The ragweed plant is a common name for the genus ambrosia, which is a member of the extensive asteraceae family and asteroideae subfamily. These plants are made up of both perennials and annuals, shrubs and subshrubs, and are mostly native to North America. The foliage of this plant is lobed, bipinnate, winged, and silvery green. Ragweeds are monoecious, and bear both male and female blossoms. The male flowers consist of inflorescences of ten to twenty florets that bear five stamens, which are all grouped together by a cupule of fifty to one hundred bracts, and are of a green-yellow hue. The female flowers, unlike their male counterparts, are produced singly, and are tiny, white and inconspicuous. Once mature, the female blossoms become small round burrs that help to distribute the arrowhead-like seeds.
The ragweed plant is considered a nightmare to allergy sufferers. These shrubs, which bear thousands of male flowers, are thought to release roughly one billion grains of pollen during a single season; this large dose of pollen can stimulate an allergic reaction, and cause severe cases of hey fever. The ragweed’s scientific name, ambrosia, may seem like an unusual choice for such a seemingly deleterious plant, but some speculate that this odd choice – which refers not only to the food of the gods, but to something that simply tastes good – likely came about because of earlier species of ragweed which had a fine flavor. Although the pollen of the ragweed plant has an adverse effect on the health of many people, these shrubs were once considered an important medicinal staple. One of its more interesting uses was as an immunity booster. Early herbalists thought that supplying small doses that gradually increased over time would cause the patient to build immunity to the plant; this theory holds true today, as modern doctors frequently dispense shots that serve the same purpose. Many Native American tribes created ragweed teas and poultices as a laxative, to help sooth stomach cramps, cure the sting of poison ivy, and to aid in the prevention of blood poisoning.
In general, the ragweed plant is thought to be a symbol of courage. Although these plants do have a lovely appearance, it is not recommended that they ever be given as gifts. Though the recipient may not have an allergic reaction to them, others in their home might.