Once the State Flower of Alabama
Are goldenrods weeds? You decide for yourself. I’m always delighted by the golden glow of autumn while driving around the coast to my favorite haunts this time of the year. The goldenrod flowers here in South Mobile County, Bayou La Batre, AL, and Coden, AL, really put on a show and set against the soft blue waters of Portersville Bay, the scene is stunning. On September 6, 1927, Alabama adopted the goldenrod as its state flower on the same day it chose the yellow hammer as the state bird. This honor bestowed on such a gloriously abundant wildflower was taken away in 1959 when a ladies’ group decided that the plant was too lowly and most sophisticated gardeners considered it to be a weed. The state flower designation then went to the camellia, a beautiful flower that also thrives on the gulf coast and blooms during the winter. The camellia, however, is not a native plant, it was brought in from China.
Goldenrod Tea was used as Liberty tea during the colonial era. People brewed a cup of goldenrod tea using the freshly picked leaves of blooming goldenrod. It had a light earthy taste and very little bitterness.
After reading that goldenrod was one of the herbs used by early American colonists as Liberty Tea in protest of England’s exorbitant taxes on imported goods, I decided to see how it tasted. The variety of goldenrod growing in my field has very little fragrance, and the flavor of the tea was also subtle, perhaps because I used fresh leaves and no blooms. Goldenrod tea was introduced to European settlers by Native Americans who had long used it in their traditional medicines and diet. It is said to have health benefits including reducing flatulence, aiding in respiratory health, and cleansing the urinary tract. I am not an herbalist or a natural health expert so I have no idea how much or how often it should be consumed to get these benefits. I do like tea, however, and after my backyard taste test, I may buy some goldenrod tea to add to my collection of morning brews, but I doubt anything will replace my favorite flavor, Earl Gray.
As a Garnish
Every part of the goldenrod plant that grows above ground is edible. The bright yellow blossoms make a lovely garnish for salads, soups, and hors d’oeuvres. Just be sure that you are actually picking goldenrod wildflowers and not some poisonous look-alikes such as groundsel, life root, staggerweed, ragwort, and a slew of other regional names. Choose blossoms that are free from mildew, check that insects have not nested among the flowers, and thoroughly rinse and dry the flowers before use.
Another use many Native Americans had for goldenrod wildflowers was as a salve for wounds, abrasions, and minor burns, and as an oil to relieve sore muscles. Goldenrod oil is one of many herbal remedies that can be found in health-food stores and and is used in holistic healing. Again, I have very little knowledge of these remedies, so I couldn’t say how effective this oil is for any of those problems.
Rubber from Goldenrod
The most surprising information I discovered in my research about goldenrod plants was that Henry Ford asked Thomas Edison to come up with a viable alternative for making rubber from a plant that could be grown in abundance in the United States. Edison was well into this project when he passed away in 1931. By that time, he had chosen the goldenrod wildflower plant as the best candidate for success and had even cultivated a variety that grew to an amazing height of ten feet. The milky sap of the goldenrod plant is a naturally occurring latex that contains compounds that can be made into rubber. Although many plants have this sappy substance, Edison had concluded that the goldenrod had it in sufficient amounts and enough plants could be harvested in the United States to make it a viable resource for rubber for automobile tires. Edison’s wife and colleagues continued the project for a while after his death, but it soon became apparent that rubber made from petroleum products would be the preferred route for making tires and the project was eventually abandoned.
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While it is true that some people will suffer with respiratory allergies if they handle the plants or walk among fields of the flowers, they are not the cause of widespread coughing and sneezing come fall. The pollen of the goldenrod flower is heavy and is not carried far on the wind. Ragweed is the most likely culprit for late summer and early fall hay-fever. Its pollen is less dense and more easily carried by the wind according to the National Wildlife Federation.