A couple of weeks ago, I was having sort of a rough time. It was one of those weeks where things aren’t going right and the future seems uncertain, where you just question your path and every decision you ever made, you know? Ok, that’s really dramatic, but you get it.
So, I forced myself to get outside and headed to my favorite place to forage, a beautiful open space of mixed wetlands and meadow.
About halfway down the path that circles the meadow, I looked up to my right, and as far as the eye could see there were giant, sunny, bobbing heads of goldenrod swaying happily in the breeze. They were at the absolute peak of blooming. The sight of them snapped me right out of my negative thoughts, and filled me with gratitude for being alive. All the concerns I’d been ruminating over seemed suddenly irrelevant and distant.
I harvested as many of the sweet-scented plants as I could fit in my backpack and finished my hike feeling a milllion times better about life.
By now you might be thinking, wtf, doesn’t goldenrod cause terrible allergies? Shouldn’t you stay away from it? It’s the plant that makes your eyes water and itch and you’re just sneezing everywhere and coughing and stuff, right?
It’s not true I tell you!
The plant that causes many hayfever/fall allergies is RAGWEED (which like, don’t hate ragweed, it’s a pretty cool plant, but another time for that…).
Ragweed has really potent pollen that is easily carried on the breeze… and straight up your tiny, defenseless nostrils.
Goldenrod, on the other hand, is pollinated by insects – its pollen is too sticky to be carried on the breeze, so the likelihood of it causing a reaction is probably slim. It just gets blamed because it usually happens to grow right near allergy-inducing plants. So at some point, somebody was probably standing around in a field and started sneezing and saw the goldenrod and said IT’S THAT ONE, IT’S THAT PLANT THERE!
And so, sadly, people have been casting aspersions on goldenrod ever since.
The truth is, goldenrod is used as a natural antidote to seasonal allergies. Funny, right? (This is typical in the plant world; you can usually find the antidote to a plant within 20 feet of it. Nature might be a harsh, scary mistress who will often try to kill you by throwing you down mountains and shit, but sometimes she also has your back.)
Matthew Wood says that goldenrod is effective against cat allergies in particular. I would really like to test this theory! Someone pass me a kitten!
What, no one has a kitten on hand? Well why the hell not? This is unacceptable.
This is what Gerard, acclaimed medieval herbalist/bff to VIP Lords and Ladies, had to say about goldenrod:
It is extolled above all other herbes for the stopping of bloud in bleeding wounds; and hath in times past beene had in greater estimation and regard than in these daies: for in my rememberance I have known the dry herbe which came from beyond the sea sold in Bucklerbury in London for half a crowne an ounce.
-Gerard’s Herball (1597)
Indeed, Gerard, indeed. Along with yarrow, goldenrod was an extremely valuable herb on the battlefield during the middle ages. Matthew Wood says that the Saracens were so fond of it that it was once called Consolidae saraciniae (Saracen healer, roughly translated). My guess is that they used it to clean and poultice wounds, and maybe even ground up the dried plants as a styptic powder.
Goldenrod is also a great ally for the kidneys, improving their function, keeping them healthy and clearing up many different ailments and minor infections/inflammation. For example, it has antiseptic, astringent properties that are helpful in clearing up urinary tract infections. It’s also sometimes used in the treatment of kidney stones.
Goldenrod oil is also said to be excellent for stiff and sore/injured muscles. I’ll have to test this out when my oil is finished brewing…
What else? Goldenrod has so many virtues…digestive aid, cold and flu soother, antifungal…in other words, just good to have around. I can confirm that a cup of goldenrod tea (especially if it’s fresh!) really seems to help with a bad mood. Some herbalists use it to fend off winter sadness, which makes sense to me – such a sunny plant is bound to cheer you up in the dark of winter. Plus, it’s really high in antioxidants!
Anyway, when I got home from foraging I used that magic goldenrod to mix up all sorts of things; honey, vinegar, elixir, tincture, teas.
I’ve covered how to make a basic tincture here. Making herbal honey (great for sore throats!), vinegar (salad dressing!) or oil is the same concept; just fill the jar around 3/4 full of fresh herb (1/2 full dry), cover with honey, vinegar (raw apple cider vinegar is the best) or oil, and let sit at least six weeks (maybe even longer for honey…mmm…), flipping the jar occasionally.
As for elixir, I made it two ways. For one, I mixed honey and brandy (about 1/4 honey and 3/4 brandy, but you can play with ratios).
For the other, I mixed vodka and vegetable glycerine (veggie glycerine extracts herbal properties, much like honey, alcohol and oil…I thought it might take the edge off a vodka tincture and I’m curious how it will taste! I used a ratio of about 1/4 glycerine to 3/4 vodka).
For tea, well…all you do there is hang the herb to dry, then chop up and store in brown paper bags.
I hope everyone will give goldenrod a try! It’s a delicious, uplifting remedy that grows all around us.
The Book of Herbal Wisdom; Using Plants as Medicine by Matthew Wood
Leaves from Gerard’s Herbal by Michael Woodward