The end of summer here in the Northeast is punctuated by one final, bright burst of sunlight; goldenrod. Her bright yellow heads bob and sway in the late summer breezes that sweep through meadows and down roadsides, adding vibrant splashes of color even to rainy days.
One of the highlights of the season (or maybe year, even!) for me is the time spent gathering armfuls of this beautiful golden plant under the stark cobalt skies of early autumn. Goldenrod (Solidago spp.) is often the last plant I work with before turning my energy inward toward harvesting roots, gathering pine needles, and the deep quiet medicine of winter. I think of it as storing up sunshine and summer energy for the darker months ahead.
By now you might be thinking, WAIT, doesn't goldenrod cause terrible allergies? Shouldn't you stay away from it? It's the plant that makes your eyes water and itch and you're just sneezing everywhere and coughing and stuff, right?
Nay, I tell you. Nay. You have been mislead.
The plant that causes many hayfever/fall allergies is RAGWEED, Ambrosia artemissifolia, (which like, don't hate ragweed, it's a pretty cool plant, but another time for that...).
Ragweed is wind pollinated, mean it has really potent pollen that is easily carried on the breeze...and straight up your tiny, defenseless nostrils.
Goldenrod, on the other hand, is pollinated by insects - its pollen is too sticky to be carried on the breeze, and must be transferred around by your friendly neighborhood bugs. The likelihood of it causing a reaction is slim. It just gets blamed because it usually happens to grow right near allergy-inducing plants like ragweed. At some point, somebody was probably standing around in a field and started sneezing and saw the big bright flowers of goldenrod and said IT'S THAT ONE, IT'S THAT PLANT THERE, ARREST HIM!
And so, sadly, people have been casting aspersions on goldenrod ever since.
The truth is, goldenrod is traditionally used as a natural antihistamine and antidote to seasonal allergies. Funny, right? (This is typical in the plant world; you can usually find the antidote to a plant within 20 feet of it. Nature can be a harsh, scary mistress who will often try to kill you by throwing you down mountains and hitting you with lightning, but sometimes she also has your back.)
This is what Gerard, acclaimed medieval herbalist/bff to VIP Lords and Ladies, had to say about goldenrod:
It is extolled above all other herbes for the stopping of bloud in bleeding wounds; and hath in times past beene had in greater estimation and regard than in these daies: for in my rememberance I have known the dry herbe which came from beyond the sea sold in Bucklerbury in London for half a crowne an ounce.
-Gerard's Herball (1597)
Indeed, Gerard, indeed. Along with yarrow, goldenrod was an extremely valuable herb on the battlefield during the middle ages. Matthew Wood says that the Saracens were so fond of it that it was once called Consolidae saraciniae (Saracen healer, roughly translated). My guess is that they used it to clean and poultice wounds, and maybe even ground up the dried plants as a styptic powder.
Goldenrod is also considered a great ally for the kidneys, helping to support healthy function. It also has antiseptic, astringent properties that are helpful in clearing up urinary tract infections and the elimination of kidney stones.
Goldenrod oil is also said to be excellent for stiff and sore/injured muscles. Every year I make a freshly infused oil and goldenrod salve (keep an eye on the shop for this year's batch!)
What else? Goldenrod has so many virtues...digestive aid, cold and flu soother, antifungal...in other words, just good to have around. I can confirm that a cup of goldenrod tea (especially if it's fresh!) really seems to help with a bad mood. Some herbalists use it to fend off winter sadness, which makes sense to me - such a sunny plant is bound to cheer you up in the dark of winter. Plus, it's really high in antioxidants!
There are many excellent ways to use goldenrod, such as infused honey and vinegar, honey and brandy elixir, glycerite, tincture, or tea. You can even bake it into scones, cakes and cookies! It has a light, sweet taste.
Two of my absolute favorite ways to reap some of the benefits of goldenrod are to make an infused honey and a vinegar. To make either, just fill the jar around 3/4 full of fresh goldenrod flowers (a few leaves getting in is fine), cover with honey or vinegar (apple cider vinegar is the best) and let sit at least six weeks (maybe even longer for honey...I've let mine sit as along as a year). Flip the jar occasionally to ensure the plant material stays covered.
The honey is delicious as a sweetener in tea, spread onto toast or scones...anything you can dream up! The vinegar is delicious mixed with a little olive oil as a dressing for autumn salads.
I hope everyone will give goldenrod a chance! It's a delicious, uplifting plant ally that grows all around us.
The Book of Herbal Wisdom; Using Plants as Medicine by Matthew Wood
Leaves from Gerard's Herbal by Michael Woodward
Please note: the information herein is for educational purposes only and is not intended to treat, cure or prevent any disease. Before starting a herbal regimen, be sure to do your own research and consult with a doctor.