Weed Walk with Susun - sunflowers, goldenrod and more

Tuesday, September 29, 2020 8:37 AM | Anonymous

Weed Walk
with Susun Weed

This week I want to introduce you to a multi-talented plant family, the Asters, also known as the daisy family or the sunflower family. This family includes many beautiful plants that are cultivated for their flowers, including daisies and sunflowers, black-eyed Susans and chrysanthemums, bachelor’s buttons and a colorful array of asters.


It also includes delicious edible plants such as lettuce, artichoke, sunchoke, sunflowers, and dandelion; and even some flavoring plants like tarragon. There are plenty of weedy plants in the family, too, such as ragweeds, tickseeds, hawkweeds, knapweeds, goldenrods, and thistles, like bull thistle).


And, of course, this family provides important medicinal plants, including chamomile, tansy, elecampane, cronewort, wormwood, echinacea, liferoot, burdock, chicory, yarrow, boneset, Joe-Pye-weed, and milk thistle.


Now let’s met some more daisy-family plants, and see what they can do. I hope to so surprise you with interesting information about that maligned weed goldenrod, so that you will not only look on it with a smile, but also be motivated to harvest some for our recipe of the week: Goldenrod Tonic.


Goldenrod (Solidago juncea)
This photo shows a lovely example of early goldenrod, the first of the goldenrods come into bloom as the days shorten. Many others will follow it, for there are more than 60 species of goldenrod in my area, all used in the same ways. I think of goldenrods as fall tonics; they improve the functioning of the immune system and help protect us from colds and the flu. I harvest the flowering tops and use them fresh to make vinegar or tincture; I dry some and use them for tea, too. Goldenrods are unjustly accused of causing pollen allergies. Sit with a patch of goldenrod if you can, and watch. See all those flying, creeping, crawling creatures? Goldenrod is a great source of nectar for many insects. Since only plants that produce windblown pollen can cause allergic reactions, we can see that goldenrod is blameless. The culprit is a short plant with green flowers: ragweed.

photo by G.U. Tolkiehn


Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisifolia)
This inconspicuous plant has pollen grains that look like torture devices. No wonder so many folks react to it. Since it is wind pollinated, it has no need for showy, colorful flowers, so it goes unnoticed, and goldenrod gets the blame for our sneezes and red eyes. Since it is wind pollinated, there are copious amounts of the pollen blowing about. The best defense is to make a tincture of the flowering tops. Then, next year, you will have a sovereign remedy against pollen allergies.



Wild lettuce (Lactuca canadensis)
This tall and stately plant is one of the many wild lettuces found springing up in the fall. We saw the basal rosette of this plant last spring when we were looking at plants with leaves that look like dandelion leaves. Like cultivated lettuces, the wild ones can be eaten before they flower, but become bitter when they send up their flower stalk. The white sap found in all lettuces contains alkaloids similar to those found in opium. It was collected and tinctured and used to ease the pain of terminal wounds by native peoples. Although the flowers of this wild lettuce are white and tight, the flowers of most wild lettuces are yellow and loose. (That is my arm in the photo. I had to bend the flowering stalk over in order to photograph it for you. I could have used three hands for doing that!

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