Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is an attractive, accommodating perennial, which has many practical uses as a medicinal herb and edible plant, as well as being attractive to butterflies, bees and insects.
The white wildflower can be found growing upright or in clumps and enjoys full sun in exposed or sheltered spots, says the UK’s leading plant organisation, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). The tolerant yarrow prefers well-drained soil, but is happy in others, and grows in acidic, neutral or alkaline conditions.
The herbaceous perennial, which grows up to 90cm high and 60cm wide within five years, has cheerful, cream or pink flowers in summer and feathery, segmented green foliage, which is why it is called plumajillo (little feather) in Latin America. Each cluster consists of up to 40 tiny flower heads surrounded by up to eight small petals, which typically bloom in May and June.
The sweet-smelling native species, which is just one of the 42 wildflower species in the Birds and Bees Meadowmat Mix, is perfect for attracting pollinators and is often seen in wildlife or naturalised gardens. Kitchen gardeners use it as a companion plant, as it is popular with predatory wasps, hover-flies and ladybirds that are beneficial against various pests.
Traditional uses for yarrow
Yarrow has been traditionally used to prevent bleeding, which is why it was given the name Achillea, from the mythical Greek Trojan war hero, Achilles. He is reputed to have used yarrow to heal wounded soldiers, which is why the plant is commonly called soldier’s woundwort and thousand seal. It is also known as nosebleed, because the leaves encourage clotting.
Native North American people have many uses for yarrow, and pioneered the use of its stalk to relieve fevers, help against toothache, combat swelling and bruising and treat stomach ache, rashes, haemorrhoids and itching. According to Chinese texts, yarrow boosts intelligence and brightens the eyes. Others use it in tea to find relief from allergies, and it has also been used in the past to flavour beer.
Throughout its history, the yarrow has also been used as a vegetable, as its young leaves can be cooked like spinach and added to soups, and they can also be dried and treated as a herb.
Common yarrow can be propagated by seed or through dividing the root-ball in spring, and is ideal for cut and dried flowers.