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Goldenrod

(Solidago spp)

by Natalie Pastor

Goldenrod is a common wild flower, sometimes called Aaron's Rod. A perennial with bright golden flowers some species can grow as tall as 6 feet. The name solidago was given to the plant by the botanist Linnaeus, and means 'I make whole'. Goldenrod has a slender stem like a wand, alternating leaves and usually spreads by creeping roots. The leaves or stems might be soft or hairy and have two thin or jagged edges. There are many kinds of goldenrod growing wild in North America, the Sweet Goldenrod (Solidago odora) which is wonderfully fragrant, the Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) and the California Goldenrod (Solidago californica) are all common throughout the southwest. There are nine species found in Arizona, 13 in California and over twenty in New Mexico. In the wild, Goldenrod is found growing just about everywhere, in prairies and fields, in wet low areas, and along side of the road.
Often blamed for hay fever and allergies, Goldenrod has been considered by many to be a noxious weed. The good news is that it can not cause either hay fever or allergies because the pollen is not airborne, but instead is carried by bees and other insects. It will draw many butterflies and birds to your garden. In fact Goldenrod has a very pleasant anise scent, particularly the Sweet Goldenrod, and all the Goldenrods are useful as medicine, for crafts and as a dye plant.
Goldenrod deserves a place in your garden, especially the Sweet Goldenrod. At one time it was also called Blue Mountain tea and was probably also the Liberty Tea that became so popular after the Boston Tea Party. It was even exported to China as a tea product. It can grow to 4 feet and makes a beautiful backdrop in a perennial bed, usually blooming in late July onward. Goldenrods are long- lived and very adaptable, but prefer well-drained soil and exposure to full sun. The flowers vary in shades of gold depending on cultivar and are usually produced in late summer or fall. Golden Fleece (Solidago sphacelata), is a cultivar that makes a spectacular showing. It grows to 18 inches and its arching branches are covered with bright golden flowers. We have also grown the Canada Goldenrod and use it to decorate in the fall in the same way they use corn stalks in the east. It grows so tall you can stand it up around a pole or on either side of a doorway to achieve that fall harvest look you see back east around Halloween. The flowers are large and hold the color for quite a long time. We have found Goldenrods make wonderful wreaths and dry well for arrangements. A dwarf species, Solidago spathulata, only grows to about 8 inches and its flowers are more yellow than gold.
Goldenrod has a long history of medicinal use in this country. The fresh blossoms of Goldenrod were slowly chewed by the Zunis to relieve sore throats. Cherokees used the entire plant. A tea was made from the blossoms to be used as a diaphoretic, the root was dried and ground to be used in poultices for insect bites, swelling and inflammations. The leaves, which are both a diuretic and a stimulant, were used to treat intestinal and urinary tract disorders. This special plant was also a valuable battlefield remedy and was used in treating open wounds because of its ability to stench the flow of blood. American and English herbalists have long used a tea made from the leaves as an astringent, diuretic, diaphoretic, anti-catarrhal, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and carminative. The tea is an effective cold and flu remedy as it acts to reduce mucus in the lungs. A medicinal tea can be made by pouring 8 ounces of boiling water over 2-3 teaspoonfuls of the dried herb, let steep for l0-l5 minutes, drink 1 cup 3 times a day. To make a pleasant and tasty tea to drink anytime, use 1 teaspoon of dried leaf to 8 ounces of boiling water. The tea is also often recommended to those who suffer from kidney problems. The Sweet Goldenrod will be the tastiest but the other varieties will also do. The more aromatic the plant, the better the flavor.
Goldenrod can be easily grown from seed and several varieties can usually be found in seed catalogs. Seeds should be sown in the fall when the ground is cool. Finding a specimen in the wild and transplanting it to your yard will also work if you catch it early enough in the spring. Look for a healthy stand in the fall, mark it and come back in early spring and dig a section from the exterior portion of the stand. Water it in well and then watch it closely for several weeks. If it begins to look limp give it a good soaking, otherwise leave it alone. You can also find Goldenrod at native plant nurseries and at some botanical gardens. Remember that Goldenrod self sows so deadhead those flowers before they produce seed, and occasionally you will need to thin out the stand as they will spread through the root system.
To preserve Goldenrod for use in wreaths, cut the long stems about 5 inches above the ground and hang them upside down to air-dry naturally. The time to cut is just as the flowers are beginning to open. Once dried they last for many years. If you want to use the Goldenrod to cover a wreath base, attach the stalks to the base as you cut them and they will dry in the correct shape. If you try this, make sure and use two to three times what you think you need, because as they dry the volume will diminish.
To harvest for medicinal use, pick the young tender leaves and air-dry. Keep dried leaves in an airtight glass jar or ziplock plastic bag. The young leaves can also be used fresh in teas or as a substitute for French Tarragon in any recipe.
There is some interesting folklore about Goldenrod, it was once believed that if it suddenly appeared growing outside your front door, good luck would soon be coming your way. Goldenrod was also a valuable dye plant used by American colonists and home dyers in the 18th and 19th century.

Copyright N. Pastor 1999

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