Going for the Gold

Standing tall and showy among our blooming fall prairie flowers is goldenrod. Each flower head, composed of thousands of small, tubular, nectar-filled disk flowers surrounded by ray flowers, are commonly covered in pollinators such as honeybees, bumble bees, and wasps in search for late fall nectar.

Goldenrod is a member of the Asteraceae (daisy) family. The genus name, Solidago, comes from Latin solidus which means “to make whole” or “to strengthen” and refers to the healing powers of goldenrod, as recognized by our medicine makers for centuries.

Before delving into the healing benefits of goldenrod, let me assure you that its pollen is not to blame for the misery of seasonal fall allergies. Goldenrod’s pollen is too heavy and sticky to become airborne (thus, it is pollinated by insects), unlike ragweed (Ambrosia artemisifolia) that blooms at the same time and produces large amounts of small, especially irritating, wind-borne pollen/allergens. (However, in defense of ragweed, it too is a native plant that plays an important role in housing and feeding many insects).

Much of what we know about goldenrod’s medicinal uses comes from Native American peoples, who traditionally use goldenrod roots and aerial parts both topically and internally for many ailments, such as sores, infections, toothaches, burns, insect bites, and digestive issues

Most contemporary Western herbalists use the upper aerial part of the plant, both leaves and flowers, as it is coming into bloom. It is used in many forms, including tincture, oil, dried for teas or powders, vinegar, infused honey, elixir, cordial, even homemade soda! Do a simple online search and you will find many different uses for each of those preparations, too. Goldenrod yields some very versatile and reliable herbal remedies.

Interestingly, one of my primary uses for goldenrod is as an antidote for ragweed allergies. Its astringency calms runny eyes, runny nose, and sneezing that comes with late summer and early fall allergies. Also a decent expectorant, goldenrod can expel mucus easily from the lungs, making it also useful for sinusitis or the common cold. I tend to use it in tincture form due to ease of use. However, it can also be effective as a tea - sweeten with local, raw honey for an added boost. Or try it infused in honey, easy to do and lasts well into winter, especially useful for soothing a sore throat and as a cough syrup.

Matt Wood, a local and well known herbalist, says it is for the person with drippy, water eyes that look like they just came out of a swimming pool, whether due to allergies or a cold. He says that simply checking on the flowers can provide comfort in this scenario. That is certain worth a try if you are suffering from seasonal allergies.

Goldenrod is considered to be beneficial in regard to cat allergies, also. Drinking a cup of goldenrod tea or taking a few drops of its tincture before visiting a friend with cats may make the visit a bit more tolerable, at least as far as your cat sensitivity is concerned.

Lise Wolff, my herbal mentor, extends goldenrod's usefulness to situations when a person feels so overwhelmed by what needs to be done that they just can't "get up off the couch" to get it done- a bit of a "can do" remedy. Not so much of a burn-out situation as an overwhelmed feeling - clear as mud?

Goldenrod can also be used fresh or dried to make a tasty tea. The American colonists called goldenrod tea "Liberty Tea," for they drank it instead of black tea after the Boston Tea Party. In fact, Liberty Tea proved so popular, it was exported to China! Some say it is higher in antioxidants than green tea!

Goldenrod is one of the easiest plants to dry. On a dry day after all dew is gone, pick some tops that are about to bloom and hang them upside down in a warm, airy place. Being too lazy for even that much bother, I typically just lay the tops on some wax paper or paper plates on top of some high cupboards and forget about it for a few weeks. Turns out perfect every time. Another fast way to dry goldenrod (and other herbs) is to lay them out in your car, either in your trunk or inside the car, on a hot, sunny day. Many herbs are dry within a day that way. And your car will smell lovely, (well, depending on the herb).

Tip from experience - if you dry when the flowers are in bloom, they will turn to fluff/seed while drying. Pick the budding tops before they go into bloom to avoid the fluff.

Be sure to dry plenty for your own locally sourced, wildcrafted tea! In my opinion, goldenrod tea is loveliest when steeped for 5 minutes or less. Longer, it becomes a bit more bitter, which may actually be beneficial for your digestion. But when I am aiming for a relaxing cup of tea, I lean toward the shorter steeping time, perhaps even adding a little honey. For more information about making goldenrod tea and it's benefits, check out this blog I wrote last year about ragweed!

The flowers and the leaves of goldenrod can also be infused with oil which combines well with plantain, yarrow, and St. John’s wort for a nice wound healing skin salve. It also makes a nice rub for tired achy muscles and arthritis pain.

You may have noticed growths, called galls, on goldenrod stems. These galls are created out of plant tissue and harbor the larvae of several insect species. Tradition says that carrying the gall in one’s pocket will relieve the pain of arthritis, as long as the insect inside is living. Might be worth a try? Those galls are also often parasitized by wasps or eaten by chickadees, woodpeckers, and even hikers.

If all this wasn’t enough, goldenrod is also a wild edible whose flowers and leaves may be eaten fresh or dried in teas, cooked like spinach, or added to salads, soups, stews, or casseroles. And the flowers have been used as a natural dye in coloring fabric. And its flowering tops are a lovely addition to any fall bouquet.

This autumn, take some time to admire and appreciate the beauty and benefits of goldenrod.