Goldenrod good; ragweed bad

Published 9:45 pm Tuesday, October 2, 2018

By Susan and Biff Andrews

Every year in late summer and early fall, as people start to sneeze and wheeze, they look about them and see beautiful golden asters blooming in yards, meadows, grasslands and along roadsides.

They automatically assume that goldenrod is the culprit — because it blooms at this time. But goldenrod is beneficial in dozens of ways; it’s the ragweed, ragwort and groundsel (also members of the aster family) that are the culprits.

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Goldenrod — Solidago — is a member of the aster family but not even in the same genus as ragweed. There are 100 to 120 species in the same genus. Some smell like salt or anise if crushed, and some smell or taste bitter. Bees and butterflies love goldenrod; it is one of the last pollinators blooming before migration. They’re not allergenic, primarily because their pollen is too heavy to go airborne. They’re insect-pollinated only.

Goldenrod is used in the pharmaceutical industry and has thousands of medicinal uses. It’s used as an analgesic for pain and suffering, as a diuretic for increased urine flow, for gout, joint pain, arthritis, even eczema and other skin problems. As noted, it has a variety of delicious aromas when crushed — salty, balsam, anise and others. No wonder pollinators love it. It is also called “woundwort” — kind of a universal cure-all.

It’s a native species, easy to grow, pest-free and drought-resistant. It adapts easily to most soils and is prized by butterflies as well as bees. And it is a stunningly beautiful golden yellow color. The British love it in their gardens; however, Canadian goldenrod is highly invasive and perhaps spreading too rapidly across Europe.

Ragweed (and ragwort and groundsel), on the other hand, are highly allergenic. They are also yellow bolting members of the aster family, but there the comparison stops. There is no other plant group as allergenic as the ragweeds. They aren’t just allergenic, they can be highly toxic, even deadly. Their pollen wafts hither and thither on the winds, causing your hay fever and sneezing. Hay fever, and allergic rhinitis, is their baby, not goldenrod’s.

So when late summer and early fall arrive and the fields go golden yellow with flowers, don’t blame the goldenrod. Learn to tell the difference between the two plants. Slay the ragweed, but appreciate the goldenrod for its beauty and versatility.

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at