Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the August 24, 2007 Newsletter issued from Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve, QUERÉTARO, MÉXICO

As soon as we reached a pasturing place near our hike destination Marcelino's son, Marcelo, began gathering the bouquet he's holding below:


I didn't need to ask Marcelo why he was collecting such a colorless bouquet, for I could smell the reason twenty feet away: A wonderfully sweet fragrance like that of anise with a touch of tarragon suffused the warm, moist mountain-air. These plants were destined for making tea.

I could have almost guessed as well what the plant's name would be, for it's Santa María. Around here anything smelling so sweet and good automatically gets named after the Virgin! The mushroom-picking lady I told you about last week saw a perfectly amorphous lump of limestone protruding from the ground and exclaimed "Oh, it's just like The Cross!" Anyway, that name Santa María didn't help much to let me know what the plant was botanically. Mexico is overpopulated with good-smelling herbs called Santa María.

Most stems Marcelo had collected were too young to bear flowers, but a few did, so I got them and surprised myself when I saw that they exhibited the unmistakable anatomy of marigold flowers, as outlined on my marigold flower-anatomy page at http://www.backyardnature.net/fl_marig.htm.

Most people don't think crushed marigold leaves smell very good, and you know how gardeners deploy them for their insecticidal property. Therefore, I'd expected this fragrant, tea-making herb to be just about anything other than a stinky, pesticidal marigold.

When I say that it was indeed a marigold species I'm referring to the fact that it was a member of the genus Tagetes. It was TAGETES LUCIDA, in much of Mexico known as Pericón, and often marketed commercially in English as Mexican Tarragon, Mexican Mint Marigold, and by other names as well. A list of several companies in the US selling seeds or plants of this species is found at http://davesgarden.com/products/ps/go/318/.

The main use my Plantas Medicinales de México gives for the plant is that of making the water smell good that children are bathed in. I can just imagine being a kid in a shadowy little hut in the mountains while roosters crow and Mamá sings a little song, being washed with springwater smelling this good. Maybe experiences like that account for why Mexican country people are often such agreeable folks.

At least one source claims that particularly strong infusions of Tagetes lucida "produce similar closed-eye-images as Peyote or a very mild state of euphoria and has been used since pre-Hispanic times."

By the time we began our return trip Marcelo had picked two large bouquets of Santa María. He needed to position the woven-plastic bag he used as a saddle on his mule's back so he had to lay one of the bouquets on the ground. Well, all that day Marcelo's mule had given the impression that he was the most dull-witted, lethargic creature on Earth. However, the very instant Marcelo's back was turned that mule, quick as lightning, snaked his neck around and in half a second most of the bouquet disappeared into his mouth. When Marcelo saw what had happened he rushed back beating his sombrero against the mule's ribs.

"¡Qué bárbaro!" he exclaimed.