Calendula vs. Marigolds – The Differences

It’s a common point of confusion for many people – What’s the difference between calendula and marigolds? They’re basically the same thing, right? Can’t I just substitute one for the other?

Calendula and marigolds are two very different plants, and trying to substitute one for the other isn’t advised. I personally blame all the confusion on whoever it was that first thought a good alternate name for calendula would be ‘pot marigold’!

At A Glance

Here’s a quick and handy chart, for the people who just want the conclusion and not to have to read through all this nonsense:

A chart that quickly compares the key points of calendula and marigolds against one another

Now, let’s expand!

Names

First difference: Completely different scientific names!

Calendula

There are quite a few kinds of calendula flowers! Calendula is actually a genus of plants inside the plant family Asteraceae, meaning all the plants that count as calendula have it in their scientific name.

Calendula officinalis is that widely-cultivated bright bloom that’s so often coveted, both historically and in the present, for its medicinal properties. If you’re following a salve recipe or something else that calls for calendula, you should use Calendula officinalis.

Scientific name is NOT the variety name- when looking for calendula for your projects or garden, check tags, labels, and packets for both. Resina Calendula, Orange King Calendula, and Snow Princess Calendula are all very different looking blooms, but all of them are still Calendula officinalis, and can be used in the same way.

Other plants also bear Calendula in the first part of their name, but they aren’t so widely known, and are not used in the same way as Calendula officinalis. They appear to mostly be wildflowers, and not commonly cultivated ones at that.

Marigolds

Marigolds, on the other hand, are all under the genus Tagetes. African (or Aztec) marigolds are Tagetes erecta. French marigolds are Tagetes patula, while Mexican marigolds are called Tagetes lucida. There are also Signet marigolds, or Tagetes tenuifolia.

The most commonly grown marigolds are Tagetes patula and Tagetes erecta (French and African marigolds). Both have a good selection of varieties to choose from, bred over the years.

calendula leaves and marigold leaves look very different
Calendula officinalis (left), and Marigold, or Tagetes spp, (right), have very different kinds of leaves.

Physical Traits

Calendula

Calendula flowers may range in petal color and layering, but all Calendula officinalis should have the same leaf, body, stem, and seed set-up.

calendula officinalis flower
Calendula officinalis flower

Calendula plants in general tend to be sticky to the touch- that’s the resin inside the plant, and when it comes to herbalists, this is highly desired. In fact, the stickier it is, the better, when it comes to making your salves and infused oils and other such things. Varieties such as Resina Calendula have been specifically bred for higher resin levels!

When the long, rounded leaves are stroked, one’s fingers generally tend to catch on the sticky, somewhat hairy texture. Stems are sticky too! The plant forms into a small shrub as long as one keeps up with the regular harvesting of flowers.

Calendula seeds are curved like a crescent, brown in color, and have little ridges or teeth all along their backs.

Marigolds

a red-orange marigold flower
Marigold, or Tagetes spp,, flower in bloom

Long, thin leaves are toothed on the edges, and stems are smooth to the touch. In fact, the whole plant feels smooth.

Marigolds can be short and compact or grow up to over two feet tall, depending on variety. Petals are usually densely packed.

Marigold seedheads are packed full of straight black seeds, tipped with white.

marigold leaves and seeds beside calendula leaves and seeds
Marigold, or Tagetes spp, (left) and Calendula officinalis (right), have very different looking seeds.

Uses

Calendula

Calendula flowers are harvested for use in medicinal products, as a dye, and for their edible petals.

The flowers are often used via infused oils in salves, lip balms, soaps, and other related body-care products. The petals are sprinkled on salads as an edible way to add color. (Avoid eating the petals or drinking calendula tea if pregnant.)

The bright flowers also yield beautiful natural dyes when boiled and used on fabrics and yarns!

Many pollinators seem to enjoy calendula, bees and butterflies alike, while being left largely alone by most pests (at least around these parts). Some people recommend planting it among tomatoes, claiming it deters tomato hornworms.

Calendula can be constantly harvested, as it responds to having its flowers plucked by sending out even more flowers. In fact, one should be careful not to go too long without picking, or you might go out to look for blooms but only find seedheads!

Marigolds

Marigold’s most primary use is to deter harmful nematodes in the garden, and for looks. It’s also said to deter other pests, but it seems no one can really agree on just which ones they turn away. Snails are said to dislike them, as well.

Some gardeners make a natural insect-repelling spray out of marigold flowers.

Interestingly enough, I’ve personally found that when I grow Kilimanjaro White Marigolds (Tagetes erecta), the pollinators go wild for them. Bees and butterflies flock to the flowers, but not a single pest takes a bite.

Marigolds are also used for natural dying, and can be used fresh or dried in this process.

Marigolds are not normally ingested. Marigolds aren’t usually used in body care products either, as some feel they can irritate the skin.

Marigolds (Tagetes spp) don’t have herbal properties and shouldn’t be used to replace Calendula (Calendula officinalis) in herbal remedies.

(Note an exception: Tagetes lucida, or Mexican Tarragon, is distinctly different from other marigolds in uses and properties. More on this in a future article. )

marigold flowers and calendula flowers on wooden background
marigold flowers on the left, calendula flowers on the right

Conclusion

Calendula and marigolds are not the same plant and should not be substituted for one another.

One calendula may easily take the place of another in the same genus, and one Tagetes marigold for another, but Tagetes marigolds and calendula simply don’t have enough in common to be able to take the other’s place.

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10 Comments

  1. THANK YOU! The Nerdy Farm Wife turned me on to this chart and it is exactly what I was looking for and couldn’t quite find. Calendula vs Marigold…harder to get clear info than you might think, this is a great resource and I appreciate it.

  2. Thank you so very much for clarifying this! After reading other info, I was almost ready to start using regular marigolds for making salve and oils, bit something just didn’t sit right with me. I appreciate you!

  3. As I was looking through the info online there was Marigold tea which touted all these amazing properties and making tea and I was confused. Thanks for your chart. I have added calendula petal to sesame oil, but not heated it. Should I put into sun in dark bottle to warm? I use for body care all over before bath or shower. I would like to know how you keep the beneficial properties: Cream? Oi?l and process? Thank you
    Kirsten

    1. Hi Kirsten, I’m so glad the chart was helpful! You can infuse your calendula oil a few ways:
      You can put it in a sunny window for about 2 weeks – after that you may want to tuck it away into a dark place. (Some sun infusion is nice, but too long can fade the flowers.)
      Or I also have methods to heat a quick way and slow way written up in my article at our Nerdy Farm Wife site that you might find helpful:
      https://thenerdyfarmwife.com/calendula-oil-salve/
      The benefits of calendula will be in the oil, and also in salves, lip balms, lotion bars, creams, and other products made with the oil. It’s pretty durable, so can be heated and still have plenty of benefits. 😊

  4. Thank you so much for this clarification . I had thought marigold and calendula were the same. Would have been a disaster making skin care products from Marigold!

    1. Hi Helen, I’m so happy that you found the article helpful! Best wishes with your skin care product making! ❤

  5. Calendula O. has abortive qualities for rodents. When I grow it around my trees- as it CAN cause problems with your non woody plants- I don’t have problems with rabbits, mice, voles or other such nuisance pests.

    1. Hi Craig, Thanks for sharing your experiences! We’ll have to try that out this spring around our apple trees since the voles tend to hang out in that area most.

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