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Why Every Serious Gardener Needs to Plant Yarrow

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Fiona is a qualified herbalist and aromatherapist. She has twenty years of experience in the field and wants to share that knowledge.

Pretty as a picture, yarrow flowers may be pink, white, or yellow.

Pretty as a picture, yarrow flowers may be pink, white, or yellow.

Herbs in History: Some Background on Achillea millefolium (Yarrow)

Since ancient times, yarrow has been an indispensable herb. No monastery or abbey garden would be without it during the Middle Ages.

  • It is best known for its ability to stop blood loss from wounds. It purportedly got its Latin name, Achilles millefolium, because Achilles used crushed yarrow leaves to stop blood flowing from his soldier's open wounds.
  • Some common names for the herb point to its ability to staunch blood flow. It's also known as Bloodwort, Wound Wort, and Knight's Milfoil.
  • Medieval residents saw yarrow as one of the best ways to ward off insects. They would embroider sprigs of it into their clothes or press leaves between the pages of books to keep insects at bay.
  • During the crusades, knights would always carry two herbs: yarrow for wound-healing abilities and borage for courage.
  • It was not just in the West that yarrow was revered. In ancient China, it was used when consulting the I Ching and was considered a valuable part of the divination ritual.
  • Also known as Devil's Nettle, this herb has a history of casting spells, divination and forecasting the weather in Western cultures.

A Centaur and Achilles Walk Into a Bar

No, this isn't the start of a joke. Legend has it that it was the centaur Chiron who taught Achilles about the medicinal properties of yarrow.

The legend goes on to say that when Achilles scraped rust from his sword, yarrow would spring up. It's for this reason that we have the botanical name Achillea millefolium which translates as:

  • Achillea: Achilles'
  • Mille: Thousand
  • Folium: Leaves
Bees and other pollinators love yarrow. Keep some in the garden to attract pollinators!

Bees and other pollinators love yarrow. Keep some in the garden to attract pollinators!

Attract Bees to Your Garden

Yarrow is not just popular with people; it is also popular with bees. Having it in the garden will help to attract bees back to your garden. Plant it near your vegetable garden to ensure a bountiful crop.

This is especially useful with wind-pollinated veggies. The bees flit from one flower to the next, taking some pollen with them as they go. It is equally useful when it comes to ornamental flowers.

Yarrow flowers in bloom are gorgeous in the garden, a spray of color even in the most unwieldy soil.

Yarrow flowers in bloom are gorgeous in the garden, a spray of color even in the most unwieldy soil.

The Magical Properties of Yarrow

Yarrow plays an important protective role and also a role in matters of the heart.

Protection

The herb, essence thereof, essential oil, or incense can cleanse a space. You may also use it to create a protective circle when practicing divination.

A cup of yarrow tea taken before a divination session improves focus.

Finally, an ancient wife's tale states that a pregnant woman who carries a bunch of yarrow on her right will have an easy labor. One must wonder if that wasn't a practical consideration in case the midwife was unable to stop the bleeding after birth.

Love

One of the primary tenets of wicca is that you may not harm anyone. In other words, you may not make someone act against their best interests or fall in love with you.

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People have long used the herb to determine who loves them. Several European customs exist to help you determine whether or not the object of your affection loves you back.

You might, for example, crush some yarrow leaves and place them in your nostril. Lore holds that if the person you love is interested in you, your nose will bleed. Using yarrow in a sleep pillow is far more comfortable and possibly useful as it allows you to dream of your true love.

Most insects love yarrow.

Most insects love yarrow.

Yarrow as Green Manure

When I first moved into my house, we had a spot in the garden that nothing would grow in. The soil was hard clay, and not even weeds would grow there. So I dug it over, dug in some compost, and planted the yarrow.

I then left it alone for a year and let the herb take over. It took a while to get going, but there was no stopping once it got established.

This improved the soil to such an extent that I now have a lush patch of garden where there was once just heavy clay.

Why Is Yarrow Such a Good Soil Improver?

Yarrow is well-known for its ability to improve the soil. It has an extensive root system that helps to break apart and aerate hard soil. In addition, its taproot extends deep into the ground bringing valuable nutrients to the surface.

It also makes a valuable compost activator and increases the nutrient value of any compost heap. Just chop up the stalks and leaves and add them to the compost.

They provide rich nutrients and decompose into loamy soil, perfect for adding to your vegetable garden.

Yarrow Tea in the Garden

Pull up old plants that are past their best and chop them up, roots and all. Infuse in boiling water overnight. The next day you'll have a nutritious tea rich in copper to revitalize ailing plants.

Yarrow Hedges

It's possible to shape yarrow into neat hedges. These make a valuable border for plants prone to illness. Achillea millefolium strengthens plants in their immediate vicinity and helps to drive away harmful insects.

Tips to Grow Your Own Yarrow

Get yourself a good specimen from your local nursery to start yourself off. Once it gets properly established, you will never be without it in your garden again.

  • Ideally, you want to put it in light, sandy soil that drains well. Dig in the compost before planting the herb. It likes to be in the full sun but will tolerate partial shade as well.
  • The plant grows to about 2 feet or half a meter high.
  • That said, yarrow is a very adaptable plant that will grow in just about any soil.
  • You will need to water it deeply twice a week for the first month or so and then leave the plants to do their own thing.
  • It is a very forgiving plant and very hardy. It is a good plant to put in a spot where there is little water. It thrives on neglect.
  • It is frost-resistant and will add some greenery to the winter garden if you have mild to moderately cold winters. If you are in an area that experiences snowfall, it will die down completely in winter. It comes up again on its own in spring.
  • In spring and autumn, thin the plants out as the babies can throttle the older growth. Plant the new seedlings about a foot apart.
  • Deadhead the flowers if you'd like to encourage a second lot of blossoms.

Dividing and Propagation

Every three to five years, in spring or fall, divide the clump of yarrow and plant out the runners that have taken root. Remove any dead leaves and add them to the compost heap.

In all honesty, I really do not worry too much about dividing the clumps every few years; I take out a rooted runner now and again and move it to where I want it. Then, for the rest of the time, I leave well enough alone.

Once established, this is one herb that will withstand a lot of neglect.

Yarrow in Your Garden

Even if you do not plan to use it medicinally, it still deserves a place in your garden. It is great at improving poor soil—either plant in situ or chop up the leaves and add them to the compost.

It will help to activate decomposition in the compost heap and up the nutrient value of compost as well. If you find that it starts to take over, cut it back hard and toss the leaves on the compost.

Which Yarrow to Choose

There are many different varieties to choose from when it comes to color. When choosing which plant to get, make sure that you get the white or pink Achille millefolium—you can also find pretty yellow and cream colors, but you should never make tea from these.

I do have some of the yellow kind in my garden because it makes such a pretty show. Just remember, it is only the old-fashioned pink and white varieties that are actually medicinally worth anything.

The flowers attract bees and butterflies and are extremely pretty. They make great cut flowers. The herb looks delicate, but it is very hardy and can brighten up a corner where other things battle to grow.

As cut flowers, they last well. If you like to press flowers, the heads are ideal. You would need to remove the thicker stalk. They also make a good filler for a dried arrangement.

Only use the pink or white yarrow if you are using it medicinally.

Only use the pink or white yarrow if you are using it medicinally.

What Else Is Yarrow Good For?

It acts as a good companion to any vegetable but is especially good for corn and cucumbers. It will help keep aphids away and improve the health of ailing plants.

Keep it in mind when pruning roses: if you cut yourself when doing so, a crushed yarrow leaf will help stop the bleeding and ease the sting.

Medicinal Uses

Are there medicinal benefits to growing this herb? Of course, there are, but they come with a caveat. As with any natural remedy, you can have too much of a good thing.

In yarrow's case, drinking too much of the tea will leave you sensitive to sunlight. For this reason, it's best to drink it for no longer than two or three days and take a break for at least a week.

  • Eases Toothaches: Chew on a yarrow leaf to ease toothache while you wait for your dentist's appointment. The tea also makes an excellent natural mouthwash to fight tooth decay and alleviate gum inflammation.
  • Digestive Complaints: Drink the tea to ease an upset tummy.
  • Menstrual Issues: Drink the tea to regulate menstrual flow. This is helpful when you have irregular periods or heavy periods. You may also use the tea if you battle with PMS and bloating related to it.
  • Colds, Fevers, and Flu: The tea may prove helpful in cleansing the system and breaking a fever.
  • Staunching Blood Flow: If you have a minor scratch that won't stop bleeding, crush some yarrow leaves and apply them. For a more significant gash, apply a yarrow compress and seek out medical assistance.
  • Stop a Nose Bleed: Roll up a few leaves and place them in the bleeding nostril for quick relief.

Cosmetic Uses

  • Greasy Skin: Infuse the flowers in warm water and steam your face. You may also use the infusion as a toner to rebalance sebum levels and reduce the size of large pores. You may also apply the flowers as part of a compress in place of a face mask. The compound Azulene within the plant is an outstanding astringent.
  • Shaving Cuts: Bruise a leaf and apply it to the cut to stop the bleeding and promote healing.
  • Relaxing Bath: Run a hot bath and add a 1/2 cup of Epsom Salts and a full cup of yarrow flowers. Soak away the stress and ease sore muscles.
  • Hair Rinse: Soak a cup of flowers in a jug of boiling water. Leave overnight to cool. Wash and rinse your hair as normal before rubbing the lotion into your scalp. Use the water with the herb as a final rinse for your hair and style as usual.

Is Yarrow Good to Eat?

You are unlikely to find yarrow in the spice aisle at your local grocery store. There are few culinary benefits to this herb.

You might like to try to use some of the very young leaves in a salad. They lend a slightly bitter taste and are reminiscent of rocket, so go well with cheese. It's an acquired taste.

You may also add it to smoothies, stews, and baked goods.

The flowers make for a beautiful garnish that's also edible.

Wrapping Things Up

This is a herb that performs multiple functions in your garden. It:

  • improves poor soil,
  • adds nutrients to your compost heap,
  • is a useful companion plant,
  • helps attract bees to your garden,
  • has beautiful flowers,
  • is excellent at stemming the flow of blood and helping to reduce the sting of scratches, and
  • looks great in a vase or a dried arrangement.

What are you waiting for? Get some and find out the benefits for yourself.

Other Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some additional questions that people often wonder about yarrow:

Is yarrow toxic to humans?

No, as long as you choose Achillea millefolium and not a hybrid.

Is yarrow toxic to dogs?

Yes.

How do you make yarrow tea?

The flowers make the best-tasting tea, but you can also use the leaves. Use one or two teaspoons of the dried herb or three to four teaspoons of the fresh herb in a standard teapot. Submerge the herb in boiling water and allow it to steep for 15 to 20 minutes. Strain and sip.

Can you eat yarrow raw?

Yes. It makes an interesting and nutritious addition to salads. The bitterness of the leaves makes it a good addition to a fatty meal as it stimulates bile production. That said, it's best kept as an occasional treat rather than a daily addition.

How do you use yarrow tincture?

It's best to take a tincture under the supervision of a herbalist. If it's alcohol-based, you can drop it into a small amount of boiling water to evaporate the alcohol. To achieve the effect as quickly as possible, take the drops under your tongue.

Alternatively, mix it into fruit juice or water and drink. You should avoid eating or drinking anything else for the next 20 minutes or so.

How do you use fresh yarrow?

The answer depends on what benefit you hope to achieve. You may add it to salads and stews, crush the leaves and apply them to the skin, make a decoction to treat a rash, make a tea.

How do you harvest yarrow?

You can harvest yarrow as and when you need to. If you wish to add it to your meals, cut the new leaves. At the end of summer, gather up any remaining herb and cut. Then hang upside down in a drafty space protected from the rain to dry.

What part of yarrow is edible?

The leaves and flowers are most edible. You may also eat the stalks and roots but these are less palatable.

Where should you plant yarrow?

As with most herbs, full sunlight is best. The plant will tolerate some shade during the day, however.

Can yarrow be grown indoors?

No. The closest you might get away with is planting it in a large pot on a very sunny patio. You'll have to monitor the water situation carefully.

Is yarrow OK for horses?

No. It contains glycoalkaloid achilline, which is harmful if consumed in large quantities.

What can I make with dried yarrow?

You can make attractive dried flower arrangements, teas, poultices, salves, and compresses.

Does the tea contain caffeine?

No, not at all. The tea will help you to relax instead of rev you up.

Should I add it to the rinse water when washing my hair?

Yes. The herb will help to balance out oily hair, strengthen the cuticle, and encourage new growth and shine.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: What is the height of the Yarrow plant?

Answer: Around about two to four feet.

Question: My yarrow used to be nice and bright pink and yellow. This year they are very pale. How can I help my yarrow flowers to brighten up?

Answer: I would dig some compost into the soil around them. The flowers may also cross-pollinate over time. This cross-pollination can cause the new flower to change color.

© 2016 Fiona

What Do You Think of Yarrow?

Fiona (author) from South Africa on July 28, 2016:

Thanks Neil, Mint is one of my favorite herbs :)

Nell Rose from England on July 28, 2016:

I love my herbs so this was great! I have never really used Yarrow, and had a bit of a blank where it was concerned, so this was really helpful. I do grow some herbs but mainly mint, my balcony smells like a polo mint! lol! but I also have parsley, thyme and comfrey. great hub, and really interesting, thanks!

Fiona (author) from South Africa on June 12, 2016:

Thanks Reynold

Reynold Jay from Saginaw, Michigan on June 12, 2016:

I was not aware of any of this! Sounds like I could use these in my garden, Fiona!! I like Bees too. Well done.

Fiona (author) from South Africa on April 24, 2016:

Yes Gregory, it is pretty cool.

Greg de la Cruz on April 23, 2016:

Wow not only does it look pretty, it heals wounds and is good for tea!

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