Goldenrod field at Nezinscot Farm in Turner, Maine
After a particularly long sneezing fit and several bless you's, my coworker cursed seasonal allergies and the plants that caused them. As someone who has never experienced allergies, and really only understands the baseline of “some plants release pollen that hurts people”, I was curious about how allergies work, and if some plants are the culprit, could others be the solution?
In short, pollen allergies are caused by misidentification, wherein some people's immune systems consider pollen a dangerous foreign substance (it is harmless) and attempt to rid it from the body through sneezing, runny nose, congestion, etc (4). This prompts the body’s inflammatory response to kick in, making the throat tighter and thus more difficult to pass air and food. Unfortunately, it has been found that “More than 50 million Americans have experienced various types of allergies each year” and also that “Allergies are the 6th leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S.” (5) In order to relieve these symptoms, people often take antihistamines to help control the body's inflammatory response. As with any over-the-counter or prescription drugs, there are quite a few harmful side effects. As always, talk with your primary care provider and make sure that you know what you’re taking and how the risks/benefits equate.
Goldenrod: Medicinal but Misunderstood
After asking about treatment methods and medications she took to relieve some of the discomforts, my coworker mentioned how she would go home and have her goldenrod tea. While it wouldn’t cure her allergies, it would definitely help to reduce the symptoms.
This begged the question, If goldenrod is useful in reducing allergies symptoms, why doesn't everyone use it?
What I soon found was that goldenrod is often mistaken for ragweed, and unfortunately assumed to be the cause of many allergens. “The most common culprit for fall allergies is ragweed, a plant that grows wild almost everywhere, but especially on the East Coast and in the Midwest. Ragweed blooms and releases pollen from August to November. In many areas of the country, ragweed pollen levels are highest in early to mid-September.” (3) The truth, however, is that while Goldenrod is in the same family as ragweed (shared by over 23,000 different plants), it differs in genus and tribe (7). Specifically to allergies, they differ in pollen type, with goldenrod having “large, heavy pollen that is less likely to be allergenic.” (6).
Close up of goldenrod glowers
Using Goldenrod for Allergy Relief
Though our farm is constantly surrounded by it, this is the first year I’ve actively noticed and harvested goldenrod. It is a beautiful yellow flowering plant that dries quickly and easily for tea. We’ve recently added it to our House Tea blend as it supports the bronchial passages, which we’ve found are more susceptible to sickness caused by seasonal changes in the air.
Furthermore, goldenrod can be used in conjunction with other anti-inflammatory plants (elderflower and nettles)(1) to make an effective allergy-relief tea! Simply gather the required ingredients (or purchase the herbs already dried & mix!), dry them on a screen, making sure to turn them once a day to prevent mold, and finely crush them together when fully dry. Try adding stevia leaf or peppermint to the mixture to make it more to your liking!
Processing dried goldenrod into tea
Outside the realm of allergies, goldenrod is a supporter of the urinary tract, helping to dissolve kidney stones (2). It also acts as a natural plant dye, turning natural wool a vibrant yellow (8).
Less medicinally, and more aesthetically, I’ve taken to hanging golden throughout our house, over doors, and tucked into woven baskets in every corner. Seeing the bright yellow flowers contrast the dark green leaves makes even the dullest spaces look alive and happy!
This is the power of goldenrod, and I suppose of most healing herbs, while they work to physically nurture the body, the process of collecting, transforming, and using them nurtures the soul.
(2) Edwards, F. Gail. Opening Our Wild Hearts to the Healing Herbs, 2000. pg. 121-22