I walked to find the meadow, to sink down into the grass, soak in the sun, and feel childhood pleasure. The grass was lush and brilliant green on this early autumn afternoon. The sky was a cloudless robin's egg blue, the type odes and songs are written about. Breaking up these jewel tones was an explosion of gold plumes softly swaying in the gentle breeze. Goldenrod, one of summer's last flowers.
I watched the bees alight on the blossoms, drinking the already honey-scented nectar. Animals and insects, attracted by the bright, showy plumes, drink the abundant nectar and collect the heavy pollen. Heavy pollen. Hear that? Goldenrod is not wind pollinated and even if it was, its pollen is too heavy and sticky. Poor goldenrod is always blamed for early fall allergy season but the real culprit is the plant that shares its bloom time with goldenrod: ragweed. Ragweed has the small greenish yellow flower heads and produces giant amounts of necessary tiny pollen to float in the wind. Fields ablaze with goldenrod do signal the coming of colder temperatures, but are not to blame for your sneezing.
To most goldenrod is considered a weed. Well, maybe not in Kentucky where it is the state flower or Delaware where it is the state herb (who knew there were state herbs?). The perennial with single woody, hairy stems grow from 3 to 7 feet tall. Its narrow, dark leaves alternate between jagged and smooth edges. It multiplies by sending root runners which take root and start to grow new plants. Strawberries do this too. This is why there are usually clumps of goldenrod together. The bright flowers bloom in late summer to early fall. Because it can crossbreed with other plants, there are more than 100 species of goldenrod. Goldenrod is noticeable both because of its fiery bloom and because it is a ruderal ( from Latin rūdus meaning rubble)species, meaning it easily grows in poor soil or disturbed soil. These are the first to colonize after a forest fire or take over an abandoned lot.
Fun History of goldenrod:
- Thomas Edison experimented with goldenrod when he tried to find a naturally occurring substitute for rubber at the request of Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone. The rubber tree, which does not grow in the United States, provided the natural rubber used for tires up to that time and it was becoming increasingly expensive. Edison managed to get 12% rubber out of the plants. Henry Ford even made a Model T with tires made of goldenrod rubber and claimed the tires strong and long lasting. Eventually synthetic rubber was discovered.
- Goldenrod was one of the plants used for tea after English tea was boycotted following the Boston Tea Party (1773). They called it "Liberty tea." It was also used after the Civil War when English tea was difficult to obtain.
The vibrant yellow flowers have long been a source of dye. All parts of the plant are edible and all varietals are safe. Goldenrod is of the genus Solidago which means "to strengthen" or "to make whole." Beyond tea, it has long been used medicinally for respiratory and urinary tract issues and to help ease pain. Tinctures and tonics have also been made to utilize goldenrod's antibacterial properties both internally and externally. Use the flowers for garnish. Cook leaves much like spinach or use in soups and stews. Use both the flowers and leaves to make a sweet, delicate tea with bright herbal hints and a fennel-like scent. It tastes a bit like sweet hay. The healing and calming qualities of this tisane can also ease emotional pain.
Fresh Leaf Goldenrod Tea:
Chop leaves and flowers
Steep, covered @T in 1 cup of boiling water (or 1T dry)
for 20-30 minutes
Enjoy while Sting sings Fields of Gold.