Don't Blame the Goldenrod

Ragweed is the real allergy culprit.
Cindy Murphy
November/December 2008
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Ragweed has airborne pollen and tiny flowers.
iStockphoto.com/Danijel Micka
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We see it everywhere in autumn: in ditches, along fences and in fields, meadows and on woodland edges. It grows on lakeshores, dunes, in dry places, moist places and in all kinds of soil. Goldenrod lights up from August into October, and wherever it grows the landscape glows.

Goldenrod is easily recognizable, but most of its nearly 100 species are difficult to tell apart. Most grow in North America, with only a few in Mexico, South America and Eurasia. Dismissed
as a common weed in America, this beautiful plant is often taken for granted. But goldenrod has a rich history and a place in even the most deliberate garden, or even your living room.

Goldenrod in the house?

Edwin Rollin Spencer, in 1940, says of goldenrod in his book Just Weeds, "The goldenrods are truly weeds of the wayside, with emphasis on the ‘weeds.’ Aside from the beauty of some of the species, which has caused them to be adopted as State flowers in several States, the goldenrods have not a single commendable character, and they do have at least one very undesirable weedy trait. They are among the generators of hay fever. The ‘wondrous days of green and gold’ become horrible days for some people when the goldenrods come on the scene."

Mr. Spencer, you are wrong. Sure, goldenrod produces heavy pollen – just look at all the bees and butterflies that visit when it’s in bloom. And I suppose if you stuck your nose into the flower, it’d make you sneeze – just as you would if you got a noseful of pollen from any other flower. But the idea the goldenrod is the cause of hay fever is an age-old misconception, and one that persists today as it did when Mr. Spencer wrote his book. Although the myth that goldenrod is the cause of hay fever has been debunked, goldenrod is still often the scapegoat when the real culprit for those itchy, watery eyes, sneezes, and eye-closing sinus headaches is ragweed.

Goldenrod’s pollen is not airborne; the pollen is sticky, and the plant is pollinated by insects. On the other hand, ragweed (achoo!), which flowers at the same time as goldenrod, has wind-blown pollen.

Bring the beauty in

Goldenrod is a wonderful cut flower; long-lasting, it’ll stay looking good for 7-10 days in a vase. Cut it when it’s still lime green to use as filler for a mixed bouquet; it’s a favorite of florists. Pick when the inflorescences are just starting to show hints of yellow, or when it’s in its full golden glory. In every stage of bloom, its beauty adds bright cheerfulness in the dog days of late summer and a warmth that carries well into autumn. As with any cut flower, a teaspoon of sugar and a teaspoon of white vinegar added to the water in the vase prolongs freshness. The sugar feeds the flowers, and the vinegar kills bacteria that speed the decaying process.

Don’t hesitate to bring it into your house to enjoy – there’s no need to stock up on tissues first. Plant some in your garden too. In the Language of Flowers, goldenrod represents treasure and good fortune, and folklore tells us it brings quick wealth if planted in the garden or displayed inside the house. Pick a bouquet to give to a friend. He or she will not only thank you for your thoughtfulness, but also for the bouquet’s symbolism, for this beautiful "weed of the wayside" really is a treasure.

Cindy Murphy, a Grit blogger, keeps goldenrod in her house and gardens along the shores of Lake Michigan.


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