Herb of the month for October: Mexican Mint Marigold

Herb of the month: Mexican Mint Marigold (Tagetes lucida) is an aromatic perennial herb that looks like a marigold but has intense tarragon-flavoured leaves and a strong liquorice/anise fragrance. The only hint of mint is that the plants spread freely. It is a great substitute for French tarragon because it tolerates heat and drought, unlike French tarragon. The flavour is a little stronger and sweeter than French tarragon. 

Vital stats: It is compact and bushy, 30 t0 60cm high and almost as wide. It is indigenous to Mexico and the Southwestern regions of the United States, which explains its other names: Mexican tarragon, Spanish tarragon or Texas tarragon.  It flowers from summer through to the beginning of winter and the volatile oils in the marigold-like leaves have a similar fragrance and flavour to tarragon. 

To grow: this heat and drought tolerant herb is perfect for our long hot summers. It thrives in full sun in ordinary garden soil that needs to drain well. Grow from seed and water young plants regularly until they are established. Thereafter water deeply once a week in summer to ensure plenty of lush, edible leaves. Harvest the individual leaves or sprigs. The plant forms a clump that can be divided after two to three years. 

Companion planting: Grow with tomatoes, peppers or basil. The aromatic leaves are an excellent pest repellent and the bright yellow flowers attract butterflies. Plant in the flower garden along with roses and other perennials. 

Uses: chop and add the fresh leaves to sauces, salads, soups and chicken dishes. Make a tarragon pesto for spicy Mexican dishes and pasta. The leaves can be dried but don’t have quite the same intense flavour. Add the flowers to salads or use as a garnish. 

Make a stimulating and refreshing tea from the leaves. In Mexico the tea has been traditionally used to soothe upset stomachs, stimulate the appetite and as a diuretic. 

Seeds are available from Kirchhoffs. Visit www.kirchhoffs.co.za

Mexican Mint Marigold – The Gardener