As you know - I spend a bit of time on Facebook. I just saw a picture of yellow flowers with someone asking for its identification. Can't miss goldenrod, so the answers that followed bothered me. It may be a weed, but my mother always told me, "Any flower not in its right place, is a weed." What disturbed me most was the over-hyped, "it causes hay fever, get rid of it." I thought this myth had been debunked.
Goldenrod pollen is too heavy and sticky to be blown; it takes insects to pollinate the bloom, not wind. Goldenrod, Solidago, just happens to bloom at the same time as ragweed, Ambrosia trifida, the true culprit. Now, don't just cram your nose against Solidago and inhale, that's going to trigger a reaction. Savor the fragrance from further away, but be careful in handling the stems, they can create a skin rash (allergic contact dermatitis). This leads me to say, Soldidago is a favorite of mine in cut flowers for filler in arrangements and designs. Fortunately, I'm not allergic to it.
However, the resulting tiny nutlets/seeds on the plant can be windblown, making it a tad invasive. Goldenrod crossbreeds, resulting in at least 130 species in the U.S., 21 in the state of Florida and six species in south central Florida. The plants spread not only by seeds, but by rhizomes. Goldenrod varieties belong to the Asteraceae family.
In North America we think of it as a roadside weed, but Europeans cultivate it as an ornamental for sunny borders. As Naturalist John Muir described it: "The fragrance, color and form of the whole spiritual expression of Goldenrod are hopeful and strength-giving beyond any others I know. A single spike is sufficient to heal unbelief and melancholy."
Rugged and adaptable, they are able to crop up where no other plant dares to grow. After forest fires, they thrive on fires, their appearance is often one of the first signs the woods are coming back to life. They love disturbed ground, any moderately fertile soil, with sunlight or semi-shade, and are a hardy and persistent herb. Moderately salt tolerant, they attract beneficial insects that control bad insect pests. Butterflies love it.
Solidago odora has a fibrous root system which allows it to bury deep into all kinds of soil, making it a good cure for soil erosion. As flower heads weigh down the tops, the wind may blow them to one side, but never uproots them. They do tend to take over and compete with neighboring plants
Goldenrod is an herbaceous perennial plant that is known for its healing properties. Listed as an herb, its medicinal purposes are recognized on three continents for treatments of diseases. Cherokee tribes made extensive use of Solidago odora in their folk medicine. Crushed leaves of sweet goldenrod smell of anise, so there is an interest in developing it for a flavoring agent. All above ground parts of the plant are edible and can be used as garnishes, or in soups, stews or stir-fry. Using the youngest, tender leaves in moderation gives an added dimension to salads .
The leaves make a flavorful herbal tea. After the Boston Tea Party in 1773, patriotic colonists substituted this tea concoction and called it Liberty Tea. You need to harvest the plants before they come into bloom or the leaves are bitter. Stripping the leaves and when thoroughly dry, store them in tight lidded jars out of the light. I found a recipe for black licorice-flavored tea. Cut the young leaves or flower stalks off the plant in late morning after the dew has evaporated, but before the hot sun bakes them, and dry them. Steep one teaspoon of the dried leaves in hot water for five minutes. Be sure there is no fungus under the leaves. I found a warning that a toxic fungus sometimes grows on the leaves and may poison the tea.
A yellow dye can be made from the flowers, those picked before they fully open gives you greenish yellows and lemon-lime colors. If you wait until they are fully open you will have deeper yellows, gold and orange. The Hopi and Navajo tribes and the Pennsylvania Dutch used golden rod as their dye source.
Another use for golden rod came from our own Thomas Edison in his search for rubber. When I first moved here 30 years ago, I visited the Edison/Ford Estates and there was a small patch of goldenrod growing along the parking lot.
Another use was the dried goldenrod leaves- rolled and smoked as an herbal tobacco replacement.
In 1895, goldenrod was designated the official state flower of Nebraska. It was later said by Ida Brockman (daughter of Rep. John M Brockman), that the state flower "has a long season, and nothing could better represent the hardy endurance of Nebraska's pioneers." Kentucky made goldenrod its official state flower May 26, 1926. Earlier, the United States War Department had assigned the trumpet vine as the symbol of Kentucky's militia. Around 1921, the Kentucky Federation of Women's Clubs started to promote goldenrod. They argued that goldenrod grew all across the state and had even been adopted as an element of Kentucky's State Flag in 1918. The War Department argued for the trumpet vine because they had already assigned goldenrod to California. The women won and a Senate resolution naming goldenrod as the official state flower was adopted.
Later attempts were made to overturn it, but the House passed it and the Senate defeated it. Later, proposals pushing the bluegrass flower met the same defeat. Again in 1953, the House approved and the Senate defeated the push for the redbud. South Carolina had no problems making it their state wildflower in 2003.
Is it a wildflower or a weed? The distinction is subjective - attractive when it's blooming, three months a year, then weedy looking until it dies back. The choice is yours.
In the meantime, thank a tree.
Joyce Comingore is a Master Gardener, hibiscus enthusiast and a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.