As the summer winds down, splashes of gold appear on the roadsides and in the prairies and meadows: goldenrod! Depending on where you are, you see a different group of goldenrod species, but they are found all across North America. In fact, goldenrods are a predominantly North American group; there are about 100 species, of which 77 are native to North America, 8 to Mexico, 4 to South America, and 6 to 10 to Eurasia.
|threenerve goldenrod, Solidago velutina|
|threenerve goldenrod. |
Note the structure of the composite flower heads.
|Canada goldenrod, Solidago canadensis|
Goldenrod seeds are tiny and nondescript to a human, but they are eaten by all kinds of small birds, sparrows and chikadees, for example.
Goldenrod has been used medicinally in Europe for centuries, especially to heal wounds. Scientific study in recent years (German Commission E) found the European goldenrod (Solidago vigaurea) effective treating urinary infections and kidney and bladder stones. Similar uses have not been verified for American goldenrods; WebMD lists lots of uses for goldenrod and calls all of them "unproven."
Goldenrod flowers make a strong natural dye, which can be bright yellow to olive green depending on the mordant (metal ion used to fix the dye.) You can also dye with the whole plant including the flowers, which saves a lot of effort. Goldenrods were widely used for dyeing during early settlement of the United States and Canada, replacing yellow dye plants from Europe that were unavailable in the New World.Goldenrods folklore was associated with gold and wealth. If you held the plant in your hand, the direction the head nodded indicated hidden or lost items or buried treasure. Likewise if a goldenrod plant grew (without being planted) near the door to the house, it indicated that there would be great good fortune.
|goldenrod in Utah, with pollinating moth|
Comments and corrections welcome.
Cardon, D. 2007. Natural Dyes. Archetype Publications, London.
Culpeper, N. Culpeper's Complete Herbal. W. Foulsham & Co. London. originally 1653. Online link The three species he describes have been merged as one very variable Solidago vigaurea).
Cunningham, S. 1984. Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs. Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, MN.
Fernald, M. L. 1970. Gray's Manual of Botany. 8th ed. D. Van Nostrand Company, New York.
Lambert, E. and T. Kendall. 2010, The complete guide to natural dyeing. Interweave Press, Loveland, CO.
National Wildlife Federation. NativePlantFinder. link Accessed 9/4/21. A fascinating website.
Gruenwald, J., T. Brendler, and C. Jaenicke, editors. 2007. PDR for Herbal Medicine. Thomson Publishing.
Semple, J. C. and R. E. Cook. 2002. Solidago Linnaeus Flora of North America Oxford University Press, New York. Online in part: link Accessed 8/31/21