Good as Gold

Story Lindsay Wilson

In late summer, splashes of gold begin to line roadsides and strew across fields. Those small yellow blooms atop 2- to 3-foot stems are one of nature’s last reminders of long days of full sun and summer’s heat as we edge toward winter. Goldenrod, an herb used medicinally for centuries by Native Americans and throughout Europe, offers pollinators some of the last nectar of the season and us its medicine.

There are more than 100 species, most originating in North America, and all can be used interchangeably, for the most part, but some are more astringent (drying), while others are more fragrant (aromatic). The two used most commonly in Mississippi are Solidago canadensis (Canada goldenrod) and Solidago odora (sweet goldenrod). In Latin, Goldenrod’s genus name, “Solidago,” essentially means “to make whole.”

Like dandelion, goldenrod is often undervalued due to its profusion. We often equate exotic, hard-to-find herbs with good medicine but dismiss easily obtained ones as inferior. Herbalist Phyllis D. Light teaches that our “medicine is always nearby.”

It’s hard to talk about goldenrod without addressing the myth that floats around every year when it is in bloom. Let’s put it this way: The myth floats around, not its pollen.

Many blame their pollen allergies in the early fall on the easy-to-spot blooms; however, the pollen granules of goldenrod are large, sticky and too heavy for wind pollination and must be pollinated by insects. The fault, instead, lies in patches of wind-pollinated ragweed that often grow in close proximity to the blameless goldenrod.

Contrary to the myth, Midwestern herbalist Matthew Wood finds that goldenrod is one of his best herbs for pet allergies (feline in particular). It is also used for hay fever and general, over-secretion of mucous and red, irritated eyes.

Its warming and astringent properties make it useful for many “cold and wet” disorders of the body. For example, you can use it to combat sinus infections, flus, yeast overgrowth and even cold, arthritic joints.

The flowers and leaves (and sometimes roots) are the parts of the plant used, and you can take it as a tea or tincture. (If you gather the herb to dry for tea, I suggest only drying the leaves as the flowers will simply turn into puffs.)

Goldenrod earned its footnote in the annals of American history as one of the main herbs sipped on by protestors following the dumping of tea into the Boston Harbor in 1773. These herbal brews were called “Liberty Teas.”

Sweet goldenrod leaf tea is also called “Blue Mountain Tea” and was sipped by folks east of the Mississippi River to calm the nerves and settle the stomach — it is a relaxing nervine and an aromatic carminative (relieves gas and “stuck” digestion).

One of the herb’s most acclaimed medicinal attributes is its use for kidney issues. Because it is diuretic and anti-inflammatory, it is commonly formulated in kidney tonic blends to prevent and break down kidney stones and clear urinary obstructions. Traditionally, herbalists will blend goldenrod with oakleaf hydrangea root to work on kidney stones and wild yam root to calm spasms. 

Used externally (as a fresh plant poultice or infused in oil as a salve), goldenrod is a great wound-healer. It is anti-microbial and will staunch bleeding. For pulled muscles and to repair damaged connective and muscle tissue, infuse in a whole oil (like extra-virgin olive oil) and apply it, topically, to the troubled area. To boost its effect, infuse your oil with other herbs like red cedar (warming, circulatory), comfrey (tissue-healing) and horsetail (silica-rich).

Here is an early fall preparation I make each year as an herbal tonic to prepare my body for the fall months. It is called an oxymel, which is 75% apple cider vinegar (ACV) and 25% local honey. Paired with goldenrod, you can expect this herbal oxymel to help expectorate excess phlegm from the lungs, opening up the air passages, making it easier to breathe.

• Chop up freshly harvested flowering tops and leaves.
• Place chopped herb into quart jar until loosely packed and about ¾ full.
• In another jar, mix honey and ACV (shake well until fully blended).
• Pour honey-ACV mixture over herb until jar is full.
• Cover top of jar with parchment paper and screw on a lid. (The parchment paper will keep the metal jar lid from oxidizing due to the vinegar. You may also use a plastic, screw-top lid if you have one.)
• Store in a cool, shady spot for four to six weeks, strain and bottle.
• Take two to four tablespoons a day.