How to Identify Goldenrod (Plus Foraging Tips)

Goldenrod is a superb plant for novice foragers to discover because it boasts a plethora of edible and medicinal uses. But, this hardy wild “weed” does also have some potentially lethal look-alikes.

There are about 130 species of goldenrod plants. All of the species except one, white goldenrod, feature bright yellow blossoms. Each of the various species can be harvested for consumption, or for their natural healing uses.

Goldenrod grows in the wild throughout North America, Europe, Asia, Canada, and South America. It is hardy in agricultural zones 2 through 9.

This wild plant if often foraged for its anti-inflammatory properties. It has been used both internally and topically to reduce swelling, to treat minor wounds, gout, kidney stones, and arthritis. Goldenrod can be crushed and used either fresh or dried in poultices, salves, tinctures, to make soap, or placed in gel capsules for measured doses.

Leaves from the goldenrod plant have been used to brew tea and are cooked similarly to spinach. They’ve also been used in soups, stews, and casserole dishes.

Goldenrod is not an approved drug by the FDA. I am not a medical professional of any type. The ways that goldenrod has been used as a natural remedy is presented purely for educational and research purposes. Always contact your medical professional before embarking on a natural remedy routine. Simply because a product or foraged item is natural does not necessarily mean it is safe to use or will not cause an allergic reaction.

Goldenrod Facts

  • The wild plant is an herbaceous perennial.
  • Solidago spp is the scientific name for goldenrod.
  • It is from the aster or asteraceae family.
  • Commonly used names for goldenrod species of plants include: Aaron’s rod, woundwort, goldruthe, and solidago.
  • Goldenrod was used to make a tea substitute in Boston after the history changing tea party in 1773.
  • Native Americans used goldenrod to sweeten the taste of natural medicine used to treat a host of ailments and conditions.
  • Goldenrod became popular as a tea after the Revolutionary War that it was exported to China, and sold at an exorbitant price.

How to Identify Goldenrod

  • The flowers on goldenrod plants are only about ¼ of an inch wide.
  • The flowers grow in tight and lengthy clusters.
  • Goldenrod plant leaves have only slightly jagged edges, and are smooth in texture.
  • The plant leaves are typically not any longer than the base of the plant. Leaves on the goldenrod plant are smooth and have slightly jagged edges.
  • Goldenrod stems are sturdy and do not branch out like some of their potentially toxic look-alikes.
  • With the exception of white goldenrod, all the other species of this plant boast bright yellow flowers.
  • The flowers come into bloom during the final weeks or July or in early August, and continue on in this state until October – depending upon your growing zone.
  • All species of goldenrod can be found growing in livestock pastures, hayfields, and in ditches along the side of the road in full sun areas. A few varieties of goldenrod prefer partial shade and seaside or mountain climates.
  • Goldenrod typically stands about three to five feet tall. Some species of this misunderstood wild plant grow to only between 1 to 3 feet tall, and others can stretch as tall as 8 feet.
  • The long thick and durable stems on goldenrod has tiny spikes on them that might not be readily visible but can be felt when touching the stems.
  • Goldenrod plants can have multiple horizontal branches that hold multiple clusters of flower heads.

Goldenrod Toxic Look-Alikes

Groundsel, ragwort, staggerweed, and liferoot are common names for plants in the Senecio genus that can closely resemble goldenrod at first glance. They are part of the largest genus of flowering plants known to man.

Groundsel, a lookalike of goldenrod

While not all members of the Senecio are poisonous, the ones that are known to be toxic container pyrrolizidine alkaloids – or PAs. These compounds can cause liver damage in both livestock and people.

Ragwort, a lookalike of goldenrod

Exposure to PAs can go undetected or be misdiagnosed because they poisoning symptoms mimic those associated with many other types of more common illnesses. In severe poisonings, by the time poisoning symptoms present themselves, damage to the liver has always taken place.

I highly recommend crushing a goldenrod leaf on a properly identified plant and familiarizing yourself with the scent to help distinguish it from potentially toxic look-alikes. The resins in goldenrod leaves typically smell like a mixture of balsam, anise, salty (think oceanside) or licorice – or a blend of each.

How to Harvest Goldenrod

To harvest goldenrod all you need to do it snip away the stem, leaves, or flower heads with scissors, a knife, or by breaking them away with your hand. All of the above ground parts of goldenrod edible and often used in natural remedies.

To avoid a slightly bitter taste, harvest the goldenrod just before or as soon as they flower clusters begin to bloom.

How To Dry Goldenrod

You can dehydrate goldenrod flowers, stems, and leaves by separating them into fairly equal parts, and putting them in the machine on the herb and nut setting. Depending upon the power of your machine, the drying process should be completed in approximately 4 to 6 hours.

Drying goldenrod thoroughly can also be completed inside a standard kitchen oven. Place the goldenrod plant parts on a baking sheet, and make sure none of them are touching. Bake the goldenrod for about 4 or 5 hours at 170 degrees F (76 C).

When hang-drying goldenrod, make sure to spread out any thick bunches of flowerheads and branches to ensure adequate air flow. Unless you live in a climate where humidity is intense or dealing with summer temperatures, the drying process typically takes only about a week.

How to Store Goldenrod

Once they are dried, goldenrod flowers should be stored in an airtight container like a Mason jar or a vacuum sealed bag until ready to use. Store the containers in a cool spot out of direct sunlight.

Ideally, you can store goldenrod (or any foraged or preserved natural material) in multiple small containers to avoid exposing a large amount of dried material to unnecessary moisture on a repeated basis.

Properly dried and stored goldenrod should remain viable for use for at least 9 months. If the flower heads show signs or significant fading or mildew, pitch the entire container and do not use either internally or topically.

goldenrod identification pin

7 thoughts on “How to Identify Goldenrod (Plus Foraging Tips)”

  1. I don’t know why I have such a hard time with distinguishing the stems and leaves of tall asters from goldenrod before they flower, but I’m not sure what to look for specifically. I have plants that are about 5 feet high and some are goldenrod and some are asters, but until they bloom, I am not sure which is which.
    Can you help me distinguish between them? Many thanks


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