O happy Garden! whose seclusion deep
Hath been so friendly to industrious hours;
And to soft slumbers, that did gently steep
Our spirits, carrying with them dreams of flowers,
And wild notes warbled among leafy bowers;
Two burning months let summer overleap,
And, coming back with Her who will be ours,
Into thy bosom we again shall creep.
Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, has become one of my most cherished herbs in the garden. In my mind, I categorize it as an “old plant”: one that has a long and rich history and seems unchanged by horticulture. I never consider a plant like an orchid an “old plant” because humans have altered the species in so many ways. Yarrow is simple, faithful, dependable and quietly noble. The reading and research done for this plant was pure enjoyment for me. My old books came out, every book had a reference – I was in book/herb heaven!
The names given to the plant were the best part of the research; Bad Man’s Plaything, Carpenter’s Weed, Death Flower, Devil’s Nettle, Eerie, Knight’s Milfoil, Military Herb, Soldier’s Woundwort, Nosebleed, Old Man’s Mustard, Sanguinary, Seven Year’s Love, Snake’s Grass, Thousand Seal, Sneezewort….there were a few more but I kept my favorites here.
Yarrow is said to have been used for healing on the battlefield by the Greek warrior, Achilles, by the Native Americans who call it a “life medicine”, and by the Chinese for divination. In fact, the “50 wooden sticks” mentioned in the I Ching are actually yarrow sticks. (I know nothing about Chinese divination so I’ll post the link and stop with that!)
There are many references to yarrow being used by the Druids and in several love spells. One spell said that if you hung it over your bed it would ensure 7 years of love. Scott Cunningham’s book “The Complete Book of Incense, Oils & Brews” calls it “One of the true treasures of the Earth”.
“Thou pretty herb of Venus’ tree
Thy true name it is yarrow
Now who my bosom friend must be?
Pray tell thou me tomorrow”
~an old spell found in “Mastering Herbalism” by Paul Hason
Its historical uses are not much different from the current ones; fever, skin ailments, arthritis, blood clotting, bruises, menstruation, circulation, varicose veins, high blood pressure, etc. It contains chemicals that aid blood flow as far as I can tell. I’m no doctor so I’ll go easy on its medicinal business. I can say, however, that if I’m having a difficult time of it during my time of the month, all I have to do is waltz outside, cut off a flower head, steep it warm water for a nice cup of tea…and I feel better. It also makes you pee a lot, which I assume explains why it may ease high blood pressure. I usually mix it with another tea, like Jasmine, for flavor. It doesn’t taste bad by itself, kind of like hay or grass…herby!
In the garden, it survives well, needs lots of sun, not a lot of water, and blooms most of the year here in San Diego. It enjoys being cut so don’t let it get too leggy. Deadheading will keep you in tea and keep the plant healthy and bushy. Also, Peanut likes to take naps in it.
All of my yarrow is yellow and from one original plant that I separated 6 months ago. It’s a perennial with a creeping rhizome. The leaves are soft, ferny, feathery. It works well as a dried herb in flower arrangements and seems to last forever in a vase with water.
My favorite thing about the plant though, is that no matter where it grows, it adds a sunny glow of happiness to its corner.