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.
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.
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-white (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.
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.
Yarrow 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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