The Yarrow Flower
Yarrow the Wonder Plant
Known for its extensive uses, the yarrow plant is arguably one of the most versatile botanicals on the planet.
Aside from its many medicinal qualities, yarrow helps combat soil erosion, serves as food for birds and grazing animals while attracting beneficial insects it also wards off garden pests.
So while certainly a multitalented plant that benefits humans, the earth as well as its neighboring flora and fauna, the multi-purpose yarrow is undoubtedly one of the most important.
The origin of yarrow's etymological first name stems primarily from Greek Mythology. The yarrow herb plant was said to have grown from the rust of Achilles spear, which he used to stem the bleeding of soldiers wounded on the field of battle.
Millefolium means “thousand- leaved” in reference to its small yet profuse and compact foliage. Reflective of its diverse history and versatility, other names given to Yarrow include knight’s milfoil, old man’s pepper, devil’s nettle and angel flower.
Indigenous to the European and Asian continents, yarrow was brought to the new world by colonists and spread across the country through settlement of the West.
In Spanish-speaking New Mexico and southern Colorado, yarrow is called plumajillo, which means, "little feather".
Now, yarrow can be found in dry pine woods, grassy meadows, cultivated in gardens and growing wild along rural roadsides throughout the United States. Because of its stamina, the yarrow plant can survive most planting zones.
Description and Characteristics
Yarrow is a hardy, herbaceous perennial with tiny, fern-like leaves spiraling up multiple stems topped by flattened flower clusters. While the “common” Yarrow flower is white, hybrids offer color choices ranging from sulfur yellow to burgundy.
Through rhizome growth, the yarrow plant can be invasive and can reach 2" to 3’ tall. An enthusiastic self-propagator requiring little care to survive, some consider the yarrow plant a weed. Its aromatic, feather-like leaves sprout a varying amount of tiny hairs and give off a distinct aroma when crushed.
The history of yarrow is long and rich. The ancient Chinese threw yarrow stalks instead of coins to promote divination in consultation of the “Book of Changes” known also as the, I Chi.
During the Middle Ages, Europeans connected yarrow with both a goddess and a demon as witches used the smoke of the burning yarrow plant for incantations to summon anything between angels and visions of snakes. Navajo Indians called yarrow the "life medicine", chewing it for toothaches and pouring its tea into ears for earaches.
The Chippewa inhaled it in a steam to relieve headaches and the Cherokee drank yarrow tea to reduce fever and bring them restful sleep.
Dried yarrow flower was discovered in a Neanderthal burial site in northern Iraq dating back to 60,000BC.
Cultivation and Care
Plant in sunny area.Cultivate in the spring.Do not over work soil near established plant during dormant phases.
New, thicker growth from rhizomes and fallen seeds will sprout as temperatures warm. Do not plant seeds more that 1/4". Use as a thick border or to fill in dry areas. Prune regularly for short, thick growth.
Yarrow plants left to grow taller should be staked to avoid beat down by heavy rain or high winds. Trim back after flowering to encourage more blooms. Divide bi-annually to prevent overcrowding.
Planting in loose, well drained soil will help prevent mold and root rot. Leaf bugs and flea beetles are rare but possible.
The Amazing Versatility of the Yarrow Plant
- Deep, rhizome root system reduces soil erosion
- Decaying leaves make excellent fertilizer
- Speeds breakdown when added to compost piles
- Attracts pollinating and predatory garden insects
- Protects and even heals nearby plants
- Plant in vegetable gardens to repel deer
- Insect deterring leaves favored by nesting birds
- Boosts immune system
- Astringent for acne and oily skin
- Improves circulation
- Promotes sweating to reduce fever
- Aids digestive system
- Eases menopause symptoms
- Blood purifier
- Anti depressant
- Essential oil used anti inflammatory
- Sooths skin irritations like poison ivy, measles and chicken pox
- Tames tooth aches
- Soothes ulcers
- Fades varicose veins
- Soothes eczema
- Combats kidney & urinary tract disorders
- Clots blood in open wound
- Sooths severe cold symptoms
Yarrow as Food
- Makes a tasty spinach
- Fresh or dried leaves can be brewed as tea
- Add chopped new, tender leaves to bring peppery flavor to meats, beans, soups and salads
- Feeds grazing animals and birds in fields and wooded areas
Note: Moderation is the key. Too much Yarrow can define the adage, “too much of a good thing”. As it is often said, the distinction between medicine or food and poison is a matter of quantity or dose.
Therefore, yarrow herb for internal or topical remedy should only be used sparingly. Women should avoid using yarrow during pregnancy.
Other Uses for Yarrow Include:
- Commonly used instead of hops to flavor beer in the Middle Ages, yarrow is still used to flavor vermouth and bitters.
- Adding yarrow essential oil boosts potency to other medicinal herbs
- Aroma of yarrow essential oil intensifies fragrances of perfume and incense
- Fresh or dried, the yarrow plant makes beautiful and aromatic flower arrangements,
- Dried yarrow makes stunning wreaths and table center pieces
- Rub leaves on skin or burn in camp fire to repel mosquitoes
- Use a wash on diaper rash or allergic skin reactions
- Yarrow spit poultice draws venom and reduces pain of stinging insects
- Fragrant alone or as addition to potpourri
- Add dried to home-made sachet, place in drawers and hand in closets
- Yarrow sachet wards off moths and nesting insects in storage areas
- Ease of care makes the yarrow plant a confidence boosting choice for the novice gardener
- Add to sauna or steam room to break chest congestion
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