It’s Goldenrod Season

I  have always enjoyed how the goldenrod grows and blooms alongside the purple asters – a beautiful combination of complimentary colors. Goldenrod (Solidago sp.) is a member of the aster family. There are many solidago species native to North America, and they can also be found in other parts of the world. 

Is goldenrod a good source of dye? Yes, but with reservations. 

Though it is not one of the “classical” dyes, and it’s lightfastness does not match that of weld, it was used as a locally available dye in North American and Europe. Dominique Cardon (Natural Dyes: Sources, Tradition, Technology, and Science) writes about goldenrod’s  historical use, along with weld and Persian berries, to dye the yellow hats the Jews were required to wear in the south of France in the 13th century. 

I’ve always read that goldenrod does NOT dry well for future use – so I never tried to dry it. I can accept the fact that some dyes deteriorate in the drying process. Black walnut hulls are a good example.

A couple years ago I was teaching a class here in Asheville, NC on dyes that could be sourced from the local food co-op. I used dried goldenrod plant material, as it is used medicinally. It resulted in very good color. So I began to wonder….. CAN A GOOD DYE BE OBTAINED FROM DRIED GOLDENROD? 

It’s one thing to read a statement about a plant – it’s another thing to know and understand that statement. I  had never tried to dry goldenrod. This year I finally got around to doing my own testing.

I gathered fresh goldenrod, and used that to dye aluminum mordanted wool, silk, and cotton. There are many yellow dyes in goldenrod and they may include quercitron, isoquercitron, kaempferol, astragalin, isorhamnetin. Since the dyes in goldenrod are primarily flavonols, a mordant is required. 

I  dried goldenrod from that same harvest. Plants were hung upside down in a dry space with plenty of air flow. Only the flowering heads were used as a source of dye. I was able to accurately determine the weight of the plant before and after drying. 300 grams of fresh goldenrod flowers resulted in 100 grams of dry flowers. 

100 grams of dried flowers (left) and 300 grams fresh flowers (right)

I dyed with fresh goldenrod at 300% w.o.f, while the dried was used at 100% w.o.f. Because I knew the weight before and after drying, I was confident that I was using the same amount of dye, whether it was fresh or dry plant material.

The results: The dyes seem not to have suffered from the drying process. Careful drying is likely a key element. So yes, I will dry some goldenrod and I will complete lightfastness tests on all three fibers. The goldenrod will not replace the weld that I grow and dry each year, Weld will always be my primary yellow dye as that has proven to be the best, and most lightfast yellow dye. But it is good to know a bit more about the dyes from plants available in my neighborhood. 

goldenrod samples

Thus far I have used only the flower heads for dyeing. Maybe next year I’ll experiment with the stems and leaves from the entire plant. 


The Art and The Science of Natural Dyes by Catharine Ellis and Joy Boutrup, available in late fall, is now available for pre-order.

13 thoughts on “It’s Goldenrod Season

  1. I enjoy dyeing with my local plants and four different species of Solidago grows everywhere here. I am glad to learn that dried flowers are good to use. I will have to make my own tests but it will be next year as the blooming season is over now. Thanks for sharing your results. I was told that Goldenrod compares to Weld for lightfastness, so I will look forward to your results.

  2. Thank you for the very timely and informative blog post. I am just sitting down after my morning walk where I was eyeing and wondering about the goldenrod. I live in Massachusetts. Is it too late to harvest the goldenrod? Some looks to be still blooming. Will I get good color despite what feel like late in the season? I am very encouraged to read your findings on drying. On to new yellows! Thanks.

  3. I have also frozen it with some success. I recently used goldenrod dyed silk panels inside of windows for an
    Artist on Main Street project. I would expect there would be some fading in sun light. Longevity was not a consideration for the project.

  4. Have you tried dog fennel, Catharine? I’ve gotten a brilliant yellow, almost like weld with dog fennel. I’ve not done a light fastness test but it seems to not have faded at all.

  5. I did some samples with fresh goldenrod last month. Very pleased that it came out with similar colors except my silk sample had a light green tone that I liked. I used raw silk for the sample.

  6. I was so pleased to read of your experiment that dried golden rod had very similar color to fresh golden rod. But all the golden rod I have collected thus far this season and have set about hanging to dry has started to go to seed. The dried golden rod from last year was 100% seed. How do I avoid this from happening? I have started to gather just-starting-to-bloom golden rod, hoping for better results. So far, no luck. Does the slight “going to seed” state matter? Did your dired golden rod do this too? I am still experimenting but hoping to not lose yet another season. Thanks so much!! I have your books and after your botanical colors talk find it as more accessible as a newbie.

    1. All the resources say to pick it just as it’s come to bloom, which is what I’ve tried to do. I’m not sure that the seeds are a problem. With weld, there is lots of dye in the seeds!

      1. Thanks so much! I will target the late bloomers and do experiments with the gone to seed golden rod. So many variables and so much to learn. Thanks for your studies and explorations.

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