When I was a young girl, I loved to roam through our local forest collecting wildflowers in the summer, trying to see what colors I could find in a given afternoon. One of my favorite discoveries was always common yarrow (Achillea millefolium). I loved the feathery feel of the leaves and the perfect little miniature flowers that formed a crown. I knew it was considered a commonplace weed, but it didn’t stop me from poking a few sprigs into my country bouquets.
I didn’t foresee that I would actually try to cultivate yarrow in my garden much later. And that it would become a popular complement to floral arrangements, much like baby’s breath or Queen Anne’s lace, essentially the same thing I used yarrow for in my childhood nosegays. I also hadn’t a clue that yarrow was far more functional than pretty whitish-pink flowers with silvery green leaves stuck in a jar. This simple little plant had an abundance of secrets to share with me.
Yarrow’s dozen or so synonyms might give one a guess to its many uses. These include thousand weed, staunchweed, old man’s pepper, soldier’s woundwort, carpenter’s weed, bloodwart and nose bleed.
Yarrow’s most widespread function is to stop bleeding, which it is still used for today. It is said that Achilles used the plant to arrest the bleeding of his soldiers’ wounds—thus the name of the genus, Achillea, was derived. Seasoned hikers are usually aware of the blood-clotting and antimicrobial benefits of applying yarrow to their cuts. Yarrow may be applied directly, or used in a salve or poultice for minor cuts and wounds.
Yarrow has also been used as a remedy for cold and early fever, due to its diaphoretic properties. A tea may be prepared by steeping 1 teaspoon of dried yarrow in 1 cup of boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes. Drink 3 cups per day.
The herb has also gained notoriety for its anti-inflammatory abilities. Thus it has been used for a number of conditions, from intestinal and female reproductive tract inflammations to hemorrhoids. Aside from these major applications, yarrow was used for a hodgepodge of maladies, including baldness, urinary tract infections, hypertension, and dysentery. It was even an ingredient in salads and beer over the years.
Growing yarrow is sometimes too easy, as it tends to take over a plot. It creeps along via its root system, while simultaneously reseeding itself. This perennial grows in the wild throughout Europe, Asia, and North America, especially among meadows, pastures, and ditches. Yarrow prefers ordinary soil and a fair amount of sunshine. Varieties of yarrow grow up to 4 feet in height. It blooms from June through September in shades of white or pale lilac-pink. Ornamental yellow and red varieties are available for the garden.
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