Last Updated on August 12, 2023
When you see yellow flowers in early fall do you blame your allergies on that blasted ragweed? While you’re probably right it’s the ragweed making you sneeze, if the plant has golden flowers, that’s not the one causing your problems. Lots of people don’t know the difference between goldenrod vs ragweed, and it’s too bad, because goldenrod is actually a really helpful plant for alleviating (not causing) seasonal allergies!
If ragweed is making you sneezy, goldenrod is one of several natural remedies for seasonal allergies to try. Here’s how to tell the difference between ragweed and goldenrod.
GOLDENROD VS RAGWEED, OFTEN-CONFUSED PLANTS
Both in the aster family along with calendula, dandelions, sunflowers, buzz buttons, chamomile, and many more, ragweed and goldenrod have similar bloom times and tend to grow in the same places. Probably because goldenrod’s showy yellow flowers are so visible compared to inconspicuous ragweed, people assumed it was all those beautiful blooms that were causing their seasonal allergies during ragweed season.
Both grow in much of North and South America, and Australia, as well as parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Goldenrod is the common name given to members of the Solidago genus. There are more than 100 Solidago species growing worldwide. Solidago canadensis is the species you’re most likely to find growing in North America.
The name Solidago means ‘to make whole’ or ‘heal’ in Latin because it was considered useful for treating wounds. Goldenrod has many additional medicinal uses, including as an antimicrobial, astringent, lymphatic, and anti-inflammatory. It’s also a source of antioxidants.
Ragweed belongs to the Ambrosia genus and is considered invasive in North America. It, too, has a long history of medicinal use. This monograph goes over many of ragweed’s herbal applications in detail. Ragweed is also one of many edible weeds for the forager to explore, though perhaps not for those with ragweed pollen allergies. More on ragweed as an edible wild plant here.
GOLDENROD VS RAGWEED: HOW TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE
One key difference between ragweed and goldenrod is that ragweed causes allergies and goldenrod doesn’t. A single ragweed plant can produce a million tiny grains of pollen per day, which is easily carried by the wind, making it responsible for elevated pollen counts in later summer and early fall. Ragweed pollen allergies are one of the most common allergies in North America.
Goldenrod’s heavier pollen requires insects for pollination, and you will see goldenrod plumes simply crawling with busy bugs while flowers are blooming.
As for telling ragweed from goldenrod, two identifying features will help you easily learn the difference between these often-confused plants. You can tell the difference between ragweed and goldenrod by comparing their flowers and leaves.
Goldenrod vs ragweed flowers
The easiest way to identify goldenrod vs ragweed: Goldenrod has plumes of showy yellow flowers (like those above) while ragweed’s green flowers (below) can be quite hard to see. If you’re seeing bright yellow flowers, you’ve got goldenrod, not ragweed.
Goldenrod’s inflorescences spread into flat branching clusters at the top of the plant. The individual flowers are small, about 1/8 of an inch across, each with 8 to 15 petals.
Ragweed produces flower spikes 1 to 4 inches long. Ragweed’s small, petal-less flowers start green and become yellowish green.
Goldenrod vs ragweed leaves
The leaf shapes of goldenrod and ragweed are also very different: Goldenrod has lance-shaped leaves with pointed tips that attach individually to the stem. Ragweed, on the other hand, has deeply-lobed leaves that almost look like compound leaflets attaching together on a single stem. Compare the leaves of ragweed above to those of goldenrod below and you’ll see how easy is it to tell the difference between ragweed and goldenrod.
Goldenrod leaves are 1 to 4 inches long. They radiate out from the central stems in an alternate pattern.
Here’s more on goldenrod identification as well as the many goldenrod benefits and uses to explore now that you’re no longer blaming goldenrod for your allergies!
-> Remember, always consult a good field guide to ensure sure you’ve correctly identified the plants you’re foraging.
Check out the Herbal Academy’s online foraging course, which can help you gain skills and feel more confident when you forage.
DOES GOLDENROD CAUSE ALLERGIES?
Goldenrod’s heavy pollen isn’t carried by the wind like ragweed’s, so it’s generally not considered a culprit in the case of seasonal allergies. However, like ragweed, it is a member of the aster family, so people with known ragweed allergies may want to be cautious about consuming it.
While I haven’t found sources suggesting that people sensitive to ragweed may have issues with goldenrod, cautions about other members of the aster family, such as chamomile, daisy, and dandelion are common, so I would think if you suffer from ragweed allergies, you might want to make sure that goldenrod doesn’t aggravate it as well.
Now that you can confidently tell the difference between goldenrod and ragweed, go enjoy the show goldenrod puts on at the end of the season. And if the ragweed pollen bothers you, grab some goldenrod and make a tea or tincture to help alleviate them.
Here’s an easy goldenrod tea recipe to try.
Want to know how to correctly identify other commonly confused plants? Check out our posts on catnip vs catmint, spurge vs purslane, and spruce vs fir vs pine. Find lots more on identifying plants in our foraging archives.
Pin to save this info on goldenrod vs ragweed for later!
Additional goldenrod vs ragweed photo credits: schnuddel, chrispy_muc, AdventurePicture
Susannah is a proud garden geek and energy nerd who loves healthy food and natural remedies. Her work has appeared in Mother Earth Living, Ensia, Northern Gardener, Sierra, and on numerous websites. Her first book, Everything Elderberry, released in September 2020 and has been a #1 new release in holistic medicine, naturopathy, herb gardening, and other categories. Find out more and grab your copy here.