The seasons of spring and autumn can be thought of as the in-between times as we transition into summer and winter respectively. In other parts of the globe the autumn is often referred to as the “fall”, and this can enhance our experience of falling into winter time. It is evident around us. Leaves slowly tumbling down after their fabulous, colourful turning, which does not cease to thrill us in every autumn cycle. Precious herbs, amongst the entirety of the plant world, are quietly undressing in preparation for the winter. Earthen tones embrace our Aotearoa landscapes. Temperatures, which not so long ago were high with summer intensity, are beginning to hint at the crispness of autumn. Unmistakably we feel the wind change; progressively gathering strength, carrying the tides of winter on its colder breath. The airiness and coolness of autumn harbours a certain emptiness that can leave us feeling exposed; even a little raw, but it is also filled with possibility—a time when we, like the plants, can strip down to a quiet essence of being, and savour simplicity.
Traditionally autumn calls for a gradual slowing down in life forms. At Symphony of Herbs I refer to this as “autumn adagio”, where adagio, in Latin musical terms, means slowly. We are slowly transitioning into our winter existence whilst being immersed in a downward spiral of botanical energy. During Autumn we may harvest an abundance of fresh fruit, such as elderberries (Sambucus nigra baca), crab apples (Malus sylvestris), and rosehips (Rosa canina). Let us not forget luscious, purple grapes! It is important to remember that many of our herbs have been devoted to the growth of their aerial parts in the spring and summer, and now their energy is gradually turned inward and downward, delivering vital medicinal resources to roots and barks. Naturally, we can also experience a wealth of seed production in an admirable performance of growth energetics from the herbs. These precious seeds will return to us with renewed life in the spring.
Standing in the garden at Symphony of Herbs, I am privileged to observe the autumn adagio dance of Solidago canadensis, encouraged by the wind. The deliciously heady fragrance of the blooms fill one’s nostrils. Goldenrod is quite remarkable given that she is in full, striking bloom at the beginning of autumn; one of the few herbal flowers to flourish in this time. Nevertheless, a fitting colour for the season before she too retreats for the winter. Her small, bright yellow flowers are clustered in spikes at the head of the tall spires of her foliage covered stalks. Indeed, they are like golden rods. A child once commented to me, “Tall golden girls!” New Zealand’s temperate climate is a favoured environment for these “golden girls” to perform in the “symphony of herbs”. The species Solidago virgaurea, S. Canadensis, and S. odora are considered the most medicinal, and perhaps the tastiest. However, the various species of goldenrod are safe and beneficial for people’s immunity as winter draws closer. Seldom do you see a goldenrod plant growing alone; it multiplies by sending out root runners, which creates dozens of plants growing densely together. In this light, they are orchestrating a resourceful, standing herbal “forest” of medicinal value, as well as providing a feast for the eyes.
Often you can listen to people condemning the Solidago genus since they may believe it is the reason for their seasonal autumn allergy symptoms. On the contrary, there is a wealth of phytomedicinal value offered by Goldenrod, and, as with countless herbs, it is a challenge to know where to begin. For Medical Herbalists, Solidago, (meaning to “make whole” in Latin), can be acknowledged as an ally and a staple in practice dispensaries. She is easily accessible due to her ease of graceful growth, and readily flows with the understanding that nature provides us with what we need to maintain our health.
Rest assured that as a member of the “Asteraceae” (daisy) family, this beautifully medicinal herb does not necessarily play a role in allergen suffering. In fact, as you may already know, or as you read further, you will note she has medicinal action to assist allergen sufferers. Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisfolia), which is often found growing nearby Goldenrod with its unremarkable green flowers, is a culprit when it comes to being an allergen aggravator. Its pollen is highly prone to being airborne in stark contrast to Goldenrod’s pollen, which is minimal. What small amount of pollen there is, is significantly sticky making it perfect for attaching itself to bees and insects, who adore the flowers as their harmonious playground. They are vital to the plant’s pollination process. Honey bees seek the yellow spires as a valued source for their colony’s preparation for the winter months. Goldenrod honey is dark amber, strong tasting, rich in protein and high in minerals. Wind-pollinated plants, such as ragweed, which incidentally blooms at the same time as Goldenrod, have irritating, abundant pollen. They can spread it widely on autumn winds causing allergic reactions in people, who are prone to this condition. People with marked sensitivity to the Tribe Astereae may find Goldenrod can react with them, but in general, the beautiful, golden spires are not allergen provokers. Medical herbalists can have success with weaning people off their synthetic allergy medicines when Goldenrod is introduced to their body.
Since the individual flowers of Goldenrod are very small, it may be easier to harvest the flower heads on part (about half to two thirds) of their long stalks. At Symphony of Herbs, I like to harvest the plant when some of the flowers are open, but not all; usually at the beginning of the flowering period. It is not essential, but it can offer a wider range of the herb’s healing properties. If using fresh Goldenrod, just hold the stem with the flowers pointing into a bowl, and snip the flowers and leaves off. Compost the stems! If you want to dry some Goldenrod to enjoy infusions throughout winter, simply hang a bunch of flower head stalks downward in a cool, aerated and dry position. You can cover them with paper bags to protect from dust accumulation. I wait until the stalks and leaves are crispy, as if they are “autumn-ised”. At this stage, gently transfer the plant material to a large jar in a dark cupboard. I do not chop it into smaller pieces until I am ready to use it.
Even Goldenrod roots are prized by some herbalists who harvest them after the glory of the herb’s flowering. Since the plant multiplies readily through its root system, there is a generous offering to be found in the ground after the aerial parts have died back in the late autumn. Rinse soil off the roots. If possible, hang them up to dry, or place them on racks, and put them in an aerated, sheltered place to dry until they are brittle. Store in glass jars. Depending on the difficulty you are addressing, goldenrod root tea may be made with large or small amounts of the roots brewed, or decocted, in boiling water. Alternatively, the roots may be singularly powdered, or mixed with dried Goldenrod flowers.
The primary and secondary medicinal actions of Goldenrod are richly broad spectrum:
Diuretic, Anti-inflammatory, Urinary and Prostate Tonic:
Solidago species is highly prized for healing people’s urinary conditions. It facilitates detoxification throughout the kidneys, bladder and urinary tract. The astringent and antiseptic properties tighten and tone the urinary system making it useful for people’s urinary tract infections. Goldenrod has constituents that increase urine flow and have anti-inflammatory effects. For men, it reduces prostate inflammation, and assists elimination of uric acid in gout conditions.
It is a kidney tropho-restorative providing both nourishment and restoration in health balance for the kidneys. Our clients who have chronic urinary conditions may find significant turnaround from using Goldenrod.
Anti-catarrhal, Astringent, Expectorant, Anti-allergenic:
Goldenrod is noted for its ability to work with respiratory tract conditions. It is a specific for people’s upper respiratory conditions, and assists with their coughs and colds presenting with lower tract conditions. Being an expectorant it can shift unwanted mucous. As an anti-allergy herb, we can often include Goldenrod in an ‘anti-allergy’ formula, especially in “autumn adagio” time. Its astringent property calms itching eyes, runny nose, and sneezing that comes with late summer and early autumn allergies.
It has an affinity with people’s lymphatic systems. The herb primarily cleanses the body through both urinary and lymphatic systems. As a detoxifying herb, as well as an anti-inflammatory, it can be useful for people experiencing joint pain and arthritis. It is used for both chronic and acute inflammation of lymph nodes, as well as oedema.
This Goldenrod action supports good peripheral circulation, and can assist with the need to support people’s recovery from winter ailments. Its antiseptic and antimicrobial properties provide a good phytomedicinal choice for sore throats.
Cholagogue, Antiulcerogenic, Antifungal, Carminative:
As a mild bitter, the liver can enjoy the benefits of Goldenrod. When somebody is presenting with inflammatory, digestive conditions, such as ulcers, colitis and diverticulitis, there is a role for Goldenrod to perform. In the phyto-pharmacological detail of the herb’s constituents, we can establish that the saponins are active against Candida species. Our clients who experience flatulent dyspepsia can find relief by a carminative action of Goldenrod.
The flowers and the leaves can be infused with oil, or used as a poultice, for wounds, bites,
stings and burns. The infused oil combines well with plantain, yarrow, and St. John’s wort for a healing skin salve. This can also serve as an effective massage oil for tired, aching muscles and arthritic pain. Goldenrod herb makes efficacious nasal spray and throat gargle preparations. The vulnerary root powder can be topically applied to wounds that are challenging to heal.
Goldenrod’s efficacy is enhanced by combining her with other botanical players from the “symphony of herbs” lending herself to our medicinal formulations with ease. At “Symphony of Herbs”, I like to educate people to use the herb as a “simple” (e.g. as an infusion), especially if they have it growing on their property, and this helps them to incorporate Goldenrod in their nutrition. Often people enjoy the approach that medicinal herbs are considered part of their diet, which encourages their regular, tonic like use of a herb.
Goldenrod Tea Recipe
Chop the leaves and flowers.
Place 2 tbsp fresh Goldenrod (or 1 tbsp dried Goldenrod) in a ceramic teapot, tightly lidded. Often a Mason preserving jar with a lid makes an effective, airtight infusion vessel.
Add freshly boiled water.
Steep, covered for 20 minutes.
Drink warm, or at room temperature.
For therapeutic effects, people can drink three cups of this golden brew daily, and up to four to five cups per day in acute situations. An infusion made from the Goldenrod flowers and leaves is supportive to work with people’s seasonal allergic rhinitis symptoms, especially the respiratory congestion and itchiness of eyes. Naturally the winter months are ideal to prepare this tea to work in harmony with immunity, which highlights the importance of a dried Goldenrod supply. A small amount of local raw honey dissolved in a cup of Goldenrod tea only enhances the medicinal value. In America, there is reference to Goldenrod’s other common name as being “Blue Mountain Tea” given how easily it brews with a slightly bitter and astringent quality, in addition to its subtle sweetness. There is an abundant flavonoid source of rutin to be found in Goldenrod infusion benefitting people’s cardiovascular function on a circulatory level, and increasing capillary strength. The antioxidant, quercetin, is also on offer in the constituent repertoire.
At “Symphony of Herbs” I like to blend Goldenrod with Lemon balm and Peppermint.
Goldenrod Cider Recipe
Chop the goldenrod, filling a Mason jar (or similar) with chopped flowers, leaves, stalks (and roots if available).
Fill the jar to the top with room temperature, organic apple cider vinegar.
Cap it tightly with a plastic lid. (Metal lids can react with the vinegar. If you
use one, protect it with a few layers of baking paper between the lid and the vinegar.)
Be sure to label your vinegar with the date and contents.
Strain into a sterile bottle after six weeks; gently squeezing the plant material to obtain the best medicinal value.
Relabel and store away from direct light.
Goldenrod Cider is an effective tonic for people to improve their mineral balance, help prevent kidney stones, eliminate flatulence, and improve immune functioning. The same method for the cider tonic can be used to make a Goldenrod tincture, replacing the apple cider vinegar with 100% proof vodka. By the dropperful, the tincture is useful as an anti-inflammatory, a sweat-inducing cold cure, and an astringent digestive aid. Medical herbalists often recommend larger doses (up to 4 dropperfuls at a time) of goldenrod tincture several times daily to treat kidney problems, including nephritis, prostate problems, kidney stones, and for both the inability to void and frequent urination.
She is all of this, and more, in the “symphony of herbs”. Goldenrod is an abundant plant creating enough resource to be shared and used in supporting people’s health. We can find her growing not only in garden spaces, but she thrives in the wild too. For now, Solidago species is possibly under used. Let her medicinal music be heard in our practices, bringing her closer to people to perform at her best as a very willing, and able, botanical player.
Sara Mertens MNZAMH
Dip. Clinical Herb. Med., Cert. Human Nutrition
Fisher C., Painter G., (2009) Materia Medica
Hoffmann, D., (2003) Holistic Herbal
Gladstar R., (2008) Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health
Braun and Cohen, (2010) Herbs and Natural Supplements, 3rd Edition