their golden hue. Rosa Sisa is used on the physical plane for the metaphysical cleansing of bad luck from the home; floors in the house are washed with a bucket of of water and crushed Rosa Sisa. Knowledge of Rosa Sisa’s benefits ascends to higher altitudes; Andean dwelling Peruvians say it can can heal those suffering from mal aire (bad air), a common malady in the Andean region of Peru and Ecuador. Mal aire blows in from the Andean Cordillera and causes restlessness and depression in those caught in its path. Children are said to be most susceptible to the curse of mal aire.
The Tagetes is an erect annual herbaceous plant that grows to a height of 3-5 feet and bears flowers that stretch two to four inches across. This species is indigenous to Mexico and Central America, its natural habitat the pine-oak forest zone with a warm, low humidity climate. However, it has been naturalized elsewhere in the tropics, and is widely cultivated in places as distant from its origins as the indian ocean islands and Zambia and South Africa, where its cultivated on a small scale (as it is in Latin America) for the flavonoids extracted for the beautiful gold dye they provide for textiles. In North America it’s as often a fugitive found along roadsides as it is a tended garden ornamental. Flowering begins at 3 moths, and the plants are ready for harvesting when they display 2-3 fully developed flower heads. As a non-toxic alternative to commercial pesticides, Tagetes is often intercropped or grown in rotation with other crops to reduce diseases and repel pests. The plant requires full sunlight to thrive and grows best in well-drained, loamy, and clay soils.
In Mexico and elsewhere in Central America, marigold is called the flor de muerto, or flower of the dead. In Pre-Hispanic Mexico, the Aztecs adorned shrines and temples with the marigold’s petals;Tagetes Erecta is sometimes referred to as Aztec Marigold. Marigold has gracefully adapted to its current role in the modern day Mexican Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration, when petals are placed at gravesides and alters. In Honduras, corpses were formerly washed with a water extract made from marigold.
Rosa Sisa’s physiological medicinal properties are significant. When taken internally, it treats colic, constipation, dysentery, and gall bladder problems. It cools fevers and helps soothe coughs, supporting the respiratory system by dilating the bronchi and clearing congestion through aiding mucus flow. Its astringent properties make it an effective diuretic. Topically applied, its anti-fungal and antimicrobial effects help heal sores, ulcers, eczema, sore eyes, and rheumatism. As a cleanser and protector from negative energy, Rosa Sisa is gentle, with its late afternoon sunshine hued petals and sweet aroma, yet efficient-no shrinking violet, it’s not called the flor del muerto for nothing. In preparation for ayahuasca ceremonies, it’s customary for Amazonian curanderos to administer floral baths of crushed Rosa Sisa, basil, and other purifying aromatics to prepare the participant prior to drinking the ayahuasca brew.
To make your own floral bath, fill a bucket with water, gather marigold flowers and any other aromatics that call to you, and tear them (respectfully, deliberately) until you’re left with a pile of plant parts. Place the plants in the water and let it steep in the sunshine for a few hours. When the mixture is steeped, peel off your clothes and pour the tea over your bare skin, taking care to wet the crown of your head, the hollow of your throat, your heart center, your back, your limbs. This is not a full immersion bath, this is a careful cascade. Wait a few hours, a night if you can, before showering. If you wind up with petals, leaves and stems plastered to your skin, all the better!
Pictures © Ellary Allis