Oh this plant, what can I even say? It sells itself through its loveliness, its bright yellow brilliance standing in giant pre-bouquet bunches in the meadow and smaller huddles in the forest. It's late in the growing season yellow seems to internalize sunshine and hold it for us for the rest of the year. I love to preserve it partly for that purpose.
I am currently reading my new favorite book, Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer (I am in love with this book, please check it out), in which the author talks about trying to figure out why goldenrod and purple asters look so beautiful next to each other. When she asked this before starting college for botany, she was told she should major in art instead. She was disappointed, understandably, that no one had an answer for her and didn't think this was an important part of botany. I agree with that sentiment. She later found out that, alone, both of these plants are wonderful pollinator attractors, but together they're a pollinator attractor super duo! So their collaboration is mutually beneficial, woah good metaphor for life!
There's a ton of goldenrod species that are native to the USA and a few more in other countries. There's about 75 species in this region (according to the Flora of the Southern and Mid-Atlantic States by Alan Weakley)! They're not difficult to identify and I don't think there's anything else, at least around here, that looks similar to them and blooms at the same time of year. However, as Juliet Blankespoor of Chestnut Herb School says (in her article "Goldenrod: The Bees Knees and Urethras Love it Too"), they can look close to another plant in the aster family, commonly called ragwort (not ragweed, which we'll talk about in a minute). Though it would be very uncommon to see a ragwort blooming this time of year.
As you can see above, the sturcture of the goldenrod plants can vary greatly. The top picture was in an open field, and the bottom on the edge of a woodland. They can have flowers only near the top of the plant on branching stems, or flowers in clusters along the central stem, between the leaves, and interesting structures in between.
As I said, they're in the aster family, Asteraceae, along with about one of every nine plants in the USA. If something has a flower that looks like the shape of a daisy (no matter size or color), it's mostly in the aster family. Though there are some asters that don't look this way, like the thistle below. They also have alternate, generally long oval-ish or narrow leaves with coarse teeth that come to a point at the ends.
You'll often see them with giant galls, or hard ball-like structures on the stem. These are caused as a result of the goldenrod gall fly. You can often cut them open carefully and find the living larva getting ready to eat its way out.
The Latin name of goldenrod's genus is Solidago, which means "to heal or make whole". This comes from one of its other common names, "woundwort", (referrring especially to the European species Solidago virgaurea) as it was found to be helpful applied topically for healing or binding tissue back together.
I like eating the flowers, partially just because it's fun to eat flowers. My favorite thing to make from them is goldenrod infused honey. This isn't the goldenrod honey you'll find at the store that involves the pollen of the goldenrod, it's made by harvesting the flowers, letting them dry a little (to avoid mold) and infusing them in honey for a couple weeks (check out the recipe in my new book, The Herbal Handbook for Homesteaders). I love to leave the flowers in for a whole beautiful sensory experience when I eat it.
Though some people (not me) don't like the slightly musky taste of the leaves, they make a lovely mild tea. I include the flowers and the leaves in an infusion, chopping coarsely and steeping, covered, for 20 minutes or more. This is a favorite tea of mine for the allergy season, as it's an awesome antihistamine, decongestant, and anti-inflammatory (basically anti-allergy). I also include goldenrod in allergy tinctures, adding a mucilaginous (demulcent) herb, like marshmallow root or rose of Sharon, to counteract the drying effect it can have.
Many people wrongly accuse goldenrod for their fall allergies, when it's actually ragweed, that's blooming at the same time, that is the culprit. Ragweed pollen is tiny and flies easily, getting into our sinuses and making us miserable. However, goldenrod pollen is giant and sticky, so doesn't fly well. It makes a fabulous ragweed antidote.
My student, Lisa, gave me a fabulous gift of goldenrod infused oil. Because goldenrod is anti-inflammatory, it works wonders topically for inflammation, and is especially helpful for menstrual cramps. Try it!
It's also a bladder and kidney tonic, helpful with urinary incontinence and urinary tract infections. Talk to your healthcare practitioner and do more research before trying, it can be contraindicated with chronic liver or kidney disorders or when diuretics are contraindicated.
This one I'm super excited about! Goldenrod makes a beautiful yellow dye! In my upcoming retreat: Retreat & Reconnect: Wild Color, our timing is perfect to include goldenrod as one of our natural dyes. Come join me and check it out!
Hopefully, now you've seen the light, the sunshiny brilliance of goldenrod that is! Let me know if you try the tea or honey, or if there's something else you love to do with goldenrod, in the comments below.
Founder of the WANDER (Wild Artemisia Nature Discovery, Empowerment, and Reconnection) School, Botanist, Herbalist, & Professional Forager, Abby Artemisia, lives in rural Appalachian North Carolina. She learned about plants playing in the Midwestern woods of Ohio, working on organic farms, an herbal apprenticeship, a bachelor's degree in Botany from Miami University, and running her own tea business. She teaches about plant identification, native plants, and working with plants for food and medicine throughout the country. Her mission is offering nature and herbal education to create healing through connection with the natural world and each other. She is the author of The Forager's Wild Edible and Herbal Plant Cards and The Herbal Handbook for Homesteaders. She is the host of the podcast Wander, Forage, and Wildcract, founder of The WANDER School, and co-founder of The Sassafras School of Appalachian Plantcraft.