The Goldenrod Plant

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Butterfly on goldenrod flower

When the tall spires of the goldenrod plant begin to boast their yellow blooms, I know we are immersed in my favorite season of the year. Goldenrod flowers mean shorter days, lingering warm weather, and the refreshing feel of swimming in lakes and rivers in the late summer after Solstice has passed.

Goldenrod grows all over the world and many species are used as medicine. Use your local field guide to find out what is growing near you and consult local herbalists and ethnobotanical field guides to see how those species might be used.

The Goldenrod Plant: Energetics

One of the best ways to get acquainted with goldenrod is through taste and smell. Whenever I find goldenrod, I like to crush a leaf between my fingers and spend a few moments appreciating its unique aromatic profile. After that, if I’m in an area that has healthy soils, I also like to taste part of the leaf. After doing this for many years, I’ve begun to appreciate the many flavors and nuances of goldenrod! Getting to know your local goldenrod can also help you to best use your specific varieties. For example, more astringent goldenrod is best for leaky mucus or diarrhea, while more aromatic goldenrod is better for its decongestant activity.

Goldenrod is both a pungent and astringent herb. Its aromatic principles make it taste pungent, and, as you taste it, you can immediately get a feel for its astringent (drying) qualities. Goldenrod’s particular bend toward astringency gives it an affinity for the urinary and upper respiratory systems. It excels at tightening and toning tissue to stop excessive secretions, such as excess mucus, excess urine, or excess discharges of any kind.

The Goldenrod Plant for the Urinary System

Goldenrod has a long history of use for the urinary system. Herbalists regularly use it for urinary tract infections, as well as for strengthening and restoring the kidneys. As mentioned, goldenrod is both astringent and antiseptic. By tightening and toning the tissues of the urinary system, as well as providing action against bacteria, goldenrod is well suited as part of a formula to address bladder and urinary tract infections.

Eclectic physicians of 19th century United States used goldenrod for kidney stones. The German Commission E has officially approved goldenrod for the treatment of bladder and urinary system inflammation. Naturopathic doctor and urinary specialist Dr. Eric Yarnell recommends goldenrod for interstitial cystitis due to its inflammation-modulating abilities.1

One clinical trial found that an herbal formula including goldenrod, Betula spp. (birch), and Vaccinium spp. (cranberry) was able to significantly reduce the microbial colonization in patients with indwelling urinary catheters.2

Meanwhile, Goldenrod is one of the very few known trophorestoratives to the kidney organ. In any chronic kidney condition, this remedy is an indispensable asset and should be used long term. 
- Peter Holmes, Energetics of Western Herbs

The Goldenrod Plant for Seasonal Allergies

Another area where goldenrod shines is for the runny nose of seasonal allergies, known as allergic rhinitis. I use goldenrod in my seasonal allergy formulas – often combined with Prunus persica (peach) leaf and Plantago spp. (plantain) leaf – and have seen it completely eliminate the symptoms of itchy red eyes, runny nose, and excessive sneezing for many people.

Read Sue Kusch's article on goldenrod here to see her allergy relief tincture blend recipe.

Goldenrod also works really well for cat dander allergies. I suggest that people keep titrating up (increasing) the dose until relief is found.

Many people despise goldenrod and blame it for their fall sniffles. However, the more likely culprit is Ambrosia spp. (ragweeds) that bloom at the same time of year. Goldenrod is pollinated by insects – its pollen is heavy and sticky and does not readily float through the air and thus into people’s noses to cause the offending symptoms. Ragweed, on the other hand, is pollinated by the wind and its pollen diffuses through air currents when it is in bloom. Because ragweed does not need to attract pollinating insects, its flowers are small and inconspicuous, thus leading people to wrongly blame the more flamboyant goldenrod blooms.

I asked several herbalists what they thought of the goldenrod and allergy controversy. Most agreed that goldenrod does not overtly cause allergic reactions, although Nicholas Schnell had a different opinion. I’ll include his words as a caution and I’d love to hear from you in the comments if you personally have experienced overt allergic reactions from goldenrod.

We have isolated cultivated goldenrod areas on our farm, with no ragweed of any species even remotely close. People will have acute wind born like allergies from it without touching it, just going close. I have noted this for many years. Science says it is impossible, but it is something I have observed. I have also found the leaf tincture to be reactive with many, even though I harvest it before the flowering stage.  - Nicholas Schnell, Herbalist

The Goldenrod Plant for Muscle Pain and Arthritis

In recent times, goldenrod has gained popularity for relieving many different aches and pains from chronic arthritis to acute injuries. It can be infused into oil and rubbed into the painful areas for this purpose.

A couple of clinical trials have been done to evaluate Chilean goldenrod’s (S. chilensis) ability to address pain. In one study the topical cream was found to decrease the pain of people with tendinitis in the wrist and hand.3 Another study found that it decreased pain and increased flexibility in people with lower back pain.4

Goldenrod relieves most muscle aches. Try it for pains nothing else has touched. Give the oil a try for itches and swellings, too. 
- Henriette Kress, Herbalist

The Goldenrod Plant for Healing Wounds

The name Solidago means "to make whole." Historical references mention using goldenrod poultices for healing wounds and burns. I don’t see a lot of contemporary herbalists using it in this way and it seems like a great avenue to explore.

The fresh leaves make a good addition to burn salves, combining well with yarrow and plantain oils. The dry and powdered leaves make a good styptic agent for shaving cuts, whereas the dried powdered flowers have been mixed with fresh cream in Russia and used to heal indolent ulcers and tuberculosis of the skin.  - Robert Dale Rogers, Herbalist

Goldenrod Tea Benefits: A Tasty Source of Antioxidants

Herbalist Robert Dale Rogers says that goldenrod has seven times the antioxidant levels of green tea, to which he adds, “One day someone will become rich by marketing goldenrod tea.”

Antioxidants are often called the key to good health and longevity. They can reduce the number of free radicals in the body, thus reducing the oxidative damage to our cells. Oxidative damage is a major contributor to the functional decline that is characteristic of the aging process.

Goldenrod is a good source of the constituent rutin (a glycoside combining quercetin and rutinose). This flavonoid is well-known for its antioxidant benefits and is considered especially beneficial for heart health. Rutin can increase capillary strength and support healthy circulation throughout the cardiovascular system. It is also being studied for its ability to stop angiogenesis (the formation of new blood vessels around a tumor) and therefore play a role in stopping certain kinds of cancers.5 However, there have yet to be any clinical trials showing goldenrod’s abilities to address cancer.

Goldenrod’s high antioxidant levels may make it an ally for people with insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes; however, there haven’t been any clinical trials to that effect and I haven’t heard of herbalists using it in that way. Another avenue to explore!

The Goldenrod Plant for Colds and the Flu

Goldenrod has many actions that are beneficial during viral afflictions, such as colds or influenza. It is a mild diaphoretic, helping to open the pores and release heat through the skin, therefore supporting a person’s healthy fever response.

As an astringent and antimicrobial it can soothe a sore swollen throat – try it as a tea or infuse the fresh herb into honey.

It also helps to break up excessive and stuck mucus in the lungs, which can then be expectorated and expelled out of the body with more ease. Or when there is too much leaky mucus in the nose, consider goldenrod to restore tone to the mucous membranes, thus stopping the excessive flow.

The exact mechanism is not known, but it appears that irritation in the gut causes a reflex reaction in embryologically related areas (lungs and kidneys), resulting in a tissue response to flush away the offending substance. This provides goldenrod with an interesting paradoxical effect, on the one hand being astringent and anti-catarrhal and on the other hand increasing the production of thin, easily eliminated mucous. The precise degree to which either effect occurs appears to depend upon the tissue state: tissues congested with thick, sticky mucous will benefit from a thinning of the mucous which makes for easier elimination; tissues producing too much mucous and tending to weakness will be benefited by a drying and toning action.  - Paul Bergner, Herbalist

The Goldenrod Plant: Botanically Speaking

There are over 100 species in the Solidago genus. S. virgaurea, S. canadensis, S. gigantea, and S. odora are all commonly used in a similar manner. Each species has varying aromatics, tastes, and medicinal qualities. One species may be more bitter than the next, or more astringent. Herbalists can’t seem to agree on whether or not goldenrod is cooling or warming, and I suspect this also has to do with species variation.

It can be very difficult to correctly key out Solidago species because they readily hybridize. Solidago species aren’t harmful; however, they can look like other potentially toxic plants (such as Senecio spp./ragworts and groundsels), so being able to correctly identify Solidago is crucial. Consult with your field guide and check with nearby plant experts or herbalists to see if your local varieties have a history of use.

S. canadensis is a perennial herb that can be grown easily from seed. It grows from rhizomatous roots and can reach up to six feet tall. It generally grows in clumps, which are often clones. Because of its tenacious growing patterns, it is often not recommended to grow S. canadensis in formal gardens.

The leaves grow opposite and are lance shape.

Goldenrod bursts into bloom in the late summer months. Its small yellow aster flowers grow in clusters at the top of tall spires, showing off lots of color.

The leaves grow alternate and are lance shaped
The flowers are numerous and yellow and appear at the top of the stalk
There are numerous small flowers on each stalk
Photo taken by my friend and naturalist Bernie at Northwest Natural Moments

If you hang out with goldenrod for very long, you’ll quickly become acquainted with the goldenrod crab spider (Misumena vatia). This spider turns yellow or white, depending on which flower it is inhabiting. Goldenrod also attracts many beneficial pollinators! As you can see from the photo, the goldenrod spider is a voracious hunter, often capturing and devouring pollinator insects three times its size. When I harvest goldenrod, I gently relocate many goldenrod spiders onto nearby plants.

Goldenrod Plant Preparations

Goldenrod leaves and flowers are used for herbal medicine. Ideally, harvest the entire stalks (leaving behind some leaves) just before the plant blooms. If you harvest the plant while in full bloom, the yellow flowers will become fluff as they dry. Even if your flowers do turn to fluff on drying, they are still useful for tea or medicine.

Goldenrod tea is a tasty and effective medicine. The longer you brew it and the more material you use, the stronger the medicine will be. For a pleasing beverage, start with 1-2 teaspoons of goldenrod leaves/flowers per 8 ounces of water. Increase the steeping time and dosage as needed.

To feel more of the diuretic properties, drink the tea cold. For more of the diaphoretic properties and to promote digestion, drink the tea warm.

Goldenrod-infused honey can be used for sore throats. Simply place fresh or slightly wilted goldenrod leaves and flowers in a jar and cover with honey for several weeks before straining.

Try using goldenrod-infused oil for achy joints and more acute injuries. This could also be made into a salve or liniment.

I prefer goldenrod tincture for leaky, drippy seasonal allergies and cat danger allergies.

Dosage recommendations

  • Tea: 10-20 grams per day
  • Tincture (fresh): 1:2, 40% alcohol. 3-5ml, 3 times a day. Or smaller doses more frequently for acute situations.

Special Considerations for the Goldenrod Plant

Some people may have an adverse (allergic) reaction to goldenrod. It’s always best to consume small amounts when trying an herb for the first time.

Citations for the Goldenrod Plant

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Rosalee is an herbalist and author of the bestselling book Alchemy of Herbs: Transform Everyday Ingredients Into Foods & Remedies That Healand co-author of the bestselling book Wild Remedies: How to Forage Healing Foods and Craft Your Own Herbal Medicine. She's a registered herbalist with the American Herbalist Guild and has taught thousands of students through her online courses. Read about how Rosalee went from having a terminal illness to being a bestselling author in her full story here.  

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