Achillea millefolium, commonly known as yarrow, is a flowering perennial plant that is native to parts of North America, Europe, and Asia. Due to its drought-resistance and ability to attract pollinators, yarrow is a popular plant for garden borders or for companion planting and is commonly planted in POP orchards. Yarrow is additionally known as an nutrient accumulator and soil builder, making it an ideal plant for food forests.
Yarrow flowers are usually a cream-shade of white, but many cultivated varieties are available in the nursery trade ranging in color from yellow to pink to red. As a member of the Asteraceae family, this plant has composite flowers. The flowers are very small, and bloom in clusters at the top of the yarrow plant, which can grow to heights between 2 and 4 feet tall. The yarrow plant has alternating, fern-like leaves that are themselves made up of many leaflets. Generally the flowers bloom throughout the summer, beginning in June and ending in September.
Yarrow mainly attracts bees and beetles as pollinators, but will also attract some butterflies. Miner, digger, bumble, leafcutter, mason, and sweat bees are all drawn to yarrow. These native bees are essential to pollination in this area. Additionally, checkered beetles and gossamer-winged butterflies are attracted to yarrow plants.
Medicinal and Culinary Uses
NOTE: Please read our full disclaimer at the end of this article before harvesting or consuming Yarrow.
Historically, yarrow has been used to treat wounds and infections. Its family name, Achillea, comes from the Greek hero, Achilles, who is said to have used this plant to treat the wounds of his soldiers after battle. Additionally, in Greek mythology it was yarrow that gave Achilles his invincibility in the first place, after he had bathed in yarrow-infused water.
Many Native American nations also rely on yarrow for its herbal and medicinal properties. Specifically, the Pawnee and Chippewa Nations who have historically and continually used yarrow poultices (or pastes) of the plant for headaches and other pains, while the Cherokee Nation often used a yarrow tea for flu-like symptoms.
The wound-treating abilities of yarrow stem from its astringent properties, which reduces bleeding. In addition, yarrow is antiseptic, meaning that it can be used to treat a range of diseases caused by harmful microorganisms. There is some research to say that large doses of this herb can potentially be harmful and lead to increased photosensitivity, so be cautious with this plant.
Below are a few ideas on how to make use of yarrow’s powerful properties:
- Yarrow Powder
Yarrow powder is a simple way to make use of yarrow’s wound-healing properties, as it can be applied directly to the skin. To make this, harvest the leaves of the yarrow plant and allow them to dry out before grinding them into a powder.
2. Yarrow Tea
Yarrow tea is a drink that can help with many common illnesses, such as relieving fevers and colds, making use of the plant’s diaphoretic properties meaning that it helps the body to sweat out fever. It is also a very simple way to make use of yarrow’s properties. Yarrow tea can be made by steeping 1 tablespoon of yarrow in 1 cup of boiling water.
3. Yarrow Pasta
Yarrow is a fairly bitter herb, and so should be used sparingly when cooking. To make this pasta, finely mince a small handful of yarrow leaves, and add to a sauce of olive oil, chopped anchovies, white wine, and red pepper flakes. Toss penne pasta in the sauce after cooking, and serve! Full recipe here.
Yarrow can be propagated through seeds, divisions, and transplanting. If planting seeds, make sure to cover them lightly with a shallow covering of soil, as the seeds require light to properly germinate. Additionally, yarrow plants spread as they mature, so some thinning may be required. If you purchase yarrow as an already-grown starter plant, they should be spaced at a minimum of 1 foot apart from each other. This allows the plants to grow and spread as they mature.
Yarrow thrives in many soil conditions, but the plants do prefer full sun. As yarrow is partially drought-resistant, soil that is too wet will not allow it to thrive. Due to this, yarrow often does not need to be watered in this area, as there is enough rainfall to keep the plants healthy.
Yarrow is a perennial herb, and so does not need to be replanted each year. However, because of its spreading tendencies, it does require a bit of yearly attention. First of all, yarrow will benefit from the removal of its dying flowers towards the middle of the summer. Aside from keeping the plant healthy, it may allow the plant to bloom again. Next, yarrow that is not taken care of can become invasive to surrounding plants, as it spreads at a moderate pace. To combat this, the plants should be divided approximately every other year by removing clumps of the plant. This will ensure that the remaining plant remains healthy, as well as keeping the growth under control.
Yarrow is a beautiful, useful herbal plant that thrives in our climate. Its ability to attract pollinators makes it a popular garden choice, and also has some interesting medical and culinary properties. Hopefully this overview of yarrow provided good information and instructions on how to grow yarrow in your own garden!
The Philadelphia Orchard Project stresses that you should not consume parts of any wild edible plants, herbs, weeds, trees, or bushes until you have verified with your health professional that they are safe for you. As with any new foods that you wish to try, it is best to introduce them slowly into your diet in small amounts.
The information presented on this website is for informational, reference, and educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as a substitute for diagnosis and treatment by a health care professional. Always consult a health care professional or medical doctor when suffering from any health ailment, disease, illness, or injury, or before attempting any traditional or folk remedies. Keep all plants away from children. As with any natural product, they can be toxic if misused.
To the best of our knowledge, the information contained herein is accurate and we have endeavored to provide sources for any borrowed material. Any testimonials on this web site are based on individual results and do not constitute a warranty of safety or guarantee that you will achieve the same results.
Neither the Philadelphia Orchard Project nor its employees, volunteers, or website contributors may be held liable or responsible for any allergy, illness, or injurious effect that any person or animal may suffer as a result of reliance on the information contained on this website nor as a result of the ingestion or use of any of the plants mentioned herein.
SAFETY PRECAUTION: While there are many plants which are helpful and beneficial for us to partner with, there are plants that are dangerous for us to consume or even to touch. It’s important that we take the necessary precautions – in a city space: avoid harvesting from places with pollution or runoff; avoid harvesting endangered plants; understand there are some plants used medicinally only in small doses vs some that can be eaten with relatively little concern. The most important thing is that you trust your body, go slow with incorporating any new plants into your diet!
This POP Blog Post was written by POP Education Intern Bethany Bronkema.
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