University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
ASTERS AND GOLDENROD
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension
University of Vermont
As fall arrives in the northeast,
so do the asters and goldenrod in the fields.
Although native to our area, many forms of these plants also are
to other parts of the world and are recorded in myths passed down
In Latin aster means star, the
name also used by the Greeks for this flower.
The "star‑flower" was believed to be sacred to the gods and so
wreaths of asters were placed on their altars.
Aster leaves were burned to frighten away serpents in medieval
and roots were crushed and fed to bees in poor health. Although the
early English name was "starwort,"
later the flower was named "Michaelmas Daisy" as it blooms around
Michaelmas Day in September.
One ancient myth arises from the
Iron Age, when people learned to make tools as well as weapons of
iron. The god Jupiter, angered by all the fighting
and destruction from these iron weapons decided to destroy the
entire race by a
flood. The gods fled the earth and the
last to go, the goddess Astraea, was so saddened she asked to be
turned into a
star. Meantime, two mortals who had been
faithful to the gods fled to the top of Mount Parnassus and were
Jupiter. When the flood waters receded,
all that was left around the two mortals was mud and slime. Astraea
felt so sorry for them she wept, her
tears falling as stardust which, when upon hitting the earth, turned
starflowers or asters.
Another myth comes from Greek
mythology. Each year Aegeus, king of
Athens, would send seven young men and seven maidens to the king of
Crete. There they would be sacrificed to the
Minotaur, a creature with a bull's body and human head. One year
Aegeus' son Theseus volunteered to
be one of the youth, believing he could slay the Minotaur. When he
sailed for Crete he told his father,
who dearly loved his son, that when he returned he would fly white
sails on the
ship instead of the black ones that were raised when the ship left.
arrive at Crete, where he fell in love with the king's daughter
Ariadne. With her help, he entered the labyrinth and
killed the Minotaur. However, on his
return to Athens, Theseus forgot to hoist the white sails. Seeing
the black sails his father, believing
his son had been killed, then killed himself.
Purple asters sprang up from the ground where his blood flowed, the
result of a spell put on him by sorceress Medea, who had been once
And then there is the Cherokee
Indian legend from the southern part of our country. Two warring
tribes, fighting over a choice
hunting ground, waged war over a hill, down a valley, across a
creek, and into
a village. All the villagers were killed
except for two sisters who hid in the woods.
Both wore doeskin dresses, one dyed lavender‑blue with fringe, the
one bright yellow. The sisters sought
out the Herb Woman who lived over the mountain in another valley.
This woman gathered herbs by day and brewed magic
potions by night, a gift given to her by the gods. As the sisters
slept that night under the
stars, the Herb Woman looked into the future and saw that these
would be hunted down by the enemy. So
she sprinkled them
a magic brew and covered them with leaves.
In the morning there were two flowers where the sisters had been.
One was the lavender‑blue aster, the fringe
from the dress having been turned into the outer flower petals (ray
the aster, the other was the yellow