At the footsteps of my home and small distances from my yard a profusion of weeds grows with elasticity and energy that quietly demands our attention. My entrance into the dialogue with these plants began long ago, as I cannot remember a time when I was not aware of my unspoken relationship to plants. I can remember my questions as a child, as I weeded and planted gardens with multi-generational family members, throwing healthy plants to the side to create spaces for our own vegetables and herbs to grow—learning to see weeds as something expendable and missing an essential dialogue in the process. My children asked questions about our irreverent attitude towards weeds, indignantly creating their own “rescue” gardens in which they re-planted the weeds I discarded. My garden, a dye garden begun seventeen years ago, reflects a dialogue I have been unconsciously participating in until quite recently. The plants that survive the extreme and changeable nature of our current climate have dug hardy roots. They return every year and when they do not, new weeds fill their place. I have learned to see the transitions, and consistencies as a conversation and gift as, I sense, the plants themselves are speaking. They speak to more than survival. They speak of flourishing, of energy, of life and healing. They are the quiet companions of our thoughts and often I miss their language. Sometimes it takes years to translate my observations to knowledge, insight and inspiration. Often, it appears that there is magic at work when the plants at my doorstep are recommended antidotes for the ailments friends, family and I myself carry. I wonder that this is perhaps no accident. I feel the affirmation of something I have sensed since childhood, that we are spiritually connected to the living, breathing world of plants and that this world is as much a part of our own body as we are a part of the earth. We are carried in some way by the spirit of the Earth.
How do plants speak to us?
How does the plant’s gesture, its color, form and situation in the landscape, speak to the potential of its healing remedies?
How can the information gleaned from these explorations inform the shape and direction of our textile designs and in essence create the possibility for healing gestures in the clothing we wear and the textiles we live with?
Many of the plants we chose to explore in our dye pots have histories as medicinal plants. Many of these plants are also often considered “weeds”. A weed being a plant that comes to your garden, field, neighborhood without invitation, or intentional planting. In some cases the plants we call weeds do in fact have a tendency to choke out the plants we wish to tend in our sacred gardened spaces. Over the past few years I have seen Goldenrod gathering more and more attention in the world of herbal healing and natural dyeing, and perhaps with very good reason, as this plant carries a very special place in our season of fall. Over time, I have often heard this vibrant wildflower categorized as a weed–especially in more urban and suburban settings. Goldenrod has an undeniable energetic presence in our local landscapes. It carries resilience in its adaptations, and perseverance in wild fields and less fertile, and even compromised, spaces. It carries the many colors of sunlight and, on our dyed textiles, brings a vibrancy which is dependably, striking. In the Fall as meadow grasses turn tawny shades of earthen tones, Goldenrod seems to stand like a beacon, a harbinger of light, and a last echo to the beauty, and the heat of our summery seasons as we begin to transition into the wintry months ahead.
Goldenrod is in the Aster family (Asteraceae) and characteristic of this family it carries branches which sustain a multitude of individual blooms–a community of ray and disc blooms in miniature. Goldenrod holds many names, and carries a rich and varied history as a healing plant, on an energetic level through flower essences, and herbally as an antibacterial and astringent amongst other properties. According to botanists and herbalists, there are over a hundred different types of goldenrod plants worldwide and, in North America, some seventy different species. Within the European history and classification system, its scientific genus name, Solidago, comes from the Latin root, meaning “to make whole or to bring together” and, in associated European healing traditions, it was one of many plants commonly known as “woundwort” which was used to heal physical wounds. Historically, it was purported to bring healthy healing to open wounds and has also been used as a tea and tonic to treat sluggish digestion, to cleanse the kidneys and treat urinary problems. It has also been used to treat hay fever and colds, to build immunity and revitalize energy levels. Literature and references abound for those interested in exploring its vast capacities and uses within many traditions.
“ Goldenrod—to bring individuation and clarity in one’s spiritual identity, especially when overly influenced by peer group or other cultural norms.” From Patricia Kaminski, Flowers that Heal
“It has long been recognized that Solidago is a kidney medicine. The Goldenrod problem begins with a lack of endurance, a lack of strength to persevere through difficulty, an inability to process what is necessary to get to the end.”
From Mathew Wood, The Book of Herbal Wisdom
Goldenrod is often confused with Ragweed (Ambrosia spp)—another vibrant, tight blossomed plant but one with the almost universal capacity to stimulate mild to extreme allergic responses when in bloom. Distinguishing one from the other is an important step towards appreciation and understanding. Goldenrod relies on insects for pollination as its flower buds and pollen are sticky, whilst Ragweed on the other hand depends on winds for pollination. This means that Ragweed’s pollen is airborne and troublesome at the height of bloom. Ragweed’s blooms may resemble early green hued Goldenrod buds, but they never develop the bright golden hues which are characteristic of the Goldenrod.
Goldenrod is a generous dye plant, imparting its color on fibers with very little effort on the part of the dyer. A few dried blooms or leafy, budding stalks in a sunny jar of water can bring an instantaneous bright yellow glow to the vessel. With a little invitation the color releases easily, especially in late summer harvests, and is absorbed by protein based fibers readily with a simple alum potassium mordant. Truly most recipes give dramatic results though proportions and times of harvest, as well as the ecology of the place in which the plant was harvested, all affect the exact hue and tone attained on textiles. Depending on the environmental factors involved, each species could, in theory, develop its own biology and it’s own release of color and substances in the dye pot and in essence its own medicine according to the individual and to the multitude of factors from harvest season to location and rainfall in a particular year. As with so many plants, we can experience and celebrate the multiplicity of pigment release as a unique process, informed by harvest time and place, dye vessel, heat sources and water. Just as no two plants are alike, we can recognize that aspects of the release of substances such as plant pigment, and that the intake of the constituents (imparting colors and healing aspects) can be, at times, generally predictable, and yet, thankfully not something within our control. Our invitation as dyers is to cultivate the capacity to sense and respond to these nuances.
Given the complexity of its medicinal and aspects, and its generosity of spirit in releasing golden color in our late summer and fall landscapes, I can’t help feeling it carries something of the spirit of a well wishing friend. Inviting us all to celebrate the shift from summer into winter, to feel our individuality, to carry ourselves brightly and to find ways to weave wholeness into our fibers and personhood as we transition from summer into fall and winter.
What does Goldenrod speak to you? How does it feel to wear the yellow tones of Goldenrod?
To find out more about harvesting and dyeing with Goldenrod, see A Natural Dyers Journal here