The Goldenrod is a unique and important native perennial in North America. As the fields and meadows turn golden as the plants bloom, it’s messages are important, not just for humans, but for many, many other living creatures.
Once the fields and meadows turn a golden yellow in late summer, the message is clear for the bees and the beekeepers. The goldenrods foretell the imminent approach of winter. These native plants provide plenty of food for the bees to gather and store for the winters months. Goldenrod honey is claimed to be the best of the growing season.
For the beekeepers, it signals it’s time to get the hives ready for the upcoming winter; the end of a growing season is rapidly approaching. The goldenrod, and other late summer, early fall native plants, provide the bees their last meals.
Goldenrods have a rather large family. There are many different goldenrod species or more identified throughout North America. The family name or the genus is Solidago and there are dozens of species in the grouping.
Goldenrods do get an unwarranted bad reputation. Many people will blame the goldenrod for late summer allergies, the culprit is more likely the common rag weed which blooms at about the same time. The beneficial goldenrod has many positives, and fascinating insights, for mankind and the environment.
The goldenrod provides for many other fascinating insects besides the bees. One of the most intriguing is the prehistoric looking and beneficial praying mantis. The female praying mantis will often lay their eggs on the golden rod to enure plenty of food for the young when the eggs hatch. The praying mantis is a well respected insect predator, particularly in the garden, although they don’t discriminate against good and bad vegetable insects.
The Gall Fly also enjoy the goldenrods. In fact these small flies spend almost their entire life on the goldenrod plant. When the adult Gall Fly mates, the female will deposit her eggs inside the stem of the golden rod, which eventually swells to become the gall on the goldenrod. After the eggs hatch, the the larvae remain inside the gall throughout the winter only emerging the following spring and live for a brief two week period.
Other insects which can be found on the golden rod include the amazing Goldenrod Spider, wasps, butterflies and moths, assassin bugs and beetles. Naturally, birds find these tasty treats readily available and also flock to the yellow flowers for a quick meal. Amazingly, even the woodpeckers know about the Gall Fly larvae in the gall on the stem and can sometimes be seen trying to break-in for a quick snack.
For the Native Americans and some of the early settlers, the goldenrod was a medicinal herb and used for a variety of ailments. Some used the leaves or roots as a tea, other used the herb leaves externally to heal wounds. After all, the very name of the Family Genus, Solidago means “to make whole again”. At times, it was referred to as the “Sun Medicine plant”. Others wore the herb as protection during a battle.
In folklore the goldenrod is associated with good luck. One piece of folklore claims that if a goldenrod is blooming near the house, good luck will happen shortly. Solidago! In state legislatures, the goldenrod has also received some high praise. Kentucky, Nebraska and South Carolina have named the goldenrod the state flower. Delaware, on the other hand, designates the goldenrod as the official state herb.
Early herbalist, and some today, recommend using the goldenrod to help alleviate colds and the flu, kidney stones, urinary tract infections, bladder inflammation, sore throats,laryngitis and fatigue. It is most commonly prescribed to drink as a tea. In Appalachia, it is still common for folks to drink several cups of Blue Mountain Tea, especially made from the goldenrod.
During the era of Thomas Edison, it was widely believed that the goldenrod could very well be a source of domestic rubber production. Henry Ford even gave Edison a car equipped with goldenrod rubber tires. However with the invention of synthetic rubber, interest waned in home grown rubber production.
Those yellowing fields are much more than a bunch of of weeds. The goldenrods have a unique history with both insects and humans and when they are blooming they send reminders to get ready for winter and it’s also a sure sign schools are about to open. Solidago!