Allergies, aren’t they the worst?

Every spring and fall many people struggle with the irritating effects of the tiny pollen grains floating through the air like smoke, wafting on the breeze and seeking purchase in the fragile frontier that is our eyes and noses, wreaking all sorts of angry havoc on arrival.

Those who aren’t affected by allergens have no idea what it’s like to scan the horizon in search of the vile vegetations that are responsible for the pain. They don’t have to worry about what is blooming. They can rollick freely through the fields without a care in the world. Can you imagine?

While thoughts and prayers are needed for those suffering from allergies this beautiful fall season, there is another travesty occurring, and I aim to fix it.

I’ve seen it happen over and over again: the gross generalization, the unfair maligning, the assumptions based purely on appearance.

Every fall, graceful and colorful goldenrod is blamed for the evil deposits of ragweed and it simply isn’t fair.

Recently, my friend Hank Mobley posted a very nice photograph on social media of several blooming goldenrod stalks and more than half of the commenters mentioned their allergies. Hank posts lots of nice pictures of blooming native plants throughout the year and I’ve never seen anyone comment on their potential problems.

A few days later a video I posted of a wild patch of blooming plants in the field near my home showed up in my memories. It was mostly goldenrod and my hope was to show how active the blooms were with happy pollinators. Bees and other pollinators love the stuff at this time of the year!

But, sure enough, the first comments to come in were complaining about how awful they were for the sinuses, etc. I was able to nip that misconception in the proverbial bud, but to a relatively small audience.

What is it about goldenrod that leads people to believe it is so horrible?

It’s true that goldenrod looks like a pollen bomb ready to explode. The large composite heads hold hundreds of small pollen-colored blooms that are fringed and fuzzy in their appearance. As they age and dry into seeds they do tend to poof with scary looking stuff, I will admit.

But, let’s get to know the plant before we judge the book by its cover (and I don’t mean pollen cover). Goldenrod’s only crime is blooming at the same time as ragweed and being much more conspicuous than that sneaky devil weed. When you look at ragweed, which I’m sure most people never have, you don’t feel like sneezing, so it must not be the problem, right?

In fact, ragweed is the main allergen of the fall season — so much so that when you look at the pollen report on the Weather Channel app at this time of the year, it’s singled out.

Meanwhile, not only is goldenrod not an allergen, it can actually help combat the allergic response that you have to ragweed.

As a beekeeper, I am particularly aware of the plants that bees enjoy, and goldenrod is high on the list at this time of the year. They are rabidly harvesting from the blooms right now, and that is an example of the many reasons that local honey can be so good for you.

Eating honey that has the nectar and pollen of allergy-producing plants helps your body build a resistance to their effects, but goldenrod has a particular makeup that is beneficial in the fight, even though it is not an allergen itself.

I have to admit that the way goldenrod is unfairly judged reminds me of some of the stuff I see going on in our culture right now. We tend to jump on the wagon that says, “if it looks like a duck and swims like a duck, it must be a duck.”

Sound logic in some cases, but what if you are actually looking at a loon?

We are staring into a chaotic field of plants where most issues are concerned, and only by careful analysis can we really get to the source of our itchy irritation. Assuming that the biggest, brightest and most sneezy looking plant is the problem seems a logical response, but sometimes the true culprit is hiding in the background.

When we jump to conclusions based on what first appears logical to us, we run the risk of disrespecting a perfectly innocent and even helpful character, and what good does that do?

Native and colonial folklore reveals that goldenrod was highly regarded for its many medicinal qualities. Our early ancestors would never have cast a sidelong glance at this majestic plant. How did we come to hate it so?

I’ve been accused of getting a little preachy in my column sometimes. I don’t mean to come off that way. But if I might get on my soapbox for a minute, please, for the love of your fellow humans and neighboring native plants, make sure that you fully understand the details of a situation before you judge.

The lovely goldenrod is your friend, and most likely, so is the one you have labeled an enemy.

Monica Sheppard is a freelance graphic designer, beekeeper, mother and community supporter living in Rome.

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