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As a young girl, I fell in love with the Yarrow plant. I recall picking bouquets of feathery leaves and starry flowers around my home and the smell was complex and invigorating. Since then, yarrow has been a constant friend and teacher. Through striving to know it, I have delved into ancestral wisdom, botany, plant ecology, history, herbalism and many other subjects. The mystery and complexity of one plant are enough to spend a lifetime exploring.
The Ancient Origins of the Yarrow Plant
Yarrow plant is a native herb that can be found in many areas of the world. It has been used for centuries to treat wounds, reduce fevers, and improve digestion. This hardy plant is easy to grow and has many uses.
The yarrow plant (Achillea millefolium) has flat-topped or dome-shaped clusters of small white flowers that bloom from April to October and have a spicy fragrance. The leaves look like blades of grass and have many small teeth along their edges. The plant grows from one to three feet tall and can be found in waste areas, fields, and roadsides.
Yarrow has been intertwined with humans for thousands of years. This magical herb has been used medicinally by many cultures around the world. In fact, it’s one of the oldest documented herbs used in healing practices. The Romans used yarrow as an antiseptic, while Native Americans used yarrow for many things including wounds and insect bites. They also drank it as a tea to treat fevers and headaches and made poultices out of it by crushing the leaves into a paste before applying them directly onto wounds or sores. The Greeks used it to stop bleeding from wounds caused by childbirth or surgery, while Chinese healers relied on yarrow for their own purposes.
Herbal legend has it that the yarrow plant (Achillea millefolium) was named after Achilles, the Greek hero who used yarrow to stop the bleeding wounds of his soldiers during the Trojan War in 1200 BC.
Is Yarrow Native to North America?
Some botanical books claim that the yarrow plant is not native to North America and was introduced by Europeans.
I am not a botanist, but I find that claim hard to believe. It’s true that many Native American tribes across North America have words for yarrow, and none of these have been borrowed from English, French, or Spanish. The opposite situation is true for most plants and animals introduced by Europeans.
We also know that the yarrow plant has a longer history of medicinal use among Native Americans than more recent arrivals like dandelions and chicory. Botany books published more recently have suggested that there are slight genetic differences between Old World and New World varieties of yarrow, and most wild yarrow growing in North America today is a hybrid form between the two.
Yarrow is an easy plant to identify once you know what to look for. It is a soft, gray-green flowering plant in the Asteraceae family. It boasts feathery, fernlike leaves and broad, flat flower heads composed of numerous white flowers. Growing on erect stems between 1 and 3 feet tall they smell similar to chamomile or pinon pine. The name Yarrow comes from the Latin word Millefolia, which means thousand-leaved.
1. Beneficial Garden Plant
Yarrow is a drought-resistant, attractive flowering plant that grows best in full sun. Native bees and butterflies are attracted to it, making it a popular plant for garden borders and for companion planting in fruit orchards. Yarrow is also helpful to have in any food forest because it accumulates nutrients and helps build healthy soil.
2. Medicinal Uses –
The list of its medicinal properties is extensive, and the benefits of this ancient healing herb have been supported by a number of studies. Below are some of its purported benefits:
- To treat irritable bowel syndrome – Using research from the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Vienna, a study discovered that its antispasmodic effects may help to soothe symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
- Stimulates Circulation and lowers blood pressure = Yarrow is a magical herb that can be used to bring blood to the surface of the body, inducing sweating and lowering blood pressure.
- Creates balance in the body – In herbal medicine terminology, this plant is called “amphoteric”—which means it can work in seemingly contradictory ways to help the body achieve homeostasis.
- Styptic and antimicrobial properties – When applied to a wound, it stops bleeding and prevents infection. It is often used as a poultice, wash, soak, or salve to relieve pain, and help to heal wounds and injuries of various types.
- Colds, Flu, and Fevers – Yarrow, when steeped in hot water and drunk hot, is a classic cold and flu remedy. It helps thin the blood, stimulates sweating, lowers fever, and increases circulation.
- To Treat Asthma -Yarrow has also been used to treat asthma attacks by thinning the blood and increasing blood flow in the lungs.
Not for extended use during pregnancy. It should be used carefully or avoided for coagulation disorders.
3. Culinary Uses –
Yarrow is a strong flavoring herb and should be used sparingly. Just a leaf or two is all you need. The leaves and flowers can be dried and ground into a spice or can also be used fresh in salads, soups, stews, tea, and other dishes as a leafy vegetable or garnish. In Sweden, the yarrow plant is often used to flavor beer, as a substitute for hops.
Yarrow plants can be established by planting seeds, growing them from divisions of mature plants, or transplanting them from elsewhere. If you’re sowing seeds, choose a sunny location and make sure to cover them lightly with a shallow covering of soil. When mature, yarrow plants spread out so they require space between them when grown as garden plants. If you purchase an already-grown plant, allow 1 foot between each one when they’re planted.
Yarrow grows well in many soil conditions, but it prefers full sun. As yarrow is partially drought-resistant, it does not need to be watered as long as there is enough rainfall to keep the plants healthy.
Yarrow is a hardy perennial herb that does not need to be replanted each year. However, it does need occasional care. To begin with, it would benefit from the removal of its dying flowers in mid-summer. This pruning will promote new blooming and keep the plant healthy. Also, if you don’t divide it every other year or so, the plant will spread into surrounding areas and become invasive.
When I share my love of this plant, it is important for me to point out that it is not about the flower at all, it’s about the entire plant, the ecosystem surrounding it, and its place in the larger cycles of life. Whether you grow your own wild yarrow or buy a bouquet, I am sure you will be entranced by this humble herb. From planting through harvesting, small interactions with the plant lead to greater understanding and deeper appreciation.
Disclaimer: outdoorapothecary.com is informational in nature and is not to be regarded as a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. While we strive to be 100% accurate, it is solely up to the reader to ensure proper plant identification.
Some wild plants are poisonous or can have serious adverse health effects. We are not health professionals, medical doctors, nor are we nutritionists. It is up to the reader to verify nutritional information and health benefits with qualified professionals for all edible plants listed in this website. The information provided is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the guidance of your qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.