In late August and into early fall, the Goldenrod plant brightens the countryside with its wonderful golden flowers. Commonly thought of as a “weed”, Goldenrod grows in many parts of North America and has many uses. The plants grow to be 4-5 ft tall on average with the largest, a sub-tropical Florida species, growing to a mighty 18ft. There are at least 80 species of Goldenrod with all but one being native to North America. Goldenrod plants have a deep tap root that can reach 11ft into the ground, drawing up valuable minerals and nutrients from the subsoil. It is mentioned in the book Up North Again that Goldenrod has been planted with poplar, arrowroot and duckweed in polluted habitats because it has enzymes that can breakdown some organic toxins that contaminate soil and water. Goldenrod is also an attractor of aphids and can be used in pest management plantings.
Goldenrod has traditionally been used as medicine by North American Indians. Most herbal medicine references (such as The Rodale Herb Book) list some Goldenrod species. It can be used as a phlegm reducer, an anti-inflammatory, a sedative, a blood pressure reducer and even has antiseptic properties. According to the Rodale Book, The Zunis chewed the blossoms and swallowed the juice for sore throats, the Alabamans made a poultice from the roots for tooth aches, several tribes made infusions from the flowers and leaves for fevers and chest pains and the Meskwakis used blossoms in a lotion to for bee stings and other painful swellings. It is worth noting that the Ojibway included Goldenrod flowers in one of the pipe smoking blends.
Another important use for Goldenrod is that of a dye plant. Goldenrod flowers produce a wonderful yellow dye that can be used to dye yarns. We have done this on our farm and been thrilled with the results. For more information on dying with Goldenrod see This Post.
Herrick Kimball, in his Idea Book for Gardeners, dedicates a whole page to the Goldenrod plant. Herrick, like myself, harvests dead Goldenrod “sticks” every year and uses them as garden row markers. He also mentions that Goldenrod was once used to make rubber for tires. It is a little know fact that Henry Ford enlisted the help of George Washington Carver to come up with a way to make Goldenrod into tires. They did this in the 1940s until the time that synthetic rubbers became a cheaper choice. Mr. Kimball also mentions that Goldenrod was once a contender for the “national flower”, at least as far as E.B. White’s wife was concerned.
One cannot talk about the importance of Goldenrod without mentioning honey. Goldenrod honey is one of the most important fall honey crops in the northeast. There are large amounts of Goldenrod honey produced every year, and it is crucial not only for human consumption but also for overwintering hives. Goldenrod honey has a tendency to crystallize and has a rich, sometimes spicy flavor. Raw goldenrod honey is used by allergy sufferers to lessen their sensitivity to pollen. Even though we try to keep Goldenrod out of the pastures (by clipping) we keep swaths of land along the woods and lanes open for it to grow. It is always a pleasure to watch the bees working the flowers as I bring the cows back to the barn at milking time.
I hope that if you are one of the many who view Goldenrod as a “weed”, I have given you enough information to see this wonderful wildflower as something much more important. Goldenrod is a valuable native plant that deserves our respect and admiration.
You can view more North Country Farmer “Plant Profiles” at This Link.