On December 16, 1773, after officials in Boston refused to return three shiploads of taxed tea to Britain, a group of colonists boarded the ships and threw it into the Boston Harbor. Soon afterwards, the colonists had a shortage of their favorite beverage. Luckily they discovered that a tasty tea could be made from the leaves of the goldenrod––a plant native to America in which the colonists named Liberty Tea.
Goldenrod is a beloved garden plant in England and other European counties. It is the state flower of Kentucky and Nebraska, and the state wildflower of South Carolina. But in Texas the goldenrod is considered a weed and often blamed for hay fever and other allergies. However, scientists discovered that the goldenrod has heavy, sticky pollen and is rarely blown far from the flower, or does it need to be as countless insects perform the task of pollination for it. The real culprit for hay fever is the ragweed that blooms in the same locations during the same season.
Since medieval times the goldenrod has been the target of folklore. Some beliefs claim that where the plant grows there is buried treasure, and whoever carries its flowers will have good fortune. It was also thought that if the plant grew near your house where it had not been planted, it would bring good fortune to the inhabitants. Others relied on the goldenrod stem as a divining rod to locate underground water, yet that was only successful if used by the right person.
In the United States, around 125 species of goldenrod are native to America and found growing wild in meadows and pastures, along roads, ditches and waste lands. Here in Texas more than twenty varieties are native. Goldenrod’s scientific name, Solidago is derived from solido, which means to join or strengthen and refers to the plant’s supposed virtues.
Although the goldenrod flower is a favorite among poets with their bright yellow blooms,
and a well-loved herb for naturalists, it also has scientific value. If synthetic rubber had not been invented, we might be riding on tires made from goldenrod.
In the late 1920s, the last experimental work of Thomas Edison’s life was done at the request of two friends–Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone. They asked Edison to find a substitute source of rubber for usage in automobile tires. Natural rubber (liquid latex) used for tires up to that time came from the rubber tree. The tree did not grow in the United States, therefore the rubber was very expensive. Edison tested thousands of different plants to find a suitable alternative. Eventually he found that the goldenrod could produce enough rubber, which the plant naturally contained, to be practicable. He developed a fertilization and cultivation method to maximize the rubber content in each plant. His experiments propagated a successful 12-foot tall plant that produced as much as 12 percent rubber; this rubber proved resilient and long lasting. The Model T that Henry Ford gave to Edison had tires made out of goldenrod. Edison was still working on this project when he died in 1931.
Medicinally, the goldenrod has anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic and antiseptic compounds. Native American tribes used the plant to cured chest pains, fever, ulcers, boils, cuts and sores, convulsions, mouth sores, lung and kidney ailments, and diseases of female organs. Such remedies were made into a tonic, tea, or poultice. Long before Indians used the goldenrod, the plant had already established a long and colorful history throughout the world.
Saladin (1137-1193) who became the first Sultan of Egypt and Syria, treasured the goldenrod as a medicine. He introduced the plant to the Middle East where it became an important crop. From there it was introduced to as a medicinal herb in Elizabethan England which was sold in powdered form in the marketplace in London for up to half a crown (or two shillings) an ounce. However, the price plunged when the plant was found growing wild along the English countryside.
The goldenrod, a long-lived perennial, thrives in heat, in drought, and in poor soil. It provides a display of showy yellow blooms during the late summer to and early autumn months. The blooms provide a great food source for many different types of wildlife. The yellow flowers supply nectar for butterflies, bees, goldfinches and other birds that eat the seeds. The plant grows 2 1/2 to 5 feet tall, with alternate, finely toothed leaves, 3 to 4 inches long, attached directly to the stem. The yellow flowerbeds , 1/4 inch across , are crowded on one side of each of the many arching branches.
According to the Language of Flowers, a way for lovers to secretly communicate during the Victorian Era, goldenrod signifies encouragement, good fortune, success, treasure, and precaution that says, “Allow me time to decide.”
Enjoy the goldenrod this fall, but keep a Kleenex handy as the ragweed is nearby.