Blue Mountain Tea: A Sunny Medicine for Cloudy Days
Common Names: Goldenrod, Blue Mountain Tea, Liberty Tea
Botanical Name: Solidago spp.
Taste & Impression: Bitter, Aromatic, Astringent, sl. diffusive
Energetics: Warm, Dry
Parts Used: Flowers & Flower Buds, Leaves, Roots
Actions: digestive bitter, alterative, stimulant and relaxant nervine, diaphoretic, astringent, digestive aromatic (and carminative), diuretic, vulnerary, anti-inflammatory, bacteria-balancing (often termed anti-infective)
Specific Indications: Red, inflamed eyes, “bad skin” related to suppressed urine or underactive kidneys, atonicity of mucus membranes accompanied by copious dripping and fluid loss and possible low-grade infection, cat dander allergies
Every year, I anticipate the golden glory of late summer and early autumn in the Gila. The hills blaze with a thousand shades of yellow, from buttery layers of lemon to brilliant displays of bronze. From Snakeweed to Senecio to Verbasina to Lemonscent to Gumweed, the Canyon is bathed in a breath-taking display of sun-colored beauty. Of all of these, one of the blooms I most anticipate is the ubiquitous yet precious Solidago in all her many manifestations and subspecies!
Here in New Mexico, Goldenrod is especially fond of growing on shady hillsides and in rocky yet moist arroyos in the middle mountain range. It will often be found intermixed with the by now dried stalks of Beebalm and the last ragged blooms of the Evening Primrose. It is likely to be surrounded by the wild rays of aromatic Purple Sticky Aster, white flowered Fleabane and the ever prolific autumn blooming Senecio.
I love creating Goldenrod flower oil, tincture, honey, elixir and even dry a bit for tea as well if the harvest is plentiful enough. This gorgeous wildflower is both common and incredibly multipurpose. Before I begin my exploration of Goldenrod’s medicinal talents, let me assure you that it is not responsible for the massive pollen allergies it’s accused of. In fact, it’s not even wind pollinated, but rather insect pollinated and as such, its pollen is heavy and sticky rather than buoyant enough to float on the late summer winds right into your nose. You’ll have to get down on your hands and knees and snort some Solidago pollen straight from the flower to get a reaction in most cases. Usually, it’s actually Ragweed (Ambrosia spp.) that’s causing the allergic affliction, which frequently grows alongside Goldenrod.
Perhaps one of this wildflower’s best known medicinal uses is as an astringent and anti-inflammatory, specifically for copious discharges of the mucus membranes. The tincture is great for drying up sinus drippiness and allergy induced nose running and also addressing sinus headaches and general congestion, especially if there’s overall coldness.
David Hoffmann says:
“Golden Rod is perhaps the first plant to think of for upper respiratory catarrh, whether acute or chronic, It may be used in combination with other herbs in the treatment of influenza.”
It is useful for achy, sore throats later in the later stages of many influenza type viruses, and a teaspoon of the flower infused honey soothes a raw throat as well as calming congestion and insistent drippiness.
Matthew Wood has greatly popularized Solidago in the treatment of allergies, especially animal dander related allergies and says:
“I know of no better remedy for cat allergy. Boericke describes the characteristic eye symptoms: ‘red, injected, watery, stinging, burning.’ The eyes of the Solidago patient look like a person who has just gotten out of a swimming pool. There is a generalized redness of the conjunctiva. There are not the bright red blotches of Euphrasia, or the bloodshot appearance of Ambrosia. With this there is congestion, sneezing and running of the nose, redness and irritation of the skin. Solidago often has welts from allergy, a fact not mentioned in the literature I have seen.”
Additionally, Goldenrod flower tincture or tea makes an excellent primary or secondary therapeutic approach to thrush or vaginal yeast infections triggered by pollen, dander or other allergies, especially when combined with Beebalm (Monarda spp.). For non-allergy related chronic yeast infections I have found it of moderate use, and its effect is greatly enhanced by Beebalm and/or Alder (Alnus spp.). It also has a long history by indigenous North American people as a douche or vaginal soak in the treatment of infections, for general discomfort and preventative hygiene. While I am not a proponent of douches, I do think that herbal sitz baths can be extremely helpful in persistent, low-grade yeast infections.
It’s also a fabulous kidney medicine, and is specific where urine is scant, dark and strong-smelling from kidney sluggishness in nearly anyone, from children to the elderly. It is also known to prevent the formation of kidney stones where there is a long history of such, and I like to combine it with Chamomile in many preventative blends. It also has a long history of use in the treatment of current stones and/or infection, but kidney infections can be very dangerous and in most cases, should be handled by a health care practitioner. If used in the breaking down or passing of stones, and there is any duct pain it should probably be combined with a smooth muscle relaxant such as Silk Tassel (Garrya) or something similar.
Goldenrod is very useful in many cases of chronic urine suppression and general exhaustion of the kidneys. This is especially true where there is a tendency towards symptoms we usually associate with liver stress, such as “bad skin”, acne, inflamed yet deep pimples, dry and bloodshot eyes, which Matthew Wood indicates is due to the buildup of uric acid and the added stress placed on the liver by the long-term sub-functioning of the kidneys. It is so multi-purpose within this organ system that the late herbalist Maria Treben recommended it in all cases of kidney and bladder issues.
I also like Goldenrod in a variety of UTI type situations in which there’s a chronic, boggy and usually low-grade infection that won’t clear up, usually combined with an appropriate mucus membrane tonic. I tend to think Yerba Mansa (Anemopsis californica) and Goldenrod tend to make an excellent pair in such cases, and because of Goldenrod’s beneficial diuretic action I prefer it as a tea with tincture of Yerba Mansa added to it or taken on the side.
Ananda Wilson, Medicine Woman student and fabulous herbalist, first told me of her discovery that Goldenrod elixir is really wonderful for SAD and general cold, gloomy blues. In the couple of years since then, I’ve had the opportunity to work with Goldenrod many times in this capacity, and it never fails to work small but significant miracles where clearly indicated. It works very well in many cases of mild to moderate depression, especially where there is seasonal sensitivity and general feelings of coldness, frustration and a feeling of being paralyzed by cold weather or more specifically, lack of sunlight (and don’t forget the Vit D too in such cases). I am also very fond of it in where digestive stagnation is causing feelings of sadness, stuckness and potential despair, and in such situations often team it up with Rose and Ginger.
The leaf tea has long been utilized among Appalachian grannywomen as a tonic for chronic fatigue and nervous exhaustion. I have noticed that it works best in this capacity if the individual is exhausted in part because they are so eager to please others and are constantly running on nervous energy and the desire to not “rock the boat”. These people often are at least partially aware of what they are doing and deeply dislike it, which causes them further anxiety and exhaustion, but they feel powerless to change their patters for fear of the interpersonal repercussions.
In a more general nervine sense, Maria Treben said that:
“Golden Rod proves its worth as a medicinal plant which influences the human emotions most favourably. It should therefore be drunk without delay in cases of disappointments and emotional stress. We feel the soothing effect of this plant almost like a calming and caressing hand in severe emotional stress. Even the sight of the Golden Rod in nature has a quieting effect on us. We should be thankful that there grows a plant around us which can bring us such comfort.”
Indeed, Goldenrod brings cheery and comfort both from its simple beauty and presence in the fields and meadows, and also as a profoundly effective medicine and essential remedy.
Goldenrod is certainly a wonderful aromatic digestive bitter and carminative, and works very nicely to free stuck energy from the gut and strengthen overall digestion and absorption. Bitterness varies a great deal from species to species, so if you’re very interested in this aspect of the plant you’d be well advised to take the time taste the different spp. of Solidago that live near you, as there are almost certain to be many varieties with a multitude of taste balances between astringent, aromatic and bitter. I am especially prone to use Goldenrod for those who consistently feel cold and have gut stagnation where food just wants to sit in the belly like a lump, and where there is concurrent feelings of sadness and the blues that accompanies digestive upset and chilly weather. In acute flu and cold situations, Goldenrod tea or the elixir or tincture added to a hot diffusive tea of some kind, especially Ginger, is wonderful for nausea, stomach cramping and general malaise of the digestive tract. Being diaphoretic in action, it can also increase peripheral circulation, open the pores and help to equalize temperature in cases of fever.
If you have a very astringent spp on hand, it can also be quite helpful in general diarrhea, both in drying up secretions (if it becomes chronic or dangerously acute, it’s not necessarily a good idea to stop diarrhea right away, since the body is likely trying to get rid of something, better to just stay hydrated and deal with the underlying problem) as well as calming the inevitable belly turbulence that accompanies the primary complaint.
The oil or liniment makes a fabulous and very effective topical treatment for any sort of hurt, strained or damaged muscles. It works better than Arnica in many cases for this specific application and I always keep it on hand and include it in my pain liniments. I have even used it externally in many cases of severe uterine or ovarian cramping and it works very well, especially when the pain and cramping is exacerbated by cold and exhaustion, and feels better with pressure and warmth. I love combining it with Evening Primrose and Cottonwood for this application. Barbara Hall over at Lady Barbara’s Garden has also popularized it for all sorts of achy pains, including arthritis in the hands and many people swear by the oil for their painful, stiff fingers come winter.
Additionally, any part of the plant is a wonderful wound remedy, particularly on old, slow-healing wounds that ooze and refuse to heal completely. It’s also useful in the treatment of sore, sensitive bruises and contusions.
Special consideration should be given to the variability of the flavors and scents within the great many spp. of Solidago. If you have multiple species near you (and you probably do) take the time to taste the leaf and flower of each kind, and get to know the subtle differences. The most aromatic tend to be more helpful for mood elevation, kidney problems and external use, while the more bitter or bitter/aromatic spp. are especially nice for digestive issues and the astringent/aromatic types are great for upper respiratory issues and general mucus membrane over-secretion. These type of subtleties apply to all herbs, but Goldenrod tends to be a great example of it because of the many spp. and sensory variances even within a single species or subspecies.
Fresh flower or flowering tops tincture, flower infused honey, root tincture, infusion or strong tea of dried leaves or flowering tops, flower or flowering tops infused oil, flower elixir
Cautions & Contradictions:
Almost none known, although Aster family plant sensitivity is possible. Some sources recommend avoiding during pregnancy, but I don’t know of a specific reason why. And please, do not use Goldenrod as a substitute for medical care in cases of serious kidney disease or infection.
Resources & References:
The Book of Herbal Wisdom and other writings by Matthew Wood
Herbs for the Urinary Tract by Michael Moore
Medical Herbalism by David Hoffmann
Healing Herbs of the Upper Rio Grande by L.S.M. Curtin
King’s American Dispensatory
All Photos (c)2009 Kiva Rose