When the tall spires of goldenrod begin to boast their yellow blooms I know we are immersed in my favorite season of the year. Goldenrod flowers mean long days, hot weather and plenty of swimming in the wild lakes and rivers. Just this past weekend we floated down the Methow River and spied many tall spires of goldenrod overlooking our passage.
Goldenrod grows all over the world and most species are probably medicinal in some respect or another. In this monograph we’ll be looking at the main species that are named above. Use your local field guides to find out what is growing near you. Let us know about your local goldenrods by posting your experiences in the forums!
For the urinary system…
Goldenrod has a long history of use for the urinary system. It has been used for urinary tract infections as well as for strengthening the kidneys. Goldenrod is both astringent and antiseptic. (You can learn more about these terms in our Herbal Glossary series.) By tightening and toning the tissues of the urinary system, as well as providing action against bacteria, goldenrod is well suited to addressing bladder and urinary tract infections.
Many of the older herbal literature sources cite it being used for kidney stones and it is still being used this way today.
The German Commission E has officially approved goldenrod for the treatment of bladder and urinary system inflammations.
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
Another area that goldenrod shines is for allergic rhinitis or seasonal allergies. I use it in many of my seasonal allergy formulas (often combined with peach and plantain) and have seen it completely eliminate the itchy-red-eyes, runny-nose and excessive sneezing symptoms for many people.
Goldenrod also works really well for cat dander allergies. I suggest that people keep titrating up the dose until relief is found. Matt Wood recommends it in small drop doses.
Many people despise goldenrod and blame it for their fall sniffles. However, the more likely culprit is ragweed or Ambrosia species. Goldenrod is pollinated by insects, not by wind. As a result, 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.
I recently asked herbalists what they thought of the goldenrod and allergy controversy. Most agreed that goldenrod does not overtly cause allergic reactions although Nicholas Schnell felt differently. I’ll include his words as a caution and I’d love to hear from you in the forums 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.
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.
Goldenrod relieves most muscle aches. Try it for pains nothing else has touched. Give the oil a try for itches and swellings, too.
Tasty tea high in antioxidants…
I recently took a class with Robert Dale Rogers who is a phenomenal herbalist and presenter. He presents herbs by combining his lifetime of experience with historical uses and modern day research. He says that goldenrod has 7 times the antioxidant levels of green tea, to which he added, “One day someone will become rich by marketing goldenrod tea.”
Antioxidants are often called the key to good health and longevity. They can rid the body of free radicals, thus reducing the oxygenation of our cells. This process is often blamed for the aging process.
Goldenrod is a good source of the constituent rutin. 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 (and therefore play a role in stopping certain kinds of cancers.)1
Have you tasted goldenrod tea? It is a very tasty tea, slightly sweet and astringent with a hint of volatile oils. A tasty treat with a higher antioxidant level than green tea!
The name solidago means “to make whole.” Historical references site using goldenrod poultices for healing wounds and for use on 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
Colds and flus…
Goldenrod has many actions that are beneficial during a cold or flu. It is a mild diaphoretic, helping to open the pore and release heat through the skin and therefore can support a person during a fever.
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 mucous in the lungs, which can then be expectorated and expelled out of the body with more ease.
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.
The plant contains saponins that are anti-fungal and act specifically against the Candida fungus which is the cause of vaginal and oral thrush. It can be swished in the mouth (in the case of oral thrush) or used as a sitz bath for vaginal infections.
For non-allergy related chronic yeast infections I have found it of moderate use, and its effect is greatly enhanced by Beebalm and/or Alder (Alnus spp.). It also has a long history by indigenous North American people as a douche or vaginal soak in the treatment of infections, for general discomfort and preventative hygiene. While I am not a proponent of douches, I do think that herbal sitz baths can be extremely helpful in persistent, low-grade yeast infections.
Another area that goldenrod is being studied is to ameliorate the symptoms of insulin resistance and diabetes. Some animal studies have shown it to be helpful.2 I mention this because it is an interesting new way that goldenrod is being used; however, keep in mind two very important things. One, studies involving mice do not indicate that the same results will be found in humans. And two, insulin resistance and diabetes are, most often, a disease of a poor diet and should never be treated without treating the diet first and foremost.
Goldenrod is a delicious edible. The flowers can be fried up as fritters (similar to elder flower fritters) and the more mild tasting leaves can be cooked and eaten as well.
There are over 100 species of goldenrods (Solidago). Solidago virgaurea, S. canadensis, S. gigantea, and S. odora are all commonly used in a similar manner. Each species has varying degrees of qualities however. 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.
I haven’t heard of any Solidago variety being harmful, but it is always best to know exactly what you are harvesting and using. Check with local sources to see if your local varieties have a history of use. (Also note it can be very difficult to tell some of the species apart due to hybridization.)
Here is a range map of where the Solidago spp. grow in the US.
In my area the most common species is Solidago canadensis and so my botanical section will focus on that particular species. (Keeping in mind that exact taxonomy is difficult because of variations between species and geographic clines in characteristics.) Check your local field guides for specifics on the species growing near you.
Canadensis is a perennial herb that can be grown easily from seed. It grows from rhizomatous roots and can reach up to 6 feet tall. It generally grows in clumps – which are often clones.
The leaves grow alternate and are lance shape.
The flowers are numerous and yellow and appear at the top of the goldenrod stalk. There are numerous small flowers on each stalk.
If you hang out with goldenrod for very long you’ll quickly become acquainted with the goldenrod spider. This spider turns yellow or white depend on which flower it is inhabiting. As you can see from the photo it is also a voracious hunter, often capturing and devouring insects three times its size. When I harvested goldenrod this summer I shook out at least five goldenrod spiders!
Special consideration should be given to the variability of the flavors and scents within the great many spp. of Solidago. If you have multiple species near you (and you probably do) take the time to taste the leaf and flower of each kind, and get to know the subtle differences. The most aromatic tend to be more helpful for mood elevation, kidney problems and external use, while the more bitter or bitter/aromatic spp. are especially nice for digestive issues and the astringent/aromatic types are great for upper respiratory issues and general mucus membrane over-secretion. These type of subtleties apply to all herbs, but Goldenrod tends to be a great example of it because of the many spp. and sensory variances even within a single species or subspecies.
Kiva Rose, herbalist
Goldenrod leaves and flowers are used for herbal medicine. Harvest the entire stalks (leaving behind some leaves) just before the plant blooms.
Goldenrod tea is a tasty and effective medicine. The longer you brew it and the more herbs 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. 1-3 ounces of herb can be used per day.
For more diuretic properties drink the tea cold. For more diaphoretic properties and to promote digestion, drink the tea warm.
Goldenrod-infused honey can be used for sore throats (or as a tasty treat).
Try using goldenrod-infused oil for achy joints and more acute injuries. This could also be made into a salve or liniment.
The entire plant can be tinctured as well. I often use the tincture for leaky, drippy, seasonal allergies and cat danger allergies.
Susun Weed recommends making goldenrod-infused vinegar to ‘improve mineral balance, help prevent kidney stones, eliminate flatulence, and improve immune functioning.”
Some people may have an adverse reaction to goldenrod. It’s always best to consume small amounts when trying an herb for the first time.
Goldenrod is plentiful all throughout north america - and offers a plethora of healing virtues. Its golden torches announce the height of summer and remind me to savor the moment and appreciate all the green growing things that will soon be entering a winter's slumber. Goldenrod tea is tasty and full of antioxidants, the infused oil is great for painful joints the tincture can help stop a hay fever reaction.... certainly an important plant to grow your herbal knowledge.