Goldenrod: Late Summer Medicine
Everywhere I walk these days, I see the yellow plumes of golden rod heralding the last days of summer. It is time to harvest goldenrod and make medicine with its abundant flowers and leaves.
The Latin name for goldenrod is Solidago; from solidus – to make strong, healthy: ago – to make whole. Goldenrod is a tonic plant in the herbal apothecary that helps the body regain strength when it has been subject to chronic illness.
Although goldenrod is around all summer its single, woody stem resembles its companion in the meadow, fireweed. It takes a keen eye to discern the two. But now that late summer is here, it is easy to find goldenrod.
One of the most efficient methods an herbalist has for assessing plant medicine is through her taste buds. The mildly bitter and slightly pungent flavour of tea made with goldenrod’s leaves reveals its medicine.
The bitter flavour sensed by the tongue excites nerves that prime the digestive juices of the liver, pancreas, and stomach. This prepares the digestive system for breaking down incoming food and absorbing its nutrients.
The tea’s pungent after taste tingles on tongues after the bitterness has passed. These sensations are brought on by goldenrod’s warming volatile oils. The volatile oils relax the digestive tract, easing any tension that may be held in the gut, facilitating harmonious peristalsis of the oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, and finally the colon. Similar volatile oils are also found in peppermint, chamomile, and lemon balm. All herbs are used to ease cramps, bloating, and gas. When a plant can have this effect on the body, it is called a carminative.
The bitter, pungent taste of goldenrod’s tea is a gentle, digestive stimulant. Sip it quietly before a big meal; it will ease any future discomfort.
Goldenrod’s flowers have a stronger, more pungent flavour than the leaves and lack their bitter taste. The flower’s chemical make up is different than the chemistry found in the plant’s leaves. This results in a different taste to the tea, and different medicine. A tea of goldenrod’s flowers is frequently offered to relieve stuffy sinuses, or sore throats. A gargle of goldenrod’s flowers eases laryngitis.
Interestingly, much to many people’s disbelief, a tea made with goldenrod flowers is used to relieve hay fever.
Hay fever is an allergic response triggered by airborne allergens such as pollen. An allergic reaction is essentially a case of mistaken identity. When the pollen enters the nose and comes in contact with the inner pathways of the sinuses, the immune system perceives the pollen as a threat. In self-defence, the immune system sends mast cells to the sinus passages to release histamines in order to fight off the intruder. The histamines turn on the irritating symptoms of hay fever: itchy eyes, runny nose, and sneezing.
Many people blame goldenrod for hay fever outbreaks during the late summer. They are mistaken. Hay fever is caused by ragweed, a plant that shares goldenrod’s love of late summer’s cool nights and dry, warm soil. Ragweed is frequently found growing nearby goldenrod. Goldenrod is the antidote for ragweed’s irritating nature. Frequently in nature, when a plant causes histamine reactions in the body, there is a plant growing close by. Nettles’ sting can be relieved with plantain and poison ivy’s rash is soothed with yellow doc leaves.
The most dramatic effect on the body goldenrod has is on the kidneys. There is a saying amongst herbalists, “Goldenrod for puffiness.” Goldenrod helps to relieve swollen fingers, ankles and feet when the kidneys are having a hard time clearing excess fluid from the body. Even if there is an underlying chronic condition causing fluid retention, goldenrod will support the body in balancing its fluids.
A couple of years ago, a client came into the office with a number of health challenges. But what struck me was how puffy she was. Her rings looked like they were strangling her fingers and her ankles poured over her shoes. I suggested we begin with goldenrod tea. A month later she returned and she had lost 30lbs. It was all fluid. “I’ve been peeing like a horse,” she said showing off her new svelte figure.
Now I am not much for using plant medicine for weight loss. I prefer to encourage healthy eating, exercise, relaxation and refreshing sleep. But in this case, I was pleased with the results of a simple goldenrod tea.