Updated: Nov 18, 2019
I know the lands are lit, with all the autumn blaze of Goldenrod. -Helen Hunt Jackson.
Goldenrod (Solidago) is one of the flowers I am always delighted to see. Its blooms trumpet the arrival of Autumn and are a clear signal to me that, as a beekeeper, it is time to consider my mite counts and treatments, check the health of my colonies, and begin winter prep to ensure my honeybee colonies have what they need to survive the winter.
There are roughly 120 species of Goldenrod and they are among the most important late season pollinator plants. Many species of native bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, and wasps rely heavily on nectar and pollen they collect from Goldenrod to get them through the winter. Even the Monarchs will gather nectar from Goldenrod prior to leaving on their long migratory travels.
Sadly, many people eradicate Goldenrod from their properties with the impression that these plants are responsible for hay fever. I am writing this to bring awareness to this issue. NO, Goldenrod DOES NOT cause hay fever. The plant that is responsible for these allergic reactions is Ragweed (Ambrosia sp.). Like Goldenrod, Ragweed is in the in the aster family, Asteraceae, but that is where the similarities cease. Ragweed's pistillate flowers are wind pollinated!
Did you know that it is only wind pollinated plants that cause hay fever allergies? That's right, your pollinator garden isn't what is causing your itchy nose, watery eyes, or sneezing fits. There is still a lot of research being done to determine how effective consuming local raw honey is at managing allergies. One report that is cited a lot is, The Effect of Ingestion Of Honey On Symptoms of Rhinocojunctivitis. This is precisely why I will not market my honey with the claim that honey has been "proven" to help allergies.
"Some people think eating local honey works the same way because it contains pollen. One issue with that theory: There’s no way to know exactly what’s in your honey. “With immunotherapy, we isolate the exact allergen patients are allergic to,” Ogden says. And there’s a bigger problem: You’re probably not allergic to the pollen found in the honey. “It’s a big misconception that insect-borne pollen from flowers has something to do with allergies,” Ogden says. “It doesn’t.”~https://www.webmd.com/allergies/features/does-honey-help-prevent-allergies
I am a bit of a science nerd who loves to read studies, and it helps having a brother who is a science professor and researcher at Fordham. I know I am bound to step on some toes with this proclamation, but, in all good consciousness I will not market my honey in such a manner.
However, that said, I think it is still extremely important and beneficial for people to buy local honey. Why? Because you are helping your local ecosystems thrive. Honeybees may be a non-native managed agricultural species, but they are necessary. The increased development of land and land management practices has created a great imbalance in our natural world. Our native pollinator species are moving out of areas and worse sometimes dying as a result of chemicals and cleared land. The plants that have managed to survive in these types of areas, still need pollinators to continue to procreate making honey bees important for their survival.
Much of our farming in America is still monoculture which makes it hard for pollinators to exist. Crops that need pollinators may not have enough native pollinators left in an area to pollinate them making it crucial to bring in honey bees. Many farmers are now realizing how important polyculture and biodiverse farming methods are, not only for their crop growth, but their soil health and also the naturalized areas surrounding their farms.
Just as there are studies that show how honey bees create competition for dwindling forage amongst our native bee populations, there are studies that show that introducing backyard bees into the landscapes have increased the growth of necessary pollinator plants, thus bringing crucial pollinators back to areas where they have be missing or have been very scarce. Remember what happened to Yellowstone when the wolves were reintroduced? Its sort of the same thing.
Also, when you are buying local honey you are supporting local businesses and many of them practice sustainable agriculture and promote biodiversity in farming. Beekeepers have an impact on how local farming is done, they have a voice about the chemicals and fertilizers being used, the survival of their colonies depend on this. This not only helps humans but the natural world where our wonderful native pollinators coexist with us all.
Goldenrod is also said to also contain healing properties like being antifungal, a diuretic, a diaphoretic, being anti-inflammatory, an expectorant, an astringent, being antiseptic and carminative. That said, it can also be a highly useful plant for humans too! If you haven't been successful in finding Goldenrod near you and would like some, there are many plant nurseries that specialize in native plants and they will most likely be your source for seeds and plants.
The next time you are out in nature and you stumble upon some Goldenrod, don't cut it down, instead stand by it and observe the insects that are dependent on it. Let it grow. Wait for the flower heads to come to seed and come back and collect these seeds to plant in your own pollinator garden. It also is edible, some people make a Goldenrod oil and a vinegar. It is a gorgeous plant worthy of praise!
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