Simply the Best Herbs-March

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In February the farmer shall make ready his garden grounds to sow and set therein all manner of herbs.  ~Gervase Markham

 

It is late March here in Central NY state and we have snow so no getting the garden ready for spring.  Snow in March is not unusual as we have snow in spring here even in May (like a few years ago).  I do not remember this much snow in March since the blizzard of 1993 when we had 4 feet in 3 days…no really we did.  Schools were closed for days as the plows tried to clear the roads.  But it should be warmer by now so the snow would not last and look like winter still.  It seems cold weather is everywhere; large parts of the US to across the ocean to Europe so I will be awaiting the warmth of spring soon (They say this coming weekend).

So as I continue to wait for the first Spring day, I am profiling another great herb that many people grow as a perennial, yarrow or Achillea.  An added bonus of this plant is it is native to a large part of the United States.  I am linking in once again with Diana@Elephant’s Eye on False Bay for her meme, Dozen for Diana, and with Gail@Clay and Limestone who hosts Wildflower Wednesday.

 

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Name

Achillea millefolium, known commonly as common yarrow, is a flowering plant in the family Asteraceae (Aster Family).  It also goes by the name:  Milfoil, Western yarrow, arrowroot, bloodwort, carpenter’s weed, death flower, devil’s nettle, field hops, hundred leaved grass, nosebleed, old man’s mustard, old man’s pepper, soldier’s woundwort, thousand seal.

In New Mexico and southern Colorado, it is called plumajillo which is Spanish for ‘little feather’ due to the shape and texture of the leaves.

The genus name Achillea refers to the mythical Greek character, Achilles, who is said to have carried it with him to treat battle wounds. The common name yarrow comes from the Saxon word gearwe.

 

 

About

Yarrow can grow to 3 feet tall, although mine stays about 2 feet by 2 feet. The leaves have a delicate, fernlike, lacy look.  Flower heads grow in large, compact clusters at the top of the stem. The native flower head has yellowish-IMG_5196white (rarely pink)  flowers.  A. millefolium is native throughout temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere especially in Asia, Europe and North America.  A. millefolium is more commonly found now as a combination of both native and introduced plants and their hybrids.

The plant prefers well-drained and drier soil in full sun.  I have it growing  in less ideal conditions of moist soil and part sun and it does fine.

The plant has a strong, sweet scent.  It starts its new growth in early spring, and usually flowers from May through June. Common yarrow is often found in mildly disturbed soil of meadows, grasslands and open forests.

Seeds mature in late summer and early fall for collection and use after drying.  You can also propagate yarrow by division every other year in the spring.  Be careful as yarrow will seed itself easily and can become aggressive.  I like the look of drifts of many different colors of yarrow so I let them seed in certain sections of the garden.

 

 

Folklore

Yarrow is quite an ancient herb, and was found at a Neanderthal burial site in northern Iraq dated to circa 60,000 BCE.  Yarrow was used as a burial flower and found with a number of other medicinal herbs at the site.

IMG_6285Yarrow is also part of traditional Chinese culture. It is said to grow around the grave of Confucius. The Chinese also use the dried stems for divining the future in I Ching.  Chinese proverbs say yarrow promotes intelligence,and is considered to be lucky.

In classical Greek stories, Achilles was taught to use yarrow on the battle grounds of Troy, and Aphrodite used yarrow as an herb of love.

In Western European tradition, especially in the Middle Ages, yarrow was used as a witching herb to summon the devil or drive him away.  But it was also used in the Middle Ages as part of an herbal mixture in the flavoring of beer prior to the use of hops.

Yarrow was part of British folk customs and beliefs. It was one of the herbs put in Saxon amulets used for protection. This is where the common names devil’s nettle comes from.

It was very popular as a vegetable in the 17th century, and in the 19th century it was said to have more uses than any other herb.

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Achillea millefolium was used in traditional Native American herbal medicine by many tribes. The Navajo thought it was “life medicine”, and chewed it for toothaches, and poured an infusion into ears to treat earaches.  The Miwok in California used yarrow as an analgesic and head cold remedy.

The Pawnee used the stalk for pain relief and the Chippewa used the leaves for headaches by inhaling it in a steam. The Cherokee drank a tea of common yarrow to reduce fever and aid in restful sleep. A tea of steeping leaves was also used by Native Americans to cure stomach disorders.  I may have to research the pain relief of yarrow to see if I can use it myself for headaches.

 

 

Uses

Culinary
There are many uses of yarrow as a food.  It can be placed in salads lending a slightly bitter, peppery flavor.  The younger leaves can be cooked like spinach, or used in a soup.  The dry leaves have a slightly different flavor more like a very mild sage.  It is also popular for making herbal teas. 

The flowers and leaves are also used in making some liquors and bitters.

 

IMG_5197Medicinal

Similar to its ancient uses,  yarrow today is valued mainly for its help in curing colds and flu, and also for its effect on the circulatory, digestive, excretory, and urinary systems.

The most medicinal part of the plant is the flowers. They also have a mild stimulant effect.

Flowers steamed can be drunk to treat hay fever or used externally for an eczema wash.  The dark blue essential oil from the steam distillation of the flowers is used in chest rubs for colds and flu.

The leaves are said to encourage clotting, so it can be used fresh for nosebleeds.

Yarrow intensifies the medicinal effect of other herbs taken with it, and it also helps eliminate toxins from the body.

It has salicylic acid derivatives that are similar to aspirin, which is why it is used for treating fevers and reducing pain.

 

Garden

Yarrow is a good plant to use in fresh or dried arrangements as it has a nice fragrance especially when crushed.IMG_5956

Yarrow is a great companion plant as it will assist plants in resisting disease and insect pests.  It also attracts good, predatory insects like ladybugs, hoverflies and predatory wasps.

Achillea millefolium is now cultivated as an ornamental plant, and is planted in native plant, drought-tolerant, and wildlife gardens. The plant is a must in a butterfly garden.  Many birds, including the common starling, use yarrow to line their nests.

Achillea millefolium can be planted to improve soil quality and help combat soil erosion.  Its leaves are thought to be good fertilizer, and beneficial to compost.

Recently, more cultivars with ‘improved’ qualities are being used as drought tolerant lawn replacements requiring periodic mowing.

I hope to try many of these garden, culinary and maybe some medical uses.

 

Language of Flowers

Yarrow means healing and denotes things that are inspirational which is one reason it was and is used in wedding bouquets.

 

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Yarrow sown up in a little pouch and placed beneath the pillow was said to bring dreams of one’s future love.  But you had to recite the following charm before dozing off to sleep:

Thou pretty herb of Venus tree
Thy true name be Yarrow
Now who my bosom friend must be
Pray tell thou me tomorrow.

 

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Next up on the blog:  Next Monday it will be April already and time for a Gardens Eye Journal post.  March has been an interesting month.  I’ll have an early Simply the Best-Herb post in April as well.

I will be linking in with Michelle@Rambling Woods for her Nature Notes meme.  It is a great way to see what is happening in nature around the world every Wednesday.

I hope you will join me for my posts once a month at Beautiful Wildlife Garden. See my most current post now.

As always, I’ll be joining Tootsie Time’s Fertilizer Friday.

Please remember, to comment click on the title of the post and the page will reload with the comments section.

All original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Gardens Eye View, 2010-2013.  Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only.

81 comments

  1. Christina says:

    I didn’t realise I could eat this plant! I have lots in my garden as they tollerate the arid conditions well and continue to flower for many months. I do hope you get some nice weather soon. Christina

    • Donna says:

      Thanks Christina. We seem to be warming slowly although we are due for snow this week. Hopefully the last as the early bulbs are beginning to bloom.

  2. Andrea says:

    Maybe they are right in saying that with climate change, temperate countries will be colder and tropical countries will be hotter. Most blogs i read seem to have prolonged snow, and we are experiencing very hot temps and longer too! I hope miracles do really happen. About your featured plant, i might not be familiar with it but it seems a very important plant. It might have persisted till now for very good reasons. I am thinking of the cycas, which existed since the dinosaurs time, but i haven’t read much use for it compared to your yarrow.

    • Donna says:

      It is amazing to me how old and useful many of our native plants are. I do believe that global warming is affecting our weather. I do fear what may become the new normal.

    • Donna says:

      I am amazed at all the beneficial insects that all my natives attract. And then if they are edible to us, it is an added bonus. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  3. Donalyn says:

    Is this weather not discouraging? I actually am rather fond of winter, but it is time for it to go!

    Ad for yarrow, it is one of my favorite “filler” plants in my gardens – so many colors and it looks good for months. I may try it in a few salads now!

  4. Susan says:

    What a wonderful post. I learned dozens of things I didn’t know about Yarrow. Over the years, I’ve placed it throughout the perennial beds thinking it was hardy enough to survive winter, but I’ve lost most of them. Does anyone know if it is considered a tender perennial in the Pacific Northwest?

  5. KL says:

    What wonderful information. Are you a botanist or in any such fields, if you don’t mind me asking? How do you have so much plant knowledge and so much proverbs related to nature, tree, flowers, etc? I am looking around in native plant nurseries and going to buy lots of native plants this year.

    By the way, I was in Little Falls, Harkimer county on Saturday :-). Is that considered central or northern NY?

    • Donna says:

      NO KL I am a humble educator/teacher, but I love to research plants and have many books and online resources I check. I hope many of my native plant profiles help you. I did a native plant series last year and you can find it here:

      http://gardenseyeview.com/2012/12/26/simply-the-best-december/

      It may help you find some other natives. I also will be putting these and my new Wildflower and Herb series on a new page eventually.

      Little Falls is just enough East to almost be considered central, northern or Capital region…what brought you there?

  6. cheryl says:

    Great piece on one of my favorite plants. It’s ability to thrive in xeric gardens is a godsend. And I take it frequently in tincture form. I hadn’t known about eating it in salads, and will give it a try. Thank you!

  7. Donna says:

    I grow yarrow for the insects, but also because it can be used dry to represent trees for architecture models. They look darn cute in a model to simulate landscaping after you glue them upright in place. It is a common plant used in model building. That is a tidbit you wouldn’t find on the internet, even though they are dried quite a bit for dry floral arrangements since they hold on the the tiny flowers for a long time. You really did list quite a bit about this plant. Mine lives in “desert conditions” on the side of my house and thrives. It is never watered in drought.

  8. b-a-g says:

    I’ve often seen white-flowered versions of this plant growing at the roadside. I didn’t know it was scented. Next time I see one I’m going to have a sniff.

  9. Cathy says:

    A great collection of information on this plant Donna! It grows everywhere around here, and I have a tall bright yellow one in my garden… it flops over a bit, but is invaluable for its drought tolerance and long flowering. Really enjoyed reading about it!

    • Donna says:

      Thanks Cathy…the native yarrow are a bit floppy but the cultivars with so many colors tend to not grow so big and floppy in my garden. Glad you enjoyed all the info.

  10. Grace Peterson says:

    Funny you mention Yarrow. I was just talking with a coworker this morning. I saw him at the nursery on Saturday. He said bought a new red-flowered Yarrow. I told him I can’t seem to keep yarrow alive for more than a few years and I’m pretty sure it’s our wet soil. He said, he can’t keep it alive either and then he mentioned “crowding” and I was like, oh yeah, there’s that–a perpetual problem with my gardening methods. Yarrow like their space and well drained soil. I just love the flowers. Maybe I’ll clear an area just for yarrow. 🙂

    I hope the sun melts the snow quickly so you can get out and garden.

    • Donna says:

      Let me know how less crowding in your garden works. Mine are crowded together with each other and I let them go to seed but that can cause more yarrow than you need.

      The garden is blooming but we are getting more snow this week…hope it is the last.

  11. HolleyGarden says:

    Such interesting information! I will look at yarrow differently now. I have a couple of different kinds in my garden, but not the pink, and it looks so pretty in your pictures.

  12. pbm says:

    I really enjoyed your post on yarrow. Currently I’m growing appleblossom, which has a pretty color, but it flops too much. Fun to know yarrow is edible. Here’s hoping for a warm weekend up your way. Susie

    • Donna says:

      Thanks Susie…yarrow does flop but I try to grow it in bunches or close to other plants to keep it up. We got a bit of a warm up but more snow this week I think for one last time.

  13. Gail says:

    This has been a weird spring as we dipped below freezing this morning which is highly unusual for south Louisiana. I think Punxsutawney Phil should be fired, stat. 🙂 You have quite an extensive knowledge of herbs. Nice post. Visiting from OWT.

  14. Kathy Sturr of the Violet Fern says:

    I am a fan of yarrow! I have several varieties. All pollinators seem to love yarrow, but not big, fat rabbits – yay! Last year I acquired a beautiful pink variety from our local garden club. Such interesting lore about yarrow that I never knew.

    • Donna says:

      Perfect Michelle. I might have some seed and will see if I have volunteers although they are cultivars. Love to send them to you once I check, I’ll let you now.

  15. Island Threads says:

    a another very interesting post Donna, I have it growing self-sown and wild in my garden, like Christina I didn’t know you could eat it though I did know of the many medicinal properties,

    I hope your snow is the last and soon goes, I think most of us in the northern hemisphere could do with some warm weather, Frances

  16. Sallie (FullTime-Life) says:

    Yarrow seems almost like a miracle herb/food. Your post makes me want to plant an herb garden! Just don’t think I’m in the same place long enough to get much use out of it. Maybe I could put a few in pots during the season here in Florida.

  17. Debbie/GardenofPossibilities says:

    Yarrow is one of my favorite flowers. While the deer seem to leave it alone, I do find either the rabbits or groundhogs enjoy nibbling at the stalks. I had no idea yarrow has such a storied past, thanks for sharing all the folklore, I always enjoy reading it.

  18. Shirley says:

    Love achillea and grow several in my garden where I’ve found they need afternoon shade in our south Texas summers. Nice to learn more about all the interesting uses for them.

    • Donna says:

      Wonderful to hear they are growing in Texas with you Shirley. I love to push their growing conditions and some of mine have a bit more shade and do fine.

  19. debsgarden says:

    Wow! I have always liked yarrow but never knew so much about it! I enjoyed reading the common names and the folklore.

    Regarding that 1993 storm — it affected a great portion of the nation, and way down here in the Deep South, we had three feet of snow in our front yard! I will never forget the newscast that showed a woman in labor being carried on a stretcher by hand up the steep hill to the hospital, because the ambulance couldn’t make it through the deep snow.

  20. Karen (Back Road Journal) says:

    Our snow is slowly melting with patches of grass in many parts of our orchard…I think the warmth this weekend will rid of most of it. Your post was very interesting…I’ve always loved yarrow but didn’t know of its many benefits.

  21. Gail says:

    I do like this flower and when I see it want more sunshine to let it do its thing…I didn’t know it was edible! Wow. I have tried to get it established in my lawnette, but the native grasses won. Happy WW!

  22. Jennifer@threedogsinagarden says:

    Hi Donna, For whatever reason, I have always thought of yarrow more as a flowering perennial rather than as a herb. Your post was a nice reminder of its many herbal uses. I had no idea you could eat the young leaves for instance. Interesting! I think I just might add a new plant in among my other herbs this spring.

  23. Tootsie says:

    I have never grown it, but it sure is pretty! I didn’t know most of what you wrote here…and I am glad I popped in and learned something today!
    Thanks for linking in today…I hope you will again soon….Happy Easter friend!
    I have shared your post on the tootsie time facebook page

    (¯`v´¯)
    `*.¸.*´Glenda/Tootsie
    ¸.•´¸.•*¨) ¸.•*¨)
    (¸.•´ (¸.•´ .•´ ¸¸.•¨¯`•.

  24. Donna says:

    Oh too bad Carolyn that it won’t grow but I guess it does like quite a bit of sun. I push a few in shade, but they have more sun than shade.

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