Goldenrods are beautiful, but I know that many people like go beyond the esthetics to learn how wild species can benefit or harm humans.
One benefit of goldenrods is honey from honeybees. Honeybees (Apis mellifera) are indigenous to Eurasia and Africa, but not North America. All American honeybees were introduced from other continents. There are feral honeybees, as well as vast numbers overseen by beekeepers, and they visit a huge array of plants to gather the nectar that they reduce down to honey.
In many parts of North America, goldenrods bloom abundantly in mid to late summer (more on blooming in later posts). Hundreds of species of bees, including honeybees, gather nectar and pollen from goldenrods. Only honeybees store so much nectar, as honey, that adults can remain active through the winter in cold temperate climates. They spend nearly the whole winter huddled in the hive, keeping the queen and the colony warm, using the stored honey and pollen to generate metabolic heat. Only occasionally do they venture out for a cleansing flight to dump their feces and sometimes debris from the hive. They need a brief warm spell for a successful flight, and if they don’t get it, the hive can be in trouble. I lost a hive when too many bees froze in their attempt to cleanse. They were probably also stressed by endotracheal mites, so that was the end of my beekeeping – it was just too hard to keep them going.
Pollinators in New England face a changing flower-scape during the growing season. Howard Ginsburg (I know him as Howie) documented the change some years ago (Foraging ecology of bees in an old field. Ecology 64: 165-175: 1983
Of course, plants bloomed throughout the season, but not in equal abundance. After an early pulse in June, floral abundance drops a bit in July, and then surges with late bloomers like goldenrod. Some bees forage throughout the season, and others for just some of it, but there are nearly always some bees on flowers, and they are joined by a wide array of other insects (flies, butterflies, moths, beetles, wasps, and more).
Honeybees collect nectar from as many plants as they can, and many of the early flowers produce nectar that results in a light-colored honey. It is sweet, and the flavor is, shall we say, mild. Beekeepers can get lots of early honey, and that’s what most people come to expect when they consume honey, whether local or commercial. Some beekeepers are lucky enough to have their hives near basswood trees, and they get an excellent crop from flavorful midseason nectar. Honey from buckwheat is deeply dark and distinctive, if your bees are near a field of buckwheat. I have no idea where any such fields exist.
I do know where goldenrods exist: across the entire continent. The nectar in these late-blooming wildflowers is abundant, and it produces a darker honey with a wonderfully complex flavor. But the season is about to end, so it is risky to take too much late-season honey from a hive if the bees are to have enough for their winter survival. All hives have late-season honey because goldenrods are ubiquitous, and with care, people can collect some of it to savor, share, or sell. If you want to experience something deep and different, look for late-season honey, and thank goldenrod for the bulk of the flavor.
One final note: if you let any honey sit long enough, it will darken and get more interesting. If it was fully condensed by the bees, it won’t spoil because the sugar content is too high (and the water content is too low) for anything to live in it. If it was not fully condensed, it might ferment and gain an alcoholic fragrance among the floral notes. Either way, it’s good stuff.