Cempasuchil Confusion During Dia de Muertos.

It’s that time of year again. No! Not pumpkin spice season. Dia de Muertos season cabrones (pardon my Galician).

This means it is cempoalxóchitl (1) season (2). I have Posted on this herb/flower previously (3). This previous Post discussed the edible and medicinal uses of cempasuchil (and supplies a few recipes too)

  1. The word cempoalxóchitl (also cempazúchitl/cempasúchil) comes from the Nahuatl term for the flower cempohualxochitl, literally translated as “twenty flower”. From cempōhualli (“twenty”) +‎ xōchitl (“flower”). Cognate with Tetelcingo Nahuatl sempoalxuchi̱tl. Tetelcingo Nahuatl, called Mösiehuali̱ by its speakers, is a Nahuatl variety of central Mexico. It is one of the core varieties closely related to Classical Nahuatl. It is spoken in the town of Tetelcingo, Morelos, and the adjacent Colonia Cuauhtémoc and Colonia Lázaro Cárdenas. These three population centres lie to the north of Cuautla, Morelos and have been largely absorbed into its urban area; as a result the Tetelcingo language and culture are under intense pressure.
  2. Tagetes erecta, also called a marigold – not to be confused with the Calendula species marigold.
  3. See Post : Cempasuchil
Street art in the CDMX

My social media feeds of late have been filled with a lot of somewhat confusing information going around what seems to be two major concerns regarding the use of cempasuchil at this time. The first is regarding the use of imported Chinese marigolds and the second revolves around the use of either “male” or “female” flowers.

The first issue is one of national pride and patrimony. Now, before I go any further I think it important to note that the Tagetes family (of which cempasuchil is a member) originated in México and Guatemala (Acevedo-Rodríguez and Strong 2012) (Davidse et al 2018) and has been intentionally introduced across tropical, subtropical and temperate regions of the world and now it can be found cultivated and naturalized (1) in North and South America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, Europe and Oceania.

  1. (of a plant or animal) having become established and living wild in a region where it is not indigenous.

This issue revolves around the use of “Chinese” marigolds or using flowers that have been grown in and imported from China. Instead you are being asked to actively choose the Mexican cempasuchil instead and to support Mexican growers (and economy) by purchasing the Mexican variety of the flower which was grown in Mexican soil.

As stated in the image above (on the right)

The popularity of the cempasuchil marigold is due to the fact that it is small in size and ideal for sale in a pot. However, it is grown from exported and modified seed in countries such as China and India. The seeds that the cempasuchil marigold generates are considered withered because they are unable to germinate, which means that each year foreign seed must be purchased to meet the demand.

The species Tagetes patula is native, it has the ideal size for sale in a pot, it is known as cempasuchil clemolito. In Mexico, Tagetes erecta is grown, although this variety in particular is taller and is usually sold by bunches. These varieties generate fertile seeds and can be stored the following year for cultivation.

So…..how can I support the Mexican countryside? Acquiring native flowers such as cempasuchil clemito or bouquets to celebrate this day of the dead. With this you will contribute to preserve the diversity of cultivated native plants and the development of the Mexican countryside.

It is important to note that the message above speaks of the use of seed imported imported from China and India and not the living plants themselves (others are complaining about the use of imported living plants or cut flowers). The imported seed is often implicated as being genetically modified (GMO) but in reality these have not been GMO’d but selectively bred and the seed is often an F1 hybrid. Now these types of hybrid breed true in the first generation but if you save the seed and try to grow a second generation you will (generally) have no luck. The seed may be sterile and not sprout at all or when it does grow it will differ from the parent plant in shape/size/leaf form/flower structure/blossom size etc etc.

(above) Various packets of F1 hybrid marigolds.

Now, to ask a question. Just because a marigold (or its seeds) come from China does that make it Chinese?

In this case the plant in question (Tagetes erecta) is more commonly known as an African marigold (even though it does not come from Africa). The “other” variety is commonly known as a “French” marigold (again, no real connection to France) and even amongst only these two types there are many sub-varieties.

The flowers of six different African and French marigold cultivars.

Both can be used interchangeably from a culinary and medicinal point of view and both varieties are grown on a large scale commercial basis in both India and China to supply medicinal quality lutein and zeaxanthin (Gupta 2014) and food grade colourants in the orange/yellow spectrum.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission (1) has adopted lutein from Tagetes erecta (INS 161b(i)) in the General Standard of Food Additives for use in flavoured fluid milk drinks with a maximum permitted level (MPL) of 100 mg/kg. Many other applications of lutein from Tagetes erecta as a colour additive in foods and beverages have been proposed and are pending adoption. Lutein esters from Tagetes erecta (161b(iii)) is a food additive that is included in Table 3 of the GSFA, and as such may be used in specified foods under the conditions of good manufacturing practices (GMP) as outlined in the Preamble of the GSFA. The Codex Alimentarius is also problematic for reasons of its own. The 2003 International Commission of the Future of Food and Agriculture, convened by Italian politician Claudio Martini and chaired by anti-globalization activist Vandana Shiva, issued several manifestos, (McIntyre-Mills 2014) including the Manifesto on the Future of Food, which contended that “bureaucracies like the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the Codex Alimentarius have codified policies designed to serve the interests of global agribusiness above all others, while actively undermining the rights of farmers and consumers”. At the highest level of conspiracy revolving around this document it has been posited that plants that do not make it into the document go against the overreaching control of the FAO/WHO and the growing of these plants (generally by poor third world farmers) becomes illegal and habits such as seed saving and growing these crops will turn these already oppressed people into criminals just for eating outside of the proscribed foods within the document. (Crane 2009). This document may also affect the use of herbs and vitamins as natural therapies making anyone who uses them (other than a doctor – who wouldn’t use them anyway) criminals.

  1. The Codex Alimentarius is a collection of internationally recognized standards, codes of practice, guidelines, and other recommendations published by the Food and Agriculture Organization (of the United Nations) relating to food, food production, food labelling, and food safety.

So. Chinese? Yes and no. The origin of the plant itself? No. The origin of the selectively bred hybrids? Yes. The origin of mass produced F1 hybrid seeds? Also yes. Now this also presents an interesting problem along the lines of imported maiz seed for agriculture. We can’t blame the Chinese for this but we can look at organisations such as Monsanto who introduce GMO seed which may grow better under certain conditions (low water, saline conditions, low nutrient soil etc) but these seeds also tend to only grow true for 1 generation and traditional farming practices such as seed saving for next years crop cannot be implemented. This then enslaves the farmer to the seed producer.

This has been addressed by some.

(Left Image – above) There is a lot of confusion on the topic of cempasuchil marigold. This flower is not necessarily from China, it can also be from India, Holland, USA, etc. The point here is that the seed and agrochemical industry makes the national producers dependent.

(Right Image – above)

  1. Therefore we are talking about a Machiavellian industry that monopolizes the world markets for seeds and food, controlling prices and subjugating entire regions. This industry is not interested in the quality of products and food, only economic benefits.
  2. If it were possible for these seed industries, they would have already extinguished all endemic fruits and thus control all food worldwide. Something that is not so far from reality. (This is part of the Codex Alimentarius conspiracy – Authors note)
  3. After all, we repeat that everyone is free to support the industry they want, but do not come to call us saboteurs or liars, much less want to invent benefits that do not exist. If you like coke that’s fine, but don’t sell it as something healthy.

TERRASAT on Facebook has decided to clear up the issue for us.

Now, TERRASAT, who lists themselves as Empresa Líder en Tecnología Geoespacial Fotogrametría & LiDAR SIG/GPS/Drones (Leading Company in Geospatial Technology Photogrammetry & LiDAR SIG/GPS/Drones) is all very interesting but I am curious as to how this relates to authority on the matter. They may have some capable botanist/herbalist/floriculturist/curandero/chef on staff who is more than familiar with the issue. Who knows? This is what they have to say on the matter though…….

  1. In previous days it has been circulated that if a flower is Chinese and the other Mexican, that is a lie, they are only the female and male variant, both originating from Mexico and necessary for the reproduction of the species.
  2. There are no GMO variants (nor need to “invent” them in this case), there are hybrids, as you can see there are several variants (worth the expression), and the combination of these makes there better crops selectively, the same is done with aguacate (avocado), peach, apple, corn, wheat, any crop and no one knows complain, it’s a normal agricultural practice.
  3. In the east if much cempasuchil is produced, but it is used in the textile industry, cosmetology, perfumery and gastronomic, in Mexico we have areas that produce huge quantities of the flower and you find it in bouquet and pot (support the economy n national).
  4. If the potted cempasuchil were Chinese, imagine the cost to move them within China (which is a huge country) send them by boat, plane, arrive to Mexico, pass customs, be sent and distributed within the national territory (what equal is huge) to get to the market of your preference and you can buy your little flower pot at a very affordable price.. That is, for logistical costs, it’s too complicated to think that potted cempasuchil are of foreign origin.
    Let’s help stop misinformation and support local and national commerce
    Source: Central Q News

Point 4 is interesting as it refutes the point made about imported plants and flowers. It would be too expensive to do. Importing GMO seed and growing it locally is not out of the question though. This practice should be avoided. SUPPORT LOCAL.

Another point they bring up (#1) is the fact of male (macho) and female (hembra) variants of this plant.

Technically (from a botanical point of view) this is incorrect as this type of flower structure contains both male and female sexual organs (pistil/stamen – see the section on cooking below for an explanation of these floral organs)

Monosexual or unisexual flowers refers to those that have only male or female parts – in other words, flowers that are either male or female. Monosexual plants can be either monoecious or dioecious.
Monoecious means plants that have male and female flowers on the same plant; dioecious means plants that have male and female flowers on separate plants. So, both monoecious and dioecious plants have monosexual flowers. (Contrast this with plants whose flowers contain both male and female parts in the same bloom, called perfect flowers, hermaphroditic, or bisexual.)
However, marigolds – at least those in the Asteraceae family (the Calendula, the Tagetes, and some of the others) – are mostly composite or compound flowers, meaning that they have both male and female flowers as parts of one flower head.
The marigold follows a pattern of a ring of ray florets (partial flowers), which are female, surrounding the central disc of tubular, hermaphrodite florets. This is the base pattern, the one that the wild forms have.
Then, enter cultivation and selective breeding. In order to get larger, showier flower heads, we now have doubled and tripled flowerhead plants, in which the ray florets (female) replace some or all of the central disc (hermaphrodite) florets. Thus the plant goes from having a bisexual composite flower to a monosexual composite flower.
So the answer to this is, sometimes yes, and sometimes no. (This didn’t really clear things up though did it?)

When we are talking about quelites however “macho” and “hembra” have a slightly different meaning.

Casas (etal 2016) notes that the Mixtec of La Montaña de Guerrero (1) differentiate two varieties of quelite (in general). A masculine “macho” and a feminine “hembra”. Macho herbs (generally speaking) have thinner, harder and in some cases pubescent (2) leaves. These plants are more bitter and fibrous in texture. They are weeded from active fields but are allowed to grow in fallow fields. Hembra herbs have wider, tender, glabrous (3) leaves that are more palatable as a foodstuff. They are the preferred variety of the plant and will be left alone and allowed to grow in the milpa.

  1. one of seven regions of the State of Guerrero in Mexico. Guerrero lies west of Oaxaca and south of Puebla
  2. “hairy”. When you see the word pubescens in a plants name it means there will be some kind of hairs (or prickles) on the plants leaves, stems, fruits etc
  3. smooth

I also address this in my Post Quelite : Alache : Anoda cristata

With alache, much like various other Quelites (1), people distinguish between two main variants: (1) the “alache macho” (“male alache”), which have slender and pubescent (2) leaves, with a high fibre content, and which is not palatable; and the “alache hembra” (“female alache”) which has broader and non-pubescent leaves, a lower fibre content and a good flavour. People gather young individuals or stems and leaves of the “female alache.” When individuals are removed, the populations are directly thinned, and with such an action it could be expected that populations of this variety might be easily displaced by those of the “male alache” and eventually disappear. However, this does not occur because not all individuals of the “female alache” populations are removed and, in addition, many individuals of the “male alache” populations are eliminated during weeding.

  1. See Post Quillquina : Porophyllum ruderale
  2. hairy

So macho and hembra are more closely related to the quality of the plant (in this case) as a foodstuff and how they are valued and treated when found spontaneously growing in the milpa (or in the wild).

The cempasuchil flower is edible. Parts of the flower such as the sepals (1), stamens (2), pistils (3), pedicels (4) and peduncles (4). These parts of the flower structure can impart a bitter flavour. You only want the yellow (orange/red) flower petals themselves.

  1. Sepals (collectively called the calyx) are modified leaves that encase the developing flower. They are sterile floral parts and may be either green or leaflike or composed of petal-like tissue.
  2. stamen, the male reproductive part of a flower. In all but a few extant angiosperms, the stamen consists of a long slender stalk, the filament, with a two-lobed anther at the tip
  3. pistil, the female reproductive part of a flower. The pistil, centrally located, typically consists of a swollen base, the ovary, which contains the potential seeds, or ovules; a stalk, or style, arising from the ovary; and a pollen-receptive tip, the stigma, variously shaped and often sticky.
  4. Pedicel and Peduncle: These terms refer to the stem or stalk of the flower. Each individual flower has a pedicel. When flowers appear in groups (also known as an inflorescence), the stalk leading up to the group of flowers is called a peduncle.

Some recipes.


  • 7 medium cempasúchil flowers, if the flowers are quite large only 4 will be needed
  • 1 and a half litres of milk
  • 1 cinnamon stick (5cm long) – the original recipe called for a “tronquito de canela”**See NOTES**
  • 1 cone of Piloncillo (unrefined cane sugar)
  • 250g of corn masa
  • 1 ½ cups water

**NOTES** tronquito m (plural tronquitos) : little trunk : (slang) penis


  1. Remove the petals from the flowers and soak them in a bowl of clean water for 10 minutes. Place the cleaned flower petals in a blender with 1 cup of fresh water and liquefy. Set this aside for later.
  2. Put the milk, the piloncillo and the cinnamon in a pot. Pour in the blended cempasuchil made in the last step. You can strain this floral liquid if you like. Straining it is probably not necessary as the flower petals are very soft and will not create a gritty texture to the atole. Warm this liquid over a medium heat so the cinnamon and cempasuchil begin to release their aromas
  3. Once the piloncillo has dissolved take 2 cups of the warm milk mixture and place it in a blender with the masa and blend until smooth.
  4. Slowly pour the blended mixture back into the pot stirring continuously so it does not stick to the bottom of the pot.
  5. Stir with a wooden spoon for (about) 8 minutes until the atole begins to thicken. You will need to stir continuously so that lumps do not form. This will make for a thicker atole, if you prefer it to be a little more runny then you may need only about 5 minutes cooking time.
  6. Turn off and let it rest for a few minutes and it will be ready to serve and enjoy.

Helado de cempasuchil (Cempasucil Ice-cream)


  • (approximately) 2 cups cempasuchil flowers
  • 500ml Whipping cream
  • 1 can Condensed milk
  • 5 Tablespoons Milk powder
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla essence
  • Artificial food colouring orange or yellow (optional).


  1. First remove the petals from the cempasuchil flowers, until you have approximately two cups of flower petals.
  2. place them in water with a few drops of disinfectant and let them rest for 15 minutes to clean.
  3. mix the condensed milk, the petals, the powdered milk and the vanilla essence in a blender.
  4. beat the whipping cream until you create soft peaks.
  5. Then, add the contents of the blender to the whipping cream and mix slowly (here you can add a little artificial colouring, if you wish)
  6. place this mixture in a container, cover it and freeze for about 8 hours or overnight (or you could put it in an ice-cream machine)
  7. decorate the finished product with a sprinkling of cempasuchil petals.


  • https://www.cabi.org/isc/datasheet/52641#:~:text=Tagetes%20erecta%20is%20native%20to%20Mexico%20and%20Guatemala.
  • Brewer, Forrest, y Jean G. Brewer. 1962. Vocabulario mexicano de Tetelcingo. Vocabularios indígenas “Mariano Silva y Aceves” 8. México: Instituto Lingüístico de Verano.
  • Casas, Alejandro & Vázquez, José & Lira, Rafael. (2016). Mexican Ethnobotany: Interactions of People and Plants in Mesoamerica. 10.1007/978-1-4614-6669-7_1.
  • Crane, Ian R. (2009) Codex Alimentarius: The UN Plan to Eradicate Organic Farming and Destroy the Natural Health Industry (Unabridged)
  • Davidse, G., Sousa-Sánchez, M., Knapp, S., Chiang, F., UUoa Ulloa, C., Pruski, J. F., 2018. Flora Mesoamericana, Volumen 5, Parte 2: Asteraceae, [ed. by Davidse, G., Sousa-Sánchez, M., Knapp, S., Chiang, F., UUoa Ulloa, C., Pruski, J. F.]. St. Louis, USA: Missouri Botanical Garden Press.xix + 608 pp.
  • Gupta, Pankaj. (2014). Carotenoids of Therapeutic Significance from Marigold. Natural Products Chemistry & Research. 2. 10.4172/2329-6836.1000e110.
  • He, Yanhong & Sun, Yalin & Zheng, Riru & Ai, Ye & Cao, Zhe & Bao, Manzhu. (2017). Induction of Tetraploid Male Sterile Tagetes Erecta by Colchicine Treatment and Its Application for Interspecific Hybridisation. Horticultural Plant Journal. 2. 10.1016/j.hpj.2017.01.002.
  • McIntyre-Mills, Janet (2014) Systemic Ethics and Non-Anthropocentric Stewardship: Implications for Transdisciplinary and Cosmopolitan Politics
  • Tang, Nan; Liu, Wei; Zhang, Wuhua; Tang, Daocheng (2020). Integrative analysis of transcriptomic and proteomic changes related to male sterility in Tagetes erecta. Physiology and Molecular Biology of Plants, (), –. doi:10.1007/s12298-020-00886-z
  • Tiwary, Bipransh & Kumar, Anil & Nanda, Ashis & Chakraborty, Ranadhir. (2014). A study on Optimization of Marigold Petal yield, pure Lutein and formulation of free flowing Lutein esters. Journal of crop science and Biotechnology. 17. 10.1007/s12892-014-0049-6.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s