Both of my dogs love to eat goldenrod (Solidago spp.) While I was taking my dog for a walk yesterday, she found a few patches of goldenrod and started chowing down– hitting nearly every plant in the patch for a taste. She chews the leaves off with her back teeth.
This plant should not be confused with the toxic Rayless goldenrod (Haplopappus heterophyllus) that grows out west.
I pinched off a few leaves and smelled them– the plant has a strong, spicy scent. I tasted it (because I do things like that. I knew it wasn’t toxic, but was less sure about whether it tasted good or not). Surprisingly, it really wasn’t bad. It’s a unique flavor, but the texture and flavor combined remind me more of an herbal tea than a nasty, sour/bitter wild plant that I shouldn’t be eating. The spicy scent made me think that maybe dogs are attracted to it for parasite or bacterial control. Dogs are known for eating plenty of nasty, buggy things, and plants produce volatile oils (what we call their scents or essential oils) to ward off parasites and pathogens. That’s why many aromatic herbs are also beneficial to humans.
After some research, I found that indeed, goldenrod is a useful herbal plant, most commonly used for its diuretic properties. There’s no indication that it’s a parasiticide, at least not according to anything I’ve read so far, but it is supposedly somewhat anti-bacterial. The literature doesn’t really explain to me exactly why my dogs might seek it out, but I’m sure there’s some sort of therapeutic benefit.
I saw that other people have noticed the same behavior in their dogs. It’s funny to me that some people on the web were speculating that the dogs and plants communicate in a supernatural way, and that’s how they know it’s a useful plant. I’m not opposed to the idea of supernatural communication, but communicating through smell is, to me, amazing enough. Dogs, of course, have a sense of smell up to 100,000 times more powerful than our own. That probably makes this aromatic plant quite attractive.