As Fall walks in to rush out the long hot Summer, many regions will experience fields of nodding yellow blooms. Yes, this is the goldenrod season. Considered a weed in most cases, it is good for many area pollinators. What about honey bees? Is goldenrod good for bees? Yes, it provides much needed late season food.
Goldenrod for Bees
There are over 70 different species of native goldenrod plants in the United States. Individual types vary in height and leaf shape.
Identifying the specific variety in your backyard is difficult due to many similarities. It is not uncommon to find several varieties in one location.
A field of goldenrod in bloom is a beautiful sight to behold. I’m sure the bees feel the same way, bees are attracted to goldenrod for the nectar and pollen it produces.
Tall plants with yellow spikes of flowers are easily noticed in untended fields. They are one of the few pollinator plants that can be found blooming from New England to Hawaii.
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Important Late Season Native Plant
Honey bee colonies work very hard all during the warm months. In addition to needing food for everyday, they must store honey and pollen for Winter.
Unfortunately, the hot months of the year are not always kind to these busy bees. Some regions experience drought resulting in periodic nectar dearths. Fall may arrive with insufficient stores ready for Winter. What’s a bee to do?
The weeks of late Summer into Fall are a busy time for honey bee colonies. Fall blooming plants that are good food sources become even more important.
Best Varieties of Plants for Bees
If you do not have any goldenrod in bloom nearby, you can purchase seed and grow your own. Native bees, honey bees and even migrating insects benefit from this late season food source.
Popular Types of Goldenrod that attracts pollinators include:
- Stiff Goldenrod (Solidago rigida)
- Showy Goldenrod (S. speciosa)
- Missouri goldenrod (S. missouriensis)
- Zigzag Goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis) and many others
Because of the diversity of plant types, it can have a long bloom time – from 4 – 6 weeks. This makes it a great choice to include in any honey bee garden or habitat. In years with good rainfall, the nectar produced can be significant.
But, seeing blooms does not guarantee food for pollinators. In very dry years, you may not notice any bees working the blossoms. This means there is nothing there for bees to collect or that they have found something better.
When checking your area, look for foraging bees around mid-day to afternoon. The heat of the day encourages nectar production.
Are Your Bees Making Goldenrod Honey?
Stinky honey? Why do my beehives suddenly stink? Experienced beekeepers can tell when the colonies are working goldenrod blooms. They can do this without seeing bees on the flowers or even opening the hive top.
How do they know? It’s the smell. Producing honey with goldenrod nectar creates a unique smell during the curing process. The odor is noticeable in the apiary when bees are collecting nectar from this plant.
Some beekeepers say it smells like sweaty socks-others describe the scent as spicy! No matter what you call it – it is not a pleasant smell. But, never fear, the resulting honey does not smell that bad. However, it is dark and can be bitter.
While this plant can be a viable food source for your bee colonies, goldenrod honey is not a marketable crop for most beekeepers.
In general, consumers do not care for the taste or bitter strong smell. However, other people love the unique goldenrod honey taste – it is truly a personal taste preference issue.
Benefits of Goldenrod Honey
In spite of numerous anecdotal claims, I have seen no scientific proof of goldenrod honey having more healthy benefits than other honey varieties. This does not mean it does not exist. Only that it does not exist in regular medical circles.
As for the plant itself, goldenrod is a member of the herb family. The crushed leaves smell a bit like licorice. Traditional uses include: anti-inflammation, muscle spasms, arthritis, and some skin conditions.
Allergy Sufferers Should Not Blame Goldenrod
Consider a weed by many, this is one of those important weeds that feed bees. Because of the showy bloom, goldenrod gets blamed for many late season allergies.
However, the pollen of this native plant is heavy and not the cause of major allergies. The likely culprit for your sneezing and sniffles is ragweed which blooms during the same time period.
Why It is This Plant a Beekeeper Favorite?
Not every beekeeper is able to produce and harvest a crop of goldenrod honey. Either they have no market for it or not enough of a nectar flow to harvest. This does not mean that the honey is not good for bees.
For the colony, that is going into winter with critically low food stores. The nectar and pollen – for bee bread, gathered from this native plant can be a game changer.
Personally, I enjoy having some blooming in my area. It is a more natural food source for the bees than feeding them sugar water. It does tend to crystallize faster than other types of honey, but can be a great benefit to colonies that are light on stores as the season winds down.
As a beekeeper prepares hives for Winter, a natural flow can be very beneficial as it prevents the cost of excess feeding.
FAQs about Goldenrod and Bees
The late season blooms of goldenrod flowers attracts bees, beetles, butterflies, moths, flies and other pollinators.
With a long bloom period in many locations, bees can make honey from goldenrod blooms. The strong flavor is not a consumer favorite but it provides nutrition for hungry pollinators.
This plant produces a dark honey that has a distinct taste. With tones of licorice some consumers say it has a touch of butterscotch flavor.
With many varieties to chose from, here are a few of the best to try in your bee garden – Stiff Goldenrod (S. rigida), Showy Goldenrod (Solidago speciosa) and Riddell’s Goldenrod (S. riddellii). Check with your local native plant nursery.
Goldenrod is a wonderful plant for bees but yes it can be invasive. Unless you are planting a meadow, choose an area where it can be contained.