I have a soft spot for Achillea millefolium, the many varieties of Yarrow. It was one of the first plants I learned to identify and use. I always make an effort to keep it close to my home. Simple to grow, this plant is not only lovely but also a multi-purpose medicinal.
Traditional Uses of Yarrow
Yarrow is most noted for its ability to heal cuts and wounds. The Latin name refrences Achilles, whose soldiers are said to have used the herb to staunch their wounds. Applied externally as a poultice, wash or salve, this plant proves to be a powerful healer.
Yarrow also works as an anti-inflammtory and increases perspiration. This makes it appropriate for ferverish colds and flu when taken internally as a tea or tincture. Yarrow is also said to relieve menstrual cramps, although it is best taken internally in the week leading up to menstruation.
Yarrow is characterized by it’s finely divided, fern-like leaves. millefolium means thousand-leaf
How to Grow Yarrow
Yarrow can be grown from seed, but it’s much easier to transplant a small bunch and let it spread. Yarrow is commonly found growing wild and can be collected where found or moved closer to home for some TLC. Yarrow is also commonly available at nurseries. Here you can find special varieties, like pink yarrow, an alpine variety that is supposedly more medicinal than the rest (I honestly can’t remember where I read this, but I choose to believe it since I grew up in the High Sierras). This herb transplants well. A small 4″ pot will quickly spread into a thick clump of leaves and flower stalks. It will come back every year, and will keep its leaves through most of the winter in moderate to mild areas with little snow.
A little bunch of yarrow I have growing in a gallon-sized pot.
Yarrow has long been celebrated as a flower symbolizing love. If served at the wedding feast, Yarrow was said to ensure that the bride and groom would stay in love for seven years (this being dated to the 15th century, living seven years after marriage was probably quite a feat in itself). It has a variety of magical uses, including repelling witches and evil in the home and attracting fish (by rubbing the leaves on your hands and sticking them in water, of course). But I think my favorite tale associated with the plant also goes back to Achilles. When Achilles was born, his mother was said to have dipped him in a bath of Yarrow tea to protect him from harm. Apparently this was quite effective, however mom missed a spot; the ankle she held him by when dipping him in. I think there’s a lesson in thoroughness here somewhere.
I’m not sure why, but some of my Yarrow that was pink last year is producing white flowers this year. Maybe it’s mixed with some native varieties? Still beautiful and useful!
Whether your needs are magical, aesthetic or medicinal, you’re bound to benefit from growing Yarrow close to your home.