Solidago odora. Sweet scented Golden rod.
NO part of vegetation in the United States is so conspicuous and gaudy in the autumnal months, and at the same time furnishes to the botanist so difficult a task of discrimination, as the multitudinous and Protean genera Solidago and Aster. Each of these genera contains many well defined species, sufficiently marked by their external characters, sensible qualities, habits and places of growth. But between them, is a great multitude of subspecies, liable to variation from external circumstances, changing their appearance with their places of growth, and running together by so many points of resemblance, that it is a labour yet remaining for botanists to separate those species which are in nature distinct, from those which are varieties only.
The genus Solidago is characterized by a naked receptacle, the down simple, rays of the corolla about five, scales of the calyx imbricated and close. It is a very natural genus, easily distinguished at sight by its crowded tufts of compound flowers, which are almost always of a deep golden yellow.[The only exception which I now recollect is Solidago bicolor, whose ray is white.]
The species odora has its stem nearly smooth, leaves linear-lanceolate, entire, smooth, with a rough margin, and covered with pellucid dots. Racemes panicled, one sided.
Class Syngenesia,—Order Superflua,—Natural orders Compositae, Lin. Corymbiferae, Juss.
The sweet scented Golden rod grows in woods and fields throughout the United States, and flowers in September. It has a smooth appearance, and is among the smaller species of its family. The root is woody, much branched and creeping. Stem slender, from two to three feet high, smooth or slightly pubescent below, pubescent at top. The leaves are linear-lanceolate, closely sessile, broad at base, entire, acute, with only the midrib distinct, rough at the margin but otherwise smooth, and covered with pellucid dots, like Hypericum perforatum. The flowers grow in a compound, panicled raceme, with each of its branches supported by a small leaf. These branches or peduncles are very slender and rigid, each giving off a row of ascending, downy pedicels, with small, linear bractes at their bases. Scales of the calyx oblong, acute, smooth, or slightly pubescent, the lower ones shorter and closely imbricating the rest. Florets of the ray few, with oblong, obtuse, ligules. Those of the disc funnel shaped, with acute segments. Down simple to the naked eye, feathery under the microscope. Seeds oblong.
This plant is the Solidago odora of Muhlenberg, and agrees with the character of Aiton. The Solidago odora of Michaux is possibly a different species. Willdenow's plant was undoubtedly different. The folia puncticulosa, which constitutes so distinct a mark in this species, I have not seen noticed by any botanist.
The leaves of the Solidago odora have a delightfully fragrant odour, partaking of that of anise and sassafras, but different from either. When subjected to distillation, a volatile oil, possessing the taste and aroma of the plant in a high degree, collects in the receiver. This oil apparently has its residence in the transparent cells, which constitute the dotting of the leaves, for the root is wholly destitute of the peculiar fragrance of the herb, and has rather a nauseous taste. This is contrary to the remark of Willdenow, who informs us that the root is the fragrant part possessing the scent of Geum urbanum.
As the volatile oil appears to possess all the medicinal value of this plant, I have not prosecuted its chemical investigation any farther.
The claims of the Solidago to stand as an article of the Materia Medica are of a humble, but not despicable kind. We import and consume many foreign drugs which possess no virtue beyond that of being aromatic, pleasant to the taste, gently stimulant, diaphoretic and carminative. All these properties the Golden rod seems fully to possess. An essence made by dissolving the essential oil in proof spirit, is used in the eastern states as a remedy in complaints, arising from flatulence, and as a vehicle for unpleasant medicines of various kinds. I have employed it to allay vomiting, and to relieve spasmodic pains in the stomach of the milder kind, with satisfactory success. From its pleasant flavour, it serves to cover the taste of laudanum, castor oil, and other medicines, whose disagreeable taste causes them to be rejected by delicate and irritable stomachs.
Mr. Pursh informs us, that this plant when dried, is used in some parts of the United States as an agreeable substitute for tea. He further states, that it has for some time been an article of exportation to China, where it fetches a high price.
Solidago odora, Aiton, Hort. Kew. iii. 214.
Pursh, ii. 539.
Virga Aurea Americana, Tarraconis facie et sapore, panicula speciosissima? Plukenet, Alm. 389, t. 116, f. 6.
American Medical Botany, 1817-1821, was written by Jacob Bigelow, M. D.