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Goldenrod vs. Ragweed: Symbolism, Differences, and Surprising Uses

If you put pictures of goldenrod and ragweed side by side, you’ll probably need to take a closer look to differentiate the two. They have similar growth patterns, with both growing in open fields and by the roadside.

Both are also considered invasive plants, able to spread rather quickly in warm climates. But they’re also loved for their beautiful yellow blossoms and grace. So how can you tell the two apart? Read on to learn the differences between goldenrod and ragweed, in appearance, symbolism, and uses.

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Goldenrod vs. Ragweed: Main Differences

Goldenrod and ragweed
Goldenrod vs. Ragweed

Let’s begin by taking a look at the most obvious differences between goldenrod and ragweed.

  • Species: First things first, both goldenrod and ragweed are members of the same family: the Asteraceae family. But, they are of distinct species. Ragweed is from the genus Ambrosia and is native to North America. It is known for its rough, hairy stems and divided or lobed leaves. Goldenrod is a member of the genus Solidago. Most species of goldenrod are native to North America, but some also grow in Asia and Europe.
  • Flowers: Goldenrod has beautiful yellow flowers, whereas ragweed  has small, green flowers which are difficult to see and grow in vertical clusters.
  • Types: Goldenrod is a perennial, while ragweed is an annual.
  • Pollination: While both plants are beneficial for pollinators, goldenrod is pollinated by insects, whereas ragweed receives its pollination by the wind.
  • Height: Ragweeds, unlike goldenrods, don’t grow very tall. They’re smaller plants, whereas goldenrod can grow much taller – up to 5 feet tall.
  • Allergies: While some people may be allergic to goldenrod, it pales in comparison to ragweed, which is responsible for about 90% of pollen-induced allergies in the United States alone.

Goldenrod and Ragweed Symbolism

Symbolism of goldenrod and ragweed

From the two, goldenrod is more valued for its symbolism and beauty. Although goldenrods are commonly seen growing just about anywhere, their striking yellow flowers make them a wonderful addition to any bouquet. Here’s some of its meanings:

  • Often associated with the bright sun, its bright golden color makes it a great symbol of growth and encouragement as well as a sign of support and positivity. This makes goldenrods a great choice for those who are looking to give someone an emotional boost.
  • Others believe that goldenrods give good luck and prosperity, making them a perfect symbol of new beginnings. You may see it in flower decorations of celebrations that mark such important events, like graduation parties, weddings, and even birthdays.
  • Another interesting thing to note is that goldenrod is the official state flower for both Nebraska and Kentucky. In Nebraska’s case, it was chosen because of its incredible adaptability, which signifies resilience and strength. They also associated its pleasant golden color with the humility and warmth of their people.
  • Meanwhile, Kentucky chose goldenrod as its state flower to represent its geographically diverse state, replacing bluegrass after receiving complaints about it not accurately representing the entire state. Surprisingly, the fact that goldenrod was more of a weed than a flower was never an issue for both states.

Unlike goldenrods, most people don’t appreciate ragweed because of its notoriety as an invasive, allergy-inducing weed. This might be why it’s not commonly used in bouquets, and there isn’t much symbolism associated with it. Just imagine gifting someone who has a sensitive nose a bouquet of ragweed. You most likely won’t get the positive reaction that you were hoping for.

Use of Goldenrod

Goldenrod Hydrosol Organic
Goldenrod. See it here.

Goldenrod has long been popular in herbal teas and supplements. Rich in flavonoids and antioxidants, it earned its Latin name Solidago, which means to make whole or heal. It also stays true to its reputation as one of the best anti-inflammatory compounds for reducing the pain and swelling of arthritis or injured tissues.

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It has been used to supplement antibiotics for urinary tract infections and is considered most effective when used with other healing herbs like horsetail herb and juniper berry. Moreover, it has a diuretic effect that can improve urine flow, flush out harmful bacteria, and contribute to better kidney health.

Some studies also say that goldenrod may help control weight, making it a popular ingredient in weight loss teas. In addition, a test tube research stated that the natural antioxidants in goldenrod may prevent premature skin aging and even kill cancer cells. However, there is very limited research in these areas, so such claims need to be taken with a grain of salt.

Goldenrods are also popular in aromatherapy because of their sharp, herbaceous aroma. People who use essential oils say that this scent can help soothe coughs and colds and sinus infections. They even attest to its efficacy in terms of relieving stress, anxiety, and depression. There isn’t much research supporting these claims, but essential oil lovers swear by them.

Use of Ragweed


Although ragweed is notorious for being rogue plants that trigger seasonal allergies, they have several medicinal benefits too. They have long been used by the indigenous Cherokee people as ceremonial plants. They also crushed ragweed leaves and rubbed them on their skin to relieve the itch and pain caused by insect bites.

Interestingly, ragweed is not only known for its medicinal properties. Some Native Americans also chewed their roots because they believed that they help ease fears at night. They even used the fibers from its stems to make threads. However, regardless of these uses, ragweed is notorious for causing allergies and is best known for this.

Goldenrod and Ragweed in Your Garden

Yellow Flowers of Grass Plants

Goldenrods are extremely easy to grow. They’re actually quite an aggressive spreader because of their fast growth rate. They can reach full size in a couple of months so they can easily outgrow other plants in your garden. They are low maintenance as they tolerate various growing conditions and are resistant to most pests and diseases. However, you may need to put in some elbow grease and cut them back every summer to make them look bushier and less scraggly.

In terms of lighting, goldenrods love getting full sun. They may be able to tolerate some shade, but this may affect the number of flowers they put out. They’re also not very picky when it comes to their soil mix. As long as they have good drainage and you keep their soil moist, not soggy, you wouldn’t have any problems growing goldenrods in your garden.

Ragweed is a whole different story though. Since they are very invasive, you may want to avoid growing them unless you’re using them as companion plants. They are great when grown with pepper plants because these prefer ragweed. However, you may want to make sure that you remove their flowers before seeding them to avoid them from spreading uncontrollably.

Wrapping Up

Whether you’re up for some landscaping work or you’re looking to arrange a bouquet for someone, knowing how to differentiate between goldenrods and ragweeds will be of great help. You wouldn’t want to have a garden full of ragweeds or you might end up with a handful of angry neighbors coming over to complain.

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Rose Mulu
Rose Mulu

With a keen interest in understanding why life was and is as it is, Rose has been studying religion, culture, and history for over fifteen years. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mass Communication and uses this, together with her knack for literature, to share her knowledge and insight with the world.