An herbaceous plant that is native to regions of Asia, Europe, and brought to North America, Achillea millefolium is a hardy plant that has a variety of uses and can make a wonderful addition to have in the garden.
What is Yarrow?
Achillea millefolium, also known as gordaldo, nosebleed plant, hold man’s pepper, devil’s nettle, or more commonly, yarrow, is a flowering plant belonging to the Asteraceae family. This plant is seen all across the United States in meadows and prairies and has become a popular presence in gardens. Through hybridization processes, this once plain wildflower now comes in vibrant colors, producing yellow, orange, pink, and purple flowers during the blooming season.
While some may associate the yarrow plant with weeds, this herb actually has many benefits to gardeners from nutrient hoarding to medicinal uses. A sturdy plant that is easy to grow and reseeds quickly, yarrow is something that can be seamlessly incorporated into any garden.
What Does Yarrow Look Like?
Yarrow plants look different at various stages of its life cycle. When it first begins to sprout from the ground, it will resemble narrow, fluffy, fern-like leaves. This is where one of its nicknames, plumajillo or little-feather, comes from.
This plant flowers between summer and early fall and can reach heights of nearly 3 feet tall. As you make your way up the stem of a yarrow plant, you will notice that leaves are alternate which means they are located at slightly different heights on the stem. Branches will only appear at the top of this plant and will be topped with clusters of flower heads that are compacted with 20-25 flowers on each head. Yarrows found in the wild will have ray flowers (similar to petals) that are white with hints of pink or yellow. Any other varieties are hybrid forms and should not be used medicinally.
Where to Buy Yarrow?
You can find yarrow at local nurseries or online retailers. A great online resource to check is the Native Seed Network site that specializes in identifying native seed vendors in your area.
What is Yarrow Used for?
With herbs and plants holding so many varying functions, you may be tempted to ask, so what is Achillea millefolium used for? Yarrow can be used in diverse ways from ornamental or medicinal to culinary to practical garden uses.
Yarrow makes a great crafting tool for anyone looking to diversify their home decor with natural additions. The dried and cut flowers can be turned into beautiful bouquets and wreaths to keep around the house. Crushed yarrow can also be used as a potpourri because the foliage of yarrows release a pleasant smell when grinded.
Originally, yarrow plants were used for medicinal purposes. This herb was used to treat fevers, hemorrhaging, stomach disorders, and regulating menstrual cycles. Its strong antibacterial properties makes it a powerful aid in treating and staunching wounds as well as treating external illnesses such as the common cold or urinary tract infections. Its astringent characteristics promote quick healing and also works as a remedy for diarrhea. This herb also contains compounds that mimic hormones to regulate menstrual cycles while treating bloating and aiding digestion with its diuretic capabilities as a bitter tonic.
Yarrow is typically used to make teas. The leaves, stems and flowers can be used to brew healing concoctions that provide many benefits to the body. Beyond use in drinks, the individual flowers in the clusters are edible and can be used for a variety of baking, for example, creating confetti effects in cookie dough batter.
Practical Garden Uses
Deep roots, fragrant flowers, and tall stems make yarrow a pleasure for many gardeners to have in their backyards. This plant mines for minerals like potassium, calcium, magnesium, copper, and phosphorus, creating nutrient-rich environments for plants to thrive in.
While it mines for helpful nutrients, it may also help rid soil of contaminants like lead. This is because plants that mine for copper typically also concentrate supplies of lead if it is present in the dirt.
Bright flowers and tall stems not only attract many types of beneficial insects and pollinators but also provide good ground cover. This not only gives pollinators a steady supply of nectar but also refuge for winters or habitats for reproducing.
Is Yarrow Poisonous to Humans?
In rare cases, yarrow can cause severe allergic reactions in humans when touched leading to rashes. Make sure to consult a doctor if you notice any changes in the appearance of skin or increased itchiness. Those that consistently use yarrow can also develop an increase in their skin’s photosensitivity. This means becoming more sensitive to the sun or other sources of light leading to higher risks of sunburns or skin damage.
How to Make Yarrow Tea
Making yarrow tea is an easy and effective natural remedy or relaxation method. Simply add half a cup of dried or fresh yarrow and infuse with boiling hot water for 30 minutes. Stick to using only white or pink flowers. After steeping, feel free to add sweeteners like maple syrup or honey to make the tea less bitter.
How to Grow Yarrow
Yarrow is usually propagated and purchased as a plant but can be grown from seeds as well. Yarrow seeds need to be planted before the end of winter. You can sow seeds in normal soil and leave it in a sunny spot until they germinate around two to three weeks later. Plants need to be in well-drained soil and spaced a few feet apart.
What Conditions does Achillea like? You’ll be happy to know that this is a low maintenance plant that is extremely drought tolerant. Keep these plants in full sunlight. These plants do not like soggy roots so only water if it receives less than an inch of rainwater a week. Prune as needed to keep the flowers in continual bloom and stems from flopping over.
When Does Yarrow Bloom?
You will find that active growing times for yarrow occurs in the spring with flower blooms coming in between May and June.
Is Yarrow an Annual or Perennial?
Yarrow is a perennial herb and can come back aggressively as it reseeds easily.
Where Does Yarrow Grow Best?
Yarrow plants do best in areas with plenty of sunlight and low-moisture soil. Other than that, these herbs are capable of surviving in diverse environments which is why they are found in every state and common sights in butterfly and xeriscape gardens.
How to Harvest Yarrow?
Yarrow should be harvested throughout the summer at the height of flowering. Make sure to pick plants that look healthy that are in full or near full bloom and to harvest on a sunny day after dew has evaporated but before essential oils have dissipated. Wear gloves to limit chances of contact dermatitis and use shears for precise cuts. You will want to cut the yarrow plant at the stem about 2 inches above the ground.
Is Yarrow Invasive?
This aggressive growing plant can cause people to wonder about its origins. Is Achillea millefolium invasive? Nutrient rich environments can encourage invasive spreading of this plant, but this is easily controlled with proper care.
Now that you’re aware of this simple beauty, you will be able to spot and appreciate it the next time you see it complimenting someone’s garden or growing openly in natural landscapes.
Eric Vinje founded Planet Natural with his father Wayne in 1991, originally running it as a grasshopper bait mail-order business out of a garage.
Eric is now retired, but is still a renowned gardener known for his expertise in composting, organic gardening and pest control, utilizing pesticide-free options, such as beneficial insects.
Eric believes when you do something good for the environment, the effects will benefit generations to come.