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 [email protected]Elephant’s Eye on False Bay for her meme, Dozen for Diana, and with [email protected]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 good plant to use in fresh or dried arrangements as it has a nice fragrance especially when crushed.
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 [email protected]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.
81 Replies to “Simply the Best Herbs-March”
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
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.
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.
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.
Who knew all this about Yarrow! I have several in my gardens. They attract so many beneficial bugs. Thanks for such an informative post!
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!
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!
We are due for a bit more snow this week but I hope it is done. Let me know what you think if you try the yarrow in salad.
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?
Susan it is hardy to zone 9 but I think perhaps it may not survive your climate if you do not have some dry summer weather.
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?
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:
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?
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!
How interesting Cheryl as I had not seen it in tincture form. I love finding many of my favorite plants considered herbs that are edible.
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.
I never water mine either and push its growing conditions. And thanks for adding to the interesting information on this plant. Very cool!!
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.
I think it has an interesting fragrance more herb-like than floral. Let me know what you think.
Interesting and informative as ever, Donna! I cannot believe I have only one yarrow. It is yellow and I love it, but obviously I need to get more colors. Grow more native plants is my mantra! P. x
Good for you Pam. If I divide mine, I am happy to send some lovely specimens to you.
Wow! That would be awesome!
Ok I will keep a note in my journal and let you know….oh and thank you for the lovely Thank You card!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
The pink and apricot are my favorites Holley. Glad you liked the post!
It’s quite a tough little plant!
It sure is Tina..and I love the colors.
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
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.
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.
Gail nice to have you visiting…I agree Phil needs to be fired. Glad you enjoyed the post!
such a wealth of information about yarrow… I had no idea it was such an ancient plant. snowy here too…tiny flakes falling right this moment.
Laura I hope your weather has warmed…I was amazed to read it was such an old plant…love the history of these herbs.
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.
Critters don’t like to eat yarrow which is why I love it…and the pollinators crave it. Glad you enjoyed the lore.
Ah something else to plant..maybe in the same area as my butterfly weed..it is sunny and dry…Michelle
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.
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
I bet it is lovely growing wild Frances…my snow is gone but will return in a few days for a short stay I hope.
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.
Sallie herbs are great to grow in pots…hope you get a chance to plant some.
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.
Thanks Debbie. I wonder who is nibbling as my rabbits leave it alone. Glad you enjoyed the post!
A thorough article on yarrow Donna. Because many of the yarrows flop, I tend to favour hybrids that are bred to have sturdier stems.
Thanks and agreed Judith as the hybrids do flop less…
Very informative post and beautiful photos!
Happy Wildflower Wednesday!
Thanks Lea…hope you have had wonderful wildflower weather this start to spring.
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.
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.
Very interesting post Donna, writing about the history and uses of plants is a superb idea. Best regards James.
Thanks Jim. Glad you enjoyed the post and how nice to have you visiting the blog.
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.
How interesting Deborah as I did not remember the storm also dumping so much snow South. Glad you enjoyed all the yarrow information.
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.
Glad the post added some useful info Karen…we are due for more snow this week but I think it will be the last of it. Fingers crossed.
I have my Dozen post up today. With both your February and March choices. Those flowers sound a lovely cut flower – glorious pink, and fragrant!
Thanks Diana…glad you enjoyed the post and I will stop by your blog!
Common Yarrow has been here for decades. It never goes away, it never spreads, it just IS.
You have described it perfectly…mine has never spread either or at least not aggressively.
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!
Oh too bad with the lawnette and yarrow. It is a very special plant which is why I chose it for WW!
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.
It is amazing how many perennials are also herbs with amazing properties and are edible. Glad you enjoyed the post!
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
(¸.•´ (¸.•´ .•´ ¸¸.•¨¯`•.
Thanks for sharing my post and glad you stopped by!
I love yarrow especially the cultivars with red or orange flowers. Unfortunately, after trying it many times, I have concluded that it won’t grow at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens.
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.
Just wanted to stop by to say Happy Easter, Donna. Looking forward to reading your Spring poem tomorrow. And this herb is too pretty to eat! 🙂
Thanks Loredana…it indeed is too pretty but a few snips of leaves won’t hurt 🙂
I didn’t realize yarrow is an herb and edible! Jeannine
Isn’t it great when we find a cherished plant has added value. Now we can love them for so much more.
Lots of great information in this post. I can’t wait to get out into the garden … if only the weather would warm up a bit.
Here too…snowed again but warming up!!
You can add me as another who didn’t know you could eat yarrow leaves. Great post, I fancy a yarrow amulet.
Thanks Janet…so many herbs are full of surprises.
As I was weeding the garden today I found my little yarrows coming back for another year. I love this series that you do, I always learn a lot.
Janet thank you. I really enjoy writing it. My yarrow is popping up too.
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