Perhaps even more valuable than that infamous pot of gold at the end of a rainbow that we all dream of, is the goldenrod that fills the field to the east of our property. Several weeks back (when I started this post) it was in full bloom.
Goldenrod Gets A Bad Rap
Before I share with you the virtues of goldenrod I need to clear up a potential misconception. Many people have fall allergies and goldenrod often gets blamed for causing them when it is, in fact, ragweed that is likely the offending party.
I tried to take some pictures of ragweed to show you the difference but found that rag weed is difficult to photograph where it grows.
It tends to blend right in with everything surrounding it, so I pulled one out of the ground to get a closer look.
That fact that golden rod grows tall and blossoms into very showy flowers, while rag weed hides amongst it’s surroundings, probably contributes to goldenrod getting the bad rap.
It is my understanding that goldenrod produces pollen that is very sticky, thus it does not blow in the wind but requires insects for pollination. Ragweed on the other hand produces pollen that is very light and easily carried by the wind where we unknowingly inhale it causing us to be just plain miserable.
What Makes Goldenrod So Special?
Goldenrod has been on my list of things to blog about for a while now, because since we have been raising bees it has be our observation that it is highly foraged by honey bees. A couple of the things that make this plant so valuable to the bees is that it is both high in nectar and pollen, and that it blossoms in late summer and early fall, a time when many of the plants that provide food for the pollinators are finished blossoming.
An interesting thing that we have noticed is that when the bees are foraging in the goldenrod, and turning it into honey, the honey takes on a strong smell. While standing or walking within 20 feet or more from the hive(s) we can smell honey. This is the only time of year that the smell of honey radiates from the hives.
It was an incredible phenomenon that my husband and I observed that finally spurred me to find out more about goldenrod and write this post. It was a sunny Saturday several weeks ago when the goldenrod was in full bloom like in the photo above. We arrived at that farm and as I began my walk around our back field I noticed that the field to the east of us was full of butterflies. They were flitting and fluttering amongst and above the goldenrod and other plants growing in the field. (Wouldn’t it be more appropriate if the were called flutter-bys instead of butterflies? 🙂 ) I couldn’t even guess how many there were – way too many to count. I mentioned it to my husband and we agreed that neither of us had ever seen so many butterflies in one spot. Many of them were the small white and yellow varieties that frequent our farm (I haven’t studied them enough to learn their names). A large majority were also Monarchs. We see many types of butterflies on our farm as they are attracted to the many wild flowers, garden plants and we often see them drinking on our beach, but we have never seen so many as on this particular day.
Thus I decided to do some detective work (which means an internet search of course) to see what may be the cause of this wonderous display. I found that in the same ways that goldenrod serves the bees it also serves the butterflies. I learned that goldenrod is a great source of food for migrating butterflies. We were likely witnessing part of the monarch butterfly migration to Mexico. This article explains that A large number of wildflowers are needed so the Monarchs can store nectar in a part of their body called the lipid mass. This carries them through the long winter. Many die if the wildflowers are not plentiful due to heat or drought. Another article claimed that Pollinators will come from miles around to visit these nectar and pollen filled jewels, while referring to goldenrod.
What’s good for the pollinators is good for the people.
You are likely aware that many of the foods that we grow are dependent on insects for pollination making pollinators an essential part of our food production, but goldenrod can be of aid to humans in an even more direct manner. Goldenrod is used in herbal or natural medicine for many of the things that ail us. According to this link it is used topically for wound healing, muscle pain and arthritis. As a tea or tincture it has more antioxidants than green tea, some which make it beneficial for fighting free radicals and can even be good for the cardiovascular system, and ironically goldenrod can help relieve symptoms of seasonal allergies.
Lastly, while I’m singing it’s praises, I will also mention that goldenrod can be used to dye fabric. While this is something I have not tried (yet) I found someone who has. You can read about it here.
Does The World Need More Goldenrod?
It has been my observation that in our area goldenrod mostly grows wild along ditches or woodlines. Fields like the one in the photo above are not very common as most large parcels are either used for agriculture (either growing crops or grazing animals) or are residential lots where homeowners have planted grass which is mowed regularly during the warm months. In those areas goldenrod doesn’t have a chance.
I have never heard of anyone planting goldrod. I have never seen goldenrod seed for sale and when we purchased a wild flower seed mix goldenrod was not included in the mix. With it being such a valuable plants I wonder why?
This year we noticed that while our own back field is filled with various pollinator friendly plants, there was only smatterings of goldenrod. We hope to change that. A couple of weeks ago my husband tilled a strip across the field and when we noticed the goldenrod going to seed we began harvesting seed heads and spreading them in the tilled soil. It is our hope some of the seeds will sprout and eventually goldenrod will spread throughout our field so we too will have a field of gold.
Do you have goldenrod growing where you live?