Tagetes minuta / Tagetes lucida

Tagetes minuta, also known as southern cone marigold, stinking roger or black mint, is a tall upright marigold plant from the genus Tagetes, with small flowers, native to the southern half of South America. Since Spanish colonization, it has been introduced around the world, and has become naturalized in Europe, Asia, Australasia, North America, and Africa.

It is used as a culinary herb in Peru, Ecuador, and parts of Chile and Bolivia. It is called by the Quechua terms wakatay in Peru or wakataya in Bolivia. It is commonly sold in Latin grocery stores in a bottled, paste format as black mint paste.

This species of marigold may grow to become from 0.6–1.3 meters tall.


The leaves when dried may be used as a seasoning. Wakatay paste is used to make the popular Peruvian potato dish called ocopa''.

For some time people have used it as a flavorful herbal tea for medical benefits such as a remedy for the colds, respiratory inflammations, or stomach problems. It can be used to produce an organic dye (known as Tamidye or TAMI dye) which was developed at Moi University in Kenya under the direction of R. K. Mibey.


Tagetes minuta leaves paste is typically used for wound healing,has anti-inflammatory, bronchodilatory (Abbasi et al., 2010), hypotensive, spasmolytic, antifungal (Shahzadi et al., 2010), germicidal (Abbasi et al., 2010), carminative, anti-abortion (Hadjiakhundi et al., 2005), vermifuge (Neher, 1968) and microbicidal characteristics (Abbasi et al., 2010). Entire plant is used as a condiment, diaphoretic, diuretic, purgative, stomach strengthener, hysteria remedy, menstrual stimulant and for flavoring to milk and cheese (Neher, 1968). Flowers of T. minuta are used for epileptic fits and fevers (Qureshi et al., 2007). Its flowers are also used as mild laxative, insect repellent, for gastirites, indigestion (Neher, 1968).

Leaves are used for kidney trouble, piles, muscular pain and their juice is used for ophthalmia, earache (Qureshi et al., 2007), hemorrhoids

and as a snuff (Neher, 1968). Leaves are also used locally to repel safari ants and mosquitoes and to kill mosquitoes larvae. Oil obtained

from leaves is more toxic to mosquitoes larvae than DDT (Macedo et al., 1997). Its flowers are used for ornamental purposes (Hamayun et

al., 2006). Tagetes roots have fungicidal and nematocidal characteristics (Batish et al., 2007; Osman et al., 2008). The oil

obtained from seeds, leaves and flowers of Tagetes minuta strongly repels the blowflies and is also useful for blowfly dressing (Jacobson,

1983). Its oil is also used for perfume production, treatment of smallpox, earache and colds and to reduce fevers (Shahzadi et al.,

2010). Volatile Tagetes oil is highly suppressing against Plants, animals and humans pathogens and micro-organisms. It is also used

as flavoring agent in food industry and in perfumes (Mohamed et al., 1999).


Tagetes minuta

Tagetes minuta is native to the temperate grasslands and montane regions of southern South America, including the countries of Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, and in the Chaco region of Paraguay (McVaugh 1943; Reiche 1903; Perkins 1912; Herrera 1941; Espinar 1967). T. minuta is often found growing in disturbed areas during early successional stages. This affinity for disturbed sites has allowed the species to colonize many areas around the world. Since the time of the Spanish Conquest, it has been introduced into Europe (Jordano and Ocana 1955), Asia (Cherpanov 1981), Africa (Hillard 1977), Madagascar (Humbert 1923), India (Rao et al. 1988), Australia (Webb 1948), and Hawaii (Hosaka 1954).


Tagetes minuta is an erect annual herb reaching 1 to 2 m (Fig. 1). Leaves are slightly glossy green, and are pinnately dissected into 4 to 6 pairs of pinnae. Leaf margins are finely serrate. The undersurface of the leaves bear a number of small, punctate, multicellular glands, orangish in color, which exude a licorice-like aroma when ruptured. Glands may also be found on the stems and involucre bracts. Four or five fused involucre bracts surround each head. There are typically 3 to 5 yellow-orange ray florets, and 10 to 15 yellow-orange disk florets per capitula. The heads are small, 10 to 15 mm long, and including ray florets, 10 to 20 mm in diameter. The heads are borne in a clustered panicle of 20 to 80 capitula. The dark brown achenes are 10 to 12 mm long, with a pappus of 1 to 4 tiny scales and 0 to 2 retrosely serrulate awns which are 1 to 3 mm long.


The New World peoples have been using Tagetes minuta as a flavorful beverage, a medicinal tea, and a condiment since pre-contact times (Rees 1817). The local names vary by region, most commonly found in the literature as; chinchilla, chiquilla, chilca, zuico, suico, or the Spanish term anisillo.A beverage is prepared from Tagetes minuta by steeping a "half-handful" of the dried plant in hot water for 3 to 5 min. The beverage may be consumed warm or cooled, and may be sweetened to individual taste (Neher 1968).

For medicinal use, a decoction made by steeping a "double handful" of the dried plant in boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes is used as a remedy for the common cold; including upper and lower respiratory tract inflammations, and for digestive system complaints; stomach upset, diarrhea, and "liver" ailments. The decoction is consumed warm, and may be sweetened to individual taste (Neher 1968; Parodi 1959; Cavanilles 1802).

Tagetes minuta is used as a condiment in Chile and Argentina. It is popular in rice dishes and as a flavoring in stews. In northern Chile suico is so highly prized that many people actively collect wild populations to dry a sufficient supply to last the winter (Kennedy pers. commun.).

Tagetes minuta is often referred to as a weed. Cabrera (1971) states that ".... Spegazzini mentions that this plant is a common weed of cultivation in the lower Rio Negro Valley...." Spegazzini and Cabrera appear to not understand the native outlook on "weeds." The farmers view the "weeds" as a second crop. Many of the Latin American farmers who do not practice industrialized agriculture will leave volunteer plants of Tagetes minuta in their fields. This second crop is beneficial in several ways: first, rapid growth of T. minuta quickly shades out other plant species that may be of less use to the farmer, second, it can be harvested for personal use, or for sale in city markets, and third, has been reported to aid in the retention of humidity in the field (Jimenez-Osornio 1991).

Tagetes minuta is commercially grown and harvested for its essential oils which are used in the flavor and perfume industry as "Tagetes Oil." The oil is used in perfumes, and as a flavor component in most major food products, including cola beverages, alcoholic beverages, frozen dairy desserts, candy, baked goods, gelatins, puddings, condiments, and relishes (Leung 1980). Brazil is one major producer of T. minuta for Tagetes Oil (Craveiro et al. 1988). Worldwide production of the oil was around 1.5 tonnes in 1984 (Lawrence 1985).



Tagetes minuta grows readily from seed sown directly into the soil once the danger of frost has past (B.M. Lawrence unpub. report). Plant height varies with conditions. Based on studies of herbarium material from the University of Texas and Lundell Collection; Field Museum, Chicago; New York Botanic Garden; University of Arizona; Michigan State University; and California Academy of Sciences; single, open grown plants range from 0.5 to 1 m tall, yet when grown in dense stands, a height of 2 m can be reached.

Tagetes minuta thrives in full sun. Competition for sunlight can lead to tall spindly plants with a low biomass. Higher biomass is attained from spacing the plants 1 m apart, and removal of the apical meristem at 30 days to stimulate branching. Meristem removal may be done mechanically.


Pests do not appear to be a significant problem with Tagetes minuta in field culture. Red spider mite and root knot nematode are often serious pests on cultivated forms of Tagetes erecta (Steiner 1941). In field studies in Austin, Texas, these pests have not been found on T. minuta despite the presence of large populations of these pests on T. erecta at the same site.


Harvest for use as a beverage or condiment is done manually by cutting the main stem at ground level, since the entire above-ground portion of the plant is considered useful. Plants over 1 m have individual branches cut off and dried. The plant material is folded and tied into bundles using twine, grasses, or a pliable branch of T. minuta . The bundles are hung in a dry place, out of direct sunlight, to dry. Commercial hand harvesting is feasible due to low labor rates in South American countries. Since the whole plant is utilized, mechanical harvesting could be a viable option, and is used in essential oil production.


Tagetes minuta is rich in many secondary compounds, including acyclic, monocyclic and bicyclic monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes, flavonoids, thiophenes, and aromatics (Rodriguez and Mabry 1977). There is evidence that the secondary compounds in Tagetes are effective deterrents of numerous organisms, including: fungi (Chan et al. 1975), fungi pathenogenic on humans (Camm et al. 1975), bacteria (Grover and Rao 1978), round worms in general (Loewe 1974), trematodes (Graham et al. 1980), nematodes (Grainge and Ahmed 1988), and numerous insect pests through several different mechanisms (Jacobsen 1990; Saxena and Koul 1982; Maradufu et al. 1978; Saxena and Srivastava 1973). Many closely related plant secondary compounds have demonstrated medicinal value in humans (Kennewell 1990; Korolkovas and Burckhalter 1976) In vivo human studies of the secondary compounds of T. minuta have not been reported, although other Tagetes species have proven medically safe and efficacious (Caceres et al. 1987).

Hethelyi et al. (1986), determined anti-microbial activity of five secondary compounds in Tagetes minuta; beta-ocimene, dihydrotagetone, tagetone, (Z)-ocimenone, and (E)-ocimenone. When tested on 40 strains of bacteria and fungi, the essential oil of T. minuta had a 100% inhibitory effect on Gram-positive bacteria, a 95% inhibitory effect on Gram-negative bacteria, and a 100% inhibitory effect on fungi.

Hudson (1990) tested the many different secondary compounds for anti-viral activity, and determined that thiophenes demonstrated the greatest anti-viral action at the lowest doses, and with the least toxicity overall. Of the thiophenes, molecules with two or more thiophene units showed the highest activity. In all cases, the best success was against viruses with envelopes. Hudson tested 32 thiophenes, evaluated their efficacy and determined the 10 most effective ones (Fig. 3). Atkinson et al. (1964) first reported the thiophenes found in Tagetes minuta. A comparison of Atkinson's results to those of Hudson, shows that 7 of the 10 most effective anti-viral thiophenes are found in Tagetes minuta.

The work of Hethelyi et al. (1986) and that of Hudson (1990) indicate that the use of Tagetes minuta as a medicinal beverage by indigenous people may have a valid biological basis, although in vivo work has not been published. Further work is warranted, and could be used to aid in the marketing of herbal products of Tagetes minuta.


There are some unsubstantiated reports of poisoning by Tagetes minuta. Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk (1932) mention that death of children in South Africa is reportedly due to allowing them to sleep next to T. minuta state: "Unfortunately no proper investigation of these occurrences have been made and one doubts very much whether the plant has been the cause of death." Given the high suspected rate of infanticide of female children in Africa a half-century ago, T. minuta as the cause of death is highly unlikely. Hurst (1942) mentions that in Australia, in 1935, the plant is suspected in the death of several cows, "but the evidence was rather weak." and states that "A large dose of the plant in the flowering stage had no effect on sheep."

Chandhoke and Ghatak (1969), working with experimental animals, determined that the oil of Tagetes minuta has hypotensive, bronchodilatory, spazmolytic, anti-inflammatory, and tranquilizing properties. These actions are in accordance with the reported folk use of the beverage as a medical decoction. Given that generations of South Americans have used T. minuta as a beverage and condiment, it seems that use in moderation causes no ill effects; however additional toxicology studies would be necessary prior to marketing the plant as a beverage.


Tagetes minuta can be used for a hot or cold refreshing beverage. In taste tests at the University of Texas, subjects reported that the flavor is slightly sweet and anise-like, mild and not overpowering to the palate. Overall, the flavor was well received, although subject preference was significantly positively correlated to their preference for "black jelly beans or licorice."

Currently, many nations are actively seeking alternative cash crops to replace cultivation of illegal drug plants. Several species of Tagetes have been investigated, including Tagetes minuta (Bernal and Correa 1991; Arora 1989). Tagetes minuta as a herbal beverage has the potential to become a new crop for many of the hither-to drug growing areas, providing further research into the toxicology and marketing is conducted and remains promising.


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Tagetes species Azteccs

The Aztecs divided diseases into those caused by an excess of heat (with associated dryness), or those caused by an excess of cold (with associated dampness or excess fluid in the body). There’s a recurring theme with Tagetes – they were used to treat “cold” diseases. Cold diseases tended to be those that were imagined to be linked with water, or an excess of cold air. They were phlegmy, rheumy, even feverish diseases – because fever actually can produce feelings of “chills” – and those ailments that involve swelling of parts of the body. Tagetes were seen as “hot” plants, and used to expel excess cold and fluid from the body.

- Tagetes lucida

We can see this in Sahagún’s description of the use of Tagetes lucida: “it is an ejector of humors, it is a medicine... one who has chills drinks [an infusion of it]. It is rubbed in the hands with water. And with it there is incensing, and there is washing.” Ortiz de Montellano, in his “Aztec Medicine, Health and Nutrition” (Ortiz de Montellano 1990), lists a number of symptoms which were relieved with Tagetes lucida, dividing the causative illnesses into those caused by “phlegm” (recurrent intermittent fevers, for example); those with partly “divine” causes (gout, stiffness, spitting of blood), and those with “natural” causes (swellings and blisters, digestive ailments).

Whilst not being strictly a medical use, it is worth mentioning that powdered Tagetes lucida was also administered to certain sacrificial victims, with the dual intention of inducing both anaesthetic and hallucinogenic effects.

- Tagetes erecta and Tagetes patula

These are described less frequently in the codices than T. lucida, but their usefulness is not in doubt. Ortiz de Montellano identified cempoalxochitl’s uses as, again, those linked to cold, phlegmy diseases: fever, excess phlegm, dropsy. Centzonxochitl is described in the Aztec Herbal as to be extracted in ‘bitter water’ for the treatment of certain fevers - those with such symptoms as blanching, turning red, spitting blood and jerking the limbs - and it is also used, again in bitter water, to wash out the uterus of women entering labour – perhaps to prevent infection.

The chemistry of Tagetes species

These plants contain a number of bioactive compounds; notably flavonoids. Flavonoids constitute a large group of natural compounds, with an array of pharmacological activities. Notably, we find patuletin, which has been found, in laboratory tests, to reduce oedema and relieve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (Li, Mao et al. 1991). It’s also an anti-spasmodic. We also find quercetagetin, an antibacterial (Harborne and Baxter 1983), and a related compound, quercetagritin, with antiviral activity. These quercetin-derived flavonoids are also frequently diuretics, and flavonoids in general are frequently diaphoretic (meaning that they help to reduce fever) and anti-inflammatory (Evans 2001). If the Aztec preparations contained sufficient levels of these compounds, it is possible that the desired physiological effects would have been brought about – “excess fluid” would have been removed by urination, fever and swelling reduced, and possibly, any underlying infection treated.

The suggestion that yauhtli was used as a hallucinogen and sedative is harder to explain in chemical terms. T. Lucida does contain small amounts of methyl eugenol (Bicchi, Fresia et al. 1997), which has been found in laboratory tests to be slightly narcotic. But the levels are quite low, and probably not high enough to have any effect on the brain. A related compound in T. Lucida, anethole, is claimed to have effects similar to those of adrenaline, which might induce low levels of stimulation, but certainly not hallucinations.

It is more likely that yauhtli has no real effects on the mind, and that religious associations were the reason for its use in sacrificial ritual.

In addition to the abovementioned compounds, the genus Tagetes is rich in thiophenes, carotenoids and xanthophylls, as well as smaller levels of terpenes, ketones and other types of active chemicals. Each of these classes of chemical can be active, but testing of these compounds in Tagetes species has been limited - with the exception of thiophenes, which have been found to be extremely effective at destroying nematode infestations (Arroo, Jacobs et al. 1995).

Aztec preparations of Tagetes

The methods described by the Aztecs for the preparation of Tagetes would probably have been effective at extracting at least some flavonoids. In plants, these compounds can occur in two main forms:-

a) as simple flavonoid molecules, or,

b) more commonly, with the flavonoid molecule attached to a sugar molecule. If the flavonoid occurs alone, not attached to a sugar, we call it an aglycone. Patuletin and quercetagetin are aglycones. If it is attached to a sugar, we call it a glycoside – quercetagritin is a glycoside of quercetagetin.

All flavonoids can be extracted to some extent in water, but flavonoids in their glycoside form are more soluble in water, particularly so in a hot water infusion, such as that used to prepare Tagetes lucida.

Yauhtli as illustrated in the Badianus Manuscript

It is interesting that “bitter” water was used to extract centzonxochitl. If we assume that this bitterness indicates alkaline water (i.e. with a pH greater than 7), then we can – very tentatively - suggest that the Aztecs were modifying the compounds by the process of extraction. Alkali solvents can be used to break away the sugar bit from a glycoside, forming the aglycone. But quite a strong alkali solvent would be needed for this to happen. And we do know that a certain subclass of flavonoids – the flavanones – change their chemical structure in alkali to become their isomers, the chalcones. What we don’t know is whether this would change the medicinal properties of the extract. It is more likely that removing the sugar group would make the extract a bit more potent.

When Tagetes lucida was administered to sacrificial victims, it was as a powder of dried herb, which would be blown into the face of the intended victim. It is not especially likely that this is an effective way of administering the drug. In a review of the ethnobotanical uses of Tagetes, Neher(Neher 1968) actually was brave (or daft) enough to try this on himself: he reported that the only effect was to be “extremely irritating to the mucus membranes of the mouth and throat”. (Note:please don’t attempt to do this: you may injure yourself).

Tagetes in use today

These herbs remain popular amongst cuanderos in Mexico (Frei, Baltisberger et al. 1998), and amongst communities in much of Central and South America. They’re generally used in the treatment of gastrointestinal ailments (Heinrich, Robles et al. 1998), and respiratory diseases (Heinrich, Ankli et al. 1998)., but have found usage in a wide range of illness, ranging from malaria to the treatment of “culture-bound syndromes”. A number of ethnopharmacologists - researchers who specialise in studying traditional medicines - have confirmed strong antibacterial activity of extracts of these herbs, and have begun to ascribe this activity to certain compounds. The plants are also being investigated for potential use in other illnesses, especially those with an element of inflammation. This ethnobotanical work is one of the most exciting areas of phytochemistry.

Further reading.

The concept of Aztec medicine, herbal and otherwise, is enormously complex and includes religious and ritual elements as well as the physiological. Here we have focused purely on the herbal aspects. For more information on Aztec medicine in general, there is an excellent review online – “Aztec Medicine”, by Francisco Guerra, which gives more detail on all aspects of the Aztec approach to healthcare (link below). And keep an eye on this page!


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Tagetes in het verleden bij Dodonaeus ea.

(Dodonaeus) (a) ‘De Hoogduitsers noemen het Indianische blumen en Indianische nagelin, dat is bloemen of anjers van Indië en daarnaar noemen de Fransen het ook oeilletz d’Inde, de Italianen noemen het garosani Indiani’.

T. erecta kwam vanuit Mexico naar Spanje en werd in Engeland eerst bekend als Indische roos of anjer.

Dodonaeus (b) De Brabanders en de Vlamingen noemen deze bloemen gewoonlijk Tunisbloemen. Men noemt ze tegenwoordig op het Latijn Flos Africanus en Flos Tunetensis, dat is bloem van Afrika of bloem van Tunis’.

Na de succesvolle veldtocht van Karel de V. tegen de Moorse vesting in Tunis in 1596 werd het Flos Africanus genoemd. In Engeland dacht men dat het plantje daar vandaan kwam. Zo werd het Africanus Flos, Africaanse bloem of Tunis bloem. Het afrikaantje, Duitse Afrikane- of Tuneserblume, Studentenblume, Sammetblume, Samtblumen, Franse fleur africaine, fleur de Tunis en Tagete rose d'Inde, Engelse African marigold en Turkey gilliflower.

Dodonaeus (c) ‘Dan Valerius Cordus geeft ze de naam van Tanacetum Peruvianum, al of men zei reinvaar van Peru, naar de grote gelijkenis die deze bloem heeft aangaande haar bladeren met de reinvaarn en ook naar het deel van Amerika dat men Peru noemt waarvan de Hoogduitsers geloofden dat deze bloemen eerst gebracht waren’.

Dodonaeus (d) ‘Maar Gesnerus noemt ze in het Latijn Caltha Africana, dat is Afrikaanse goudsbloem, en verzekert dat ze in de Moorse taal pedua genoemd is. Sommige geloven dat ze de Flos Petilius van Plinius mocht wezen, maar de Flos Petilius daar Plinius van spreekt is een bloem die in de herfst bloeit en omtrent de hagen groeit en alleen gezocht wordt vanwege haar kleur waarmee ze op de wilde roos lijkt. Ze is in Italië van sommige ook bekend met de naam Othonna of Othona, te weten de grote soort. Dan Lobel toont aan dat ze de echte Othonna niet is.

De bloem van de kleine soort van Tunisbloemen zijn van kleur gemengd tussen de gouden en de purperen en hebben de bladeren zo dik en stevig en ook blinkend dat ze eigenlijk van fluweel schijnen gemaakt te wezen waarom ze hier te lande ook fluweelbloemen van vele genoemd wordt’.

Het Afrikaantje verscheen in 1596 in Europa en wel T. patula en in 1573 T. erecta. De eerste was bij de Azteken bekend als de fluweelbloem.

Mexican marygold, de cempasúchil wordt ook de bloem van de dood genoemd in Mexico (Flor de Muertos) en wordt gebruikt in de dag van Día de los Muertos op 2de november. Duitse Totenblume. Het woord cempasúchil (ook als cempazúchil) komt van de Nahuatl term voor de bloem zempoalxochitl; 20 bloemen. Werd medisch gebruikt al in voor Spaanse tijden.

Dodonaeus (e) ‘Deze mooie maar vergiftige bloem wordt van sommige Tagetes met een vreemde of zo ze zeggen Moorse naam genoemd en van andere Carasie’.

Tagetes is zo genoemd naar de Etruskische godin Tages, die hun de kunst van waarzeggerij bijbracht. Tages, zoon van een genius en kleinzoon van Jupiter, kwam eens bij Tarquinii terwijl een boer bezig was om zijn land te ploegen uit een diepe voor te voorschijn. Op het geroep van de verschrikte man kwamen velen toesnellen. Tages onderwees hen in de Etruscische voorspellingskunst (haruspicina) en stierf terstond hierop. Sommige van zijn lessen waren opgetekend in de Acheruntici libri.


Het gebruik was alleen van buiten want door haar reuk beschouwde men het als giftig. ‘Gerard, 1597, schrijft: "De onplezierige geur, speciaal van de gewone soort met enkele bloemen wijst erop dat ze van een koude en giftige natuur is. Dat is bevestigd door diverse experimenten’. ‘Ik herinner me’, zegt Dodonaeus, ‘dat ik een jongen zag wiens lippen en mond geweldig begonnen op te zwellen toen hij erop kauwde, hetzelfde als bij de scheerling, hij gaf ze aan een kat waar het verzacht was met verse kaas, die zwol geweldig op en stierf en kort daarop ook de muizen die ervan gegeten hadden. Al die dingen verklaren dat de plant zeer giftig is en ik kom tot de conclusie dat aan de plant niet geroken of geraakt moet worden, nog minder gebruikt in voedsel of als medicijn".

Over de naaamgeving Afrikaantjes, vroeger ook teunisbloem genoemd

Het gele of oranje afrikaantje, in Vlaanderen ook wel bekend als het stinkertje, behoort tot de composietenfamilie en werd vroeger aangeduid met de namen tunisbloem en teunisbloem (Van Osta 2004: 65). Deze benamingen zouden volgens sommigen teruggaan op de heilige Antonius. Bijgevolg zouden de onwelriekende afrikaantjes hem gewijd zijn. Toch is dit niet helemaal correct. Volgens Van Osta zou de naam tunisbloem de „vermeende‟ herkomst van de plant herbergen. „Vermeend‟ aangezien de Tagetes uit Mexico komen en dus niet uit Afrika.. Brok legt de oorsprong van dit misverstand bij de kruidkundige Dodoens die in zijn cruijdeboeck van 1554 het volgende opmerkt: “Dese bloemen wassen in Afrycken ende sijn van daeren in dit landt ghecomen/ naer dat die aldermachtichste ende alder vroomste Carolus Keyser die vijfste tlandt ende die stadt van Thunis ghewonnen heeft/ hier te lande worden sy in die hoven ghesayet” (Brok 1993: 105). Met het determinans tunis- wordt dus niet Teunis of Antonius bedoeld maar de Noord-Afrikaanse stad Tunis. De tijdelijke naam teunisbloem (soms ook sint-teunisbloem) geldt dan als een volksetymologische verbastering van de vorm tunisbloem. Beide vormen zijn echter als benaming voor het afrikaantje definitief verdwenen.