by Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz
Although the meadow below my house is still lush and green, I can see fall working its way into our lives. I see it in the falling golden leaves of the black walnut trees and in the burning-red leaves of sassafras and sumac. And even though the meadow is most definitely green, it is also suddenly dotted with the purple and gold blossoms of asters and early goldenrod – plants we sometimes love to hate.
Often seen but little thought of, goldenrod is a wonderful native plant belonging to the Asteraceae (Aster) family – a very large group that includes wildflowers such as asters, coneflowers, compass plants, daisies, sunflowers and coreopsis to name just a few. All 25 species of native goldenrod have showy plumes of hundreds of tiny bright yellow flowers presented in terminal, plume-like clusters on erect, bushy stems that can reach upwards of five feet tall.
The flowers attract pollinating and beneficial insects such as big-eyed bugs and soldier beetles. They are also a food source for many kinds of butterflies and their larva, including skippers, checkerspots and migrating northern monarchs. Once the bright blooms have gone to seed, goldenrod becomes a major food source for seed-eating birds such as cardinals, grosbeaks, and goldfinches.
An excellent, non-competitive ornamental and native plant, goldenrod is also a valuable medicinal. Its flowers, collected immediately after blooming begins and dried, are used to make teas, compresses and salves. Preparations of goldenrod flowers were traditionally used as an astringent to dry weeping rashes and hives, while the dried leaves were once used as a topical styptic to stop minor bleeding. Goldenrod flowers should be gathered as soon after flowering begins as possible. Collect the blooming portion and dry.
Unfortunately, goldenrod often gets a bum rap as a major source of fall allergies simply because it blooms at the same time as the less showy, but allergen-producing ragweed. Ironically, a tea made of the flowers of goldenrod is said to increase the body’s defenses against the allergic reactions caused by ragweed when taken in daily doses prior to the season.
In addition to being an anti-allergen, goldenrod is often used to sooth an upset stomach and to relieve symptoms of gas and other minor intestinal discomforts. It is also an excellent remedy for reducing the symptoms of colds and flu such as fever and chest congestion. Before consuming goldenrod it is important to note that while it is not an airborne allergen, some people do have allergies to members of the Aster family. If you are such a person, do not consume goldenrod in any form.
Of course, it’s not necessary to be unwell to enjoy the goodness of goldenrod. I particularly enjoy its flowery flavor in a winter tea blend made with mint and stinging nettle. A touch of honey sweetens the cup and on a cold winter night nothing quite brings me back to the sunlit fall meadow as a warm cup of golden flowers.