Yarrow, or milfoil (Achillea millefolium), is a perennial herb that seems like the shy one in the garden. However, it’s named after the Greek god Achilles, and yarrow is deserving of its name. This powerful medicinal plant is a valuable first aid plant that’s found in many gardens, and since it’s tolerant of most weather conditions, it’s easy to grow successfully even if you’re a first time gardener. The lovely, fern-like leaves of the yarrow plant will stay green and vigorous when other plants are wilting in the summer’s drought.
Starting and Planting Yarrow
Yarrow likes the sun but can tolerate some shade. It’s very tolerant of different weather conditions and is a perennial. Plant yarrow in any soil except very wet ones. Collect the seed and spread it in the garden, or take the easy route, collecting and transplanting a clump of yarrow in the spring or fall.
Like many useful plants such as mint and comfrey, yarrow can be invasive. It is small, but it spreads, and it spreads via its roots. Its root system form mats that make it hard to remove from your garden. It is a good candidate for an enclosed area of your garden. Some people also use this tough, matting plant as an alternative groundcover, since it’s quite tolerant of traffic. If you have a pathway that could use some green, use it between or around the rocks.
Allow yarrow to flower in your garden. Its white flowers are small, but beneficial insects love them. Plant it close to other vegetables so that it acts as a pollinator magnet. It also attracts predatory insects. Lacewings love to lay their eggs on yarrow, and these flying insects are voracious pest-munchers in your garden.
Yarrow leaves and flowers are useful in a number of different ways. Eat the young leaves in salads, or lightly steam the leaves as a spinach substitute. Like common plantain, yarrow leaves are also a useful and common part of your everyday first aid kit. You can also use the leaves as a poultice to speed the healing of wounds and stings. But yarrow isn’t all serious: historically, the leaves were even used as an alternative beer flavoring! Harvest yarrow leaves one by one, and use them soon after harvesting. If you need to store them, put them in a cool place. Some people are sensitive to yarrow leaves, so as with all herbs, try a tiny amount to make sure that yarrow doesn’t bother you.
At the end of the season when the leaves are not as tender, use yarrow leaves as a natural fertilizer. Soak the leaves in water to create a natural liquid fertilizer. Yarrow leaves are also useful in the compost. Like comfrey, yarrow is a dynamic accumulator, which means that it draws in many nutrients like potassium and phosphorus. When yarrow breaks down, these nutrients become available to other plants.
Types of Yarrow
Common yarrow is a feathery-leafed plant that grows up to 3 feet tall, and it has small and subtle yellow or white flowers. However, there are also showier cultivars that now grow flowers in purple, pink, and red. There are also other yarrow species that have slightly different foliage or growth habits. Achillea filipendulina has delicate leaves and yellow flowers, while Achillea x lewisii is a dwarf yarrow that makes an ideal groundcover.
Yarrow is a sturdy plant that’s a stalwart part of your modern herbal medicine cabinet. It’s useful in so many different ways, and it can be a natural fertilizer or a part of your dinner salad. This herb is easy to grow, and since it’s also easy to harvest and use you’ll enjoy having it as a member of your growing herb garden.