under the lens - Solidago virgaurea
Solidago virgaurea / European Goldenrod
A harbinger of the changing seasons, goldenrod blooms from later summer into autumn, and tends to be one of the last splashes of color before the winter begins. The goldenrods are often vilified; some species can become invasive outside of their natural range, and they have also been falsely accused of causing hay fever (though this is now known to be caused be Ragweed / Ambrosia spp, a wind-pollinated annual that blooms at the same time). In actuality, the goldenrod is an incredibly useful and beneficial plant whose sticky pollen is carried by insects instead of by the breeze.
Common Name: European Goldenrod
Distribution: Euro-Siberia, North America
Habitat: Sparse forests and dry grasslands
Bloom Time: August - October
Other: Edible (leaves); Medicinal (flowers, leaves); Natural Dye (whole plant)
European goldenrod is most often found growing along woodland edges and streambanks, usually in dry, sunny areas on rocky soil. With an overall height of 0.5 meters, it forms masses of sturdy stalks with plumes of golden yellow flowers. The stalks and seed heads persist into winter, bringing interest to gardens while providing an important food source for birds throughout the winter months.
In addition to its value as a food source for birds, it is an ecologically important plant whose flowers attract and feed many beneficial insects such as ladybugs, lacewings, and hoverflies. These insects are predators of many garden pests, and as such, the addition of goldenrod in the garden helps to create a natural check-and-balance that controls pests without the use of chemicals.
Medicinally, the plant has long been valued for its effects against bladder and kidney ailments, including kidney stones and urinary tract infections. The plant is still used for the purpose today, and modern studies have attributed the naturally occurring flavonoids and saponins as responsible for the plant’s healing powers. The leaves and freshly-opened blossoms are most often consumed as a tea or an infusion; it is also an excellent astringent used as a mouthwash or to clean wounds.
Perhaps more surprising is the plant’s widespread use as a natural dye. The flowers lend fabrics rich shades of mustard yellow and green, while the entire plant produces hues of orange and brown.
Want to harness the power of goldenrod for yourself? Learn more here:
Rebecca Desnos is a natural dyer and independent publisher who has extracted a number of beautiful hues using not only goldenrod but other foraged plants. For tips on dying, check out her book “Botanical Color at your Fingertips”, and for her curated collection of botanical inspiration, consider purchasing her bi-annually published independent magazine “Plants are Magic".
Interested in integrating goldenrod into your garden? The European goldenrod is a well-behaved, clumping plant unlike some of the North American species that are notorious for taking over. Visit this link to see if your garden conditions are right.
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2. “Goldenrod: Solidago virgaurea”. NatureGate. Luonto Echtes Mädesüss Portti, Web: September 17, 2017. http://www.luontoportti.com/suomi/en/kukkakasvit/goldenrod
3. Lauber, K; Wagner, G; Gygax, A. (2012). Flora Helvetica. Bern: Haupt.
4. Simmonds, M; Howes, M.J; Irving, J. (2016). The Gardener’s Companion to Medicinal Plants: An A-Z of Healing Plants and Home Remedies. London: Francis Lincoln Limited
5.“Solidago virgaurea-L”. Plants for a Future. Plants for a Future: September 17, 2017. http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Solidago+virgaurea