Helen McCarthy of Living Lightly Peterborough recently married her best friend in a beautiful ceremony in the middle of the forest. What was particularly impressive, was that she managed to organize a stunning, environmentally conscious event, with zero-waste decor. Helen foraged all of her flowers locally in an effort to reduce the environmental and economic impact that weddings typically have. This included vibrant displays of goldenrod strung throughout their venue and a bouquet made of freshly picked goldenrod, Queen Anne’s lace, wheat and lavender. While working on the bride’s hair, Helen’s hair stylist looked at the flowers in alarm and said, “Oh no! I’m allergic to ragweed, I won’t be able to use that!”
Many people have a similar reaction to goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) because they mistakenly blame it for allergies which are caused by ragweed (Hymenoclea), a plant that frequently grows nearby. However, it is actually impossible for goldenrod to be the culprit of seasonal allergies, because its pollen is too heavy and sticky to be carried on the wind. Not only that, but goldenrod is actually a potent antidote for allergies. It contains a constituent called quercetin which acts as an antihistamine, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant.
I love learning the botanical names of plants because they often give you information about the plant itself. The genus name Solidago comes from the Latin words solida meaning “whole” and ago meaning “to make,” so the literal meaning of the name is “to make whole.” There are many species of goldenrod, and all are safe and edible for consumption, however Solidago canadensis is considered the best tasting and most medicinal.
Without knowing a plant very well, there are often many clues which will offer you information about what the plant can be used for. The taste of goldenrod for example is somewhat astringent, a little spicy, and quite bitter. Astringency often has a drying effect (usually caused by tannins), which can aid in drawing together broken skin. Dried and powdered, goldenrod leaves can be used to stop bleeding. Consumed as a strong tea, the aerial tops of goldenrod (including leaves and flowers) can help stop internal hemorrhage and influence menstruation.
Spiciness often indicates antiviral, antimicrobial, antiseptic and antifungal properties and would make me guess the plant is good for infections. Combined with the drying effect, I know that goldenrod is good for colds, flu, candida overgrowth, urinary tract infections, and for healing coughs and drying excess phlegm. Spiciness also often has a numbing effect, which is a good indicator that the plant may be an effective analgesic. Goldenrod can be made into a tea, or infused into a honey, or the flowers can be chewed on to soothe sore throats. It can also aid kidney function and can be used as a diuretic to help with kidney stones.
Generally, bitterness is an indication of the medicinal properties of a plant. Spice and bitter frequently aid in digestion, which means goldenrod can be used for colic and to relieve flatulence. Bitter helps to produce bile and therefore often supports liver function. Typically, when I taste bitter I know to use a plant a bit more sparingly, as a medicine or nutritive tonic rather than as the main portion of my diet. Goldenrod can be a lovely addition to salads or cooked greens, and the edible flowers can be used to adorn cakes in the summertime.
It is always interesting to observe the taste of your foods and think about how the flavours are often indicative of medicinal and nutritional properties. If you pay close attention, you might start to notice the effects. Even the most common foods often affect us in ways we may not have previously noticed.
Like many other “warm” coloured flowers, the yellow colour of the plant suggests that goldenrod likely captures the energy of the sun. Goldenrod flowers can be made into a hydrosol, or the roots can be pounded into a poultice to soothe sore muscles. Taken internally, the quercetin (among other constituents) is known to potentially reduce symptoms of fatigue, anxiety and depression, brightening your day like the sun.
Although goldenrod pollen is not airborne and does not cause hay fever, some people have a contact allergy and may develop a rash with extensive handling of the plant. Caution is also advised when consuming aerial parts of the plant if you have allergies to the Asteraceae family. However this can often be avoided by making a tincture with the root rather than the flowers.
For this post, we decided to make a goldenrod vinegar. There are a variety of menstruums or solvents used in making herbal medicines and each one has different strengths and weaknesses as it will extract different constituents from the plant. The wonderful thing about an herbal vinegar (also called an acetum) is that it extracts both medicinal and nutritional properties. While a tincture made with alcohol is excellent for extracting medicinal properties and will last longer than a vinegar, the alcohol often destroys the nutrient content of the plant.
Goldenrod vinegar makes a great nutritive and medicinal tonic which can be used for improving mineral balance, it is great for immune system function, and can help in eliminating flatulence, regulating blood sugar levels and preventing kidney stones.
- aerial tops of goldenrod (including leaves and flowers, ideally before they begin to develop pollen)
- apple cider vinegar
- fill your jar with coarsely chopped goldenrod leaves and flowers
- fill to the top with apple cider vinegar
- seal the lid tightly and allow the bottle to sit in a cool, dark place for several weeks (make sure to use a plastic or rubber lid or place several layers of plastic between the jar and metal lid, as vinegar erodes metal)