Rough, erect, 2-4 ft. stems occur singly or in clusters. Small, yellow flowers are arranged along the upper side of branches, forming a feathery, plume-shaped inflorescence.
Two other similar species with arching flower stalks are Giant Goldenrod (S. gigantea), smooth-stemmed, often with whitish bloom, and with flower heads to 1/4 of an inch (6 mm) long, and Canada Goldenrod (S. canadensis), with sharply toothed leaves and very small flower heads only 1/8 of an inch (3 mm) long. These three species appear so similar to the casual observer that they share several common names. Although S. altissima and other Goldenrods are commonly blamed for hay fever, this discomfort is usually caused by pollen from Ragweed (Ambrosia spp.).
Goldenrod is used to reduce pain and swelling (inflammation), as a diuretic to increase urine flow, and to stop muscle spasms. It is also used for gout, joint pain (rheumatism), arthritis, as well as eczema and other skin conditions.