I think that gardens are like people--they have good seasons and bad. This fall, the rains and cooler weather came at just the right times, and the plants have been rejoicing. See the goldenrod smiling, showing how glad it is to be alive? And if you looked very closely, you'd see that every shaft of blossoms is host to a tiny insect--glad, too, to be sharing the bounty of a generous autumn, and intent on their pollinating work, ensuring that the goldenrods return next year. What goes around comes around, like the sun, season after season, the glory of our earth.
Here's my entry on goldenrod, from the Book of Days, in bookstores next week.
The genus name of this remarkable plant is Solidago, which means “to make whole.” Goldenrod has been used as a healing herb since ancient times and grew throughout Europe, but the goldenrod market perked up when it was discovered that the colonies had it in great plenty. The plant was baled, loaded onto ships, and taken to England to be sold in the apothecary shops, where two ounces might fetch a gold crown.
For Native Americans, goldenrod was a staple medicine, and since there were some two dozen species growing across the continent, nearly every tribe was in reach of at least one. It was used as a wound healer, but also employed in the treatment of headaches, fevers, diarrhea, coughs, stomach cramps, and kidney ailments, as well as rheumatism and toothache. They chewed the tea, made a decoction of the roots, and made poultices of the leaves. Calling it “sun medicine,” some tribes used it in their steam baths, but it was also made into a charm, smoked with other tobaccos, woven into baskets, burned as an incense, and made into a dye.
Oh, yes, a dye. It does make beautiful colors, especially for wool. Using different mordants with different parts of the plant, I have obtained lovely shades of gold, orange-flushed tan, burnished olive, and shimmering gray.
And if that’s not enough to convince you of this value of this golden plant, consider this: Discovering that its sap contained a natural latex Thomas Edison bred the plant to increase the rubber yield and produced a resilient, long-lasting rubber that Henry Ford had made into a set of tires. Edison was still experimenting with his rubber when he died in 1931. His research was turned over to the U.S. government, which apparently found it of little importance, even when rubber became almost impossible to get during World War II.
Goldenrod rubber. Imagine that.
Reading note: A morning-glory at my window satisfies me more than the metaphysics of books.