Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is a hardy perennial that grows just about anywhere it can get good drainage and full sun. It has long, feathery leaves that clasp the angular stem at the base. It is a bit hairy.
Flowers appear in mid-spring and continue through to autumn. They are very small, look like miniature daisies and appear in terminal clusters. They are usually white or lilac, but there are varieties in many different colors available including yellow and deep burgundy.
It can be confused with Queen Anne’s Lace or wild carrot, but the flowers are thicker- not as lacy- and the clusters are not so umbrella-like. The leaves are also quite different, Yarrow leaves are more finely divided and Queen Anne’s Lace is hairier.
Yarrow is also somewhat similar to Water Hemlock, which is very toxic, though water hemlock grows in wetter, shadier areas and tends to be larger and shaggier in appearance.
Hogweed is another similar plant that does grow in similar areas but is considerably larger. Hogweed can cause severe dermatological reactions and should never be handled. Make sure you know what hemlock and hogweed look like as well as yarrow before you go wild harvesting.
Here is a video comparing Yarrow, Queen Anne’s Lace and water hemlock https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2crsRwitTNQ
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Yarrow is a hardy grower and spreads on underground shoots into thick clumps. It is resistant to drought and easily reseeds itself, coming back year after year in greater numbers.
It is a good plant to use where soil erosion may be a problem, or where you can’t get anything else to grow. Chances are if you have a wild, grassy area of your yard, it’s already growing there.
It can be propagated from seed, though they are slow to germinate and may not even germinate the first year. It needs light to germinate, so don’t bury your seeds. Otherwise, you can use division or cuttings.
It prefers light soil with good drainage and full sun, though it’s very flexible. It does best in zones 3-8, but again, is very flexible. If the soil is very rich, plants may become very tall and fall over, so staking may be necessary.
Growing yarrow in the presence of other herbs increases those herbs essential oil content, enhancing growth and general health.
Yarrow is susceptible to mildew and attracts bees and wasps.
Traditionally, you’re supposed to harvest yarrow on Midsummer’s day for magical use. If you’re not worried about it, harvest it just as the flowers open.
It should be harvested early in the day after the dew has dried. Cut the stalks about halfway down and hang upside down to dry.
Harvest the youngest leaves as they emerge for eating.
History and Folklore
It is said that the Trojan War hero Achilles was taught by Chiron the centaur to use Yarrow to treat the wounds of his soldiers. For centuries soldiers carried yarrow in war for this reason.
One story says that the plant originally grew from rust that he scraped from his spear. The botanical name translates as “Achilles’ thousand leaved herb”.
Yarrow also has a reputation in Asia. It is said to grow around the grave of Confucius and it is said in China that yarrow brightens the eyes and promotes intelligence.
In other Asian tradition, it is said that where yarrow grows, one need not fear wild beasts or poisonous plants.
During the middle ages, yarrow was purported to be able to assist in both summoning the devil and driving him away. It was used in complicated Christian exorcism rituals.
Pollen from yarrow was found in a 60,000 (or more) year old Neanderthal burial.
In the Victorian language of flowers, Yarrow can mean both war and healing.
Harvesting & Storage
Pick young leaves as they appear for eating. Flower heads can be picked in full bloom and hung upside down to dry.
Yarrow keeps its color and shape well when dried and looks great in arrangements.
Add Yarrow leaves to your compost pile to get it going.
Yarrow is associated with Aphrodite, Hermes, the Horned God, and the hero Achilles. It is ruled by Venus and the element water and is associated with the seventh chakra.
Yarrow essence can be used as a general aura cleanser and strengthener providing strong, general protection for the personal energy field during divination, astral projection or just everyday life.
Yarrow is used for divination and love spells and in spells for contacting or seeking out a specific person.
The stalks are traditionally used for casting the I Ching and the flowers can be added to dream pillows to encourage prophetic dreams.
Rubbing your eyelids with yarrow is said to enhance psychic abilities. It can be used in incense or oil to cleanse the aura, and for divination. Yarrow tea can also be drunk prior to divination, and to help the mind focus on a specific issue, or avoid distractions.
Especially useful for psychic communication with a loved one and, when in times of strife, can help you and your loved one see things from each others’ point of view.
Hanging a bunch of yarrow over the bed on the wedding night is supposed to ensure lasting love for seven years. Adding it to the bouquet or garlands worn by the bride or groom serves the same effect.
Back in the day, hanging a bunch of yarrow over a cradle was said to protect a baby from witches trying to steal its soul.
It is used also as a charm for pregnant women; keep it on the right side for easy labor.
Yarrow strewn across a threshold will prevent unhelpful spirits from entering.
Yarrow can be used in sachets for love, courage, communication and psychic abilities.
Some from the vaults…
Eastern European- Tickle the inside of your nose with the leaves saying-
”Yarroway, Yarroway, bear a white blow,”
”If my love love me, my nose will bleed now.”
European- Stuff a pouch of red flannel with Yarrow repeating the following words to get a vision of your future spouse in your dreams. If you dream of cabbages, however, it means death or misfortune.
”Thou pretty herb of Venus’ tree,”
”Thy true name it is Yarrow;”
”Now who my bosom friend must be,”
”Pray tell thou me to-morrow.”
(In this case, the yarrow must be picked from the grave of a man who had died young)
”Yarrow, sweet Yarrow, the first I have found,”
”In the name of Jesus Christ, I pluck it from the ground.”
”As Jesus loved sweet Mary and took her for his dear,”
”So in a dream this night,”
”I hope my true love will appear.”
Yarrow intensifies the work of other herbs and helps the body rid itself of toxins.
Yarrow tea should be given at the first sign of a cold or flu, especially if there is a fever present. It is also good for measles and similar diseases. (Anything involving fevers & spots) One ounce dried leaves to one pint boiling water. Externally, an ointment made with yarrow can be applied or (better) use it in a steam bath for both headaches and fever.
Ointments and oils made with yarrow or the essential oil of yarrow are also useful for mild abrasions and bruises, as anti-inflammatory, chest rubs to relieve congestion and for muscle aches and arthritis. Combine with other herbs for enhanced effect. (thyme, eucalyptus, peppermint, and hyssop are good).
It causes sweating and helps break fevers. It’s also used as a general blood purifier, as it increases urination as well as causing sweating, both of which help the body get rid of toxins.
Fresh bruised leaves or powdered dried leaves may be used as a styptic. I’m not sure which works best. Comments on this would be appreciated.
Taken internally, it helps hemorrhage, reduces excessive menstrual bleeding, and eases painful menstruation. For menstrual issues, make a decoction in white wine.
As with all herbs used for menstrual issues, pregnant women should not use yarrow.
For hemorrhage, combine with comfrey and/or Plantago.
A decoction of Yarrow is useful for hemorrhoids, especially when they bleed.
Yarrow is also useful for those with allergies, both topical and internal and for those with asthma. Inhale the steam for asthma. Use an infusion of fresh flowers to relieve symptoms or as a wash for topical symptoms and eczema. Also good for acne. Use 1 cup dried flower heads to two cups boiling water. Let steep 10 minutes covered. Pat onto the skin with a clean cloth.
Fresh leaves can be chewed to relieve toothaches.
Rinsing the hair with yarrow water is said to prevent hair loss, but does not help once it starts.
Alcoholic extracts of yarrow have stopped sperm production in laboratory mice.
Prolonged use of yarrow can cause photo sensitivity.
People who are allergic to ragweed may find themselves allergic to yarrow. Use appropriate caution.
Pregnant women should not use yarrow internally
Leaves can be added to salads. They are much better cooked. Add to soups and stews. It is apparently also quite good fried.
Use young leaves for eating; the older it gets, the stronger and more bitter the flavor.
The flowers can be used instead of hops to brew beer. Linnaeus believed beer made this way was more intoxicating.
2 thoughts on “Yarrow: Folklore, Healing & Magical Attributes”
Hi thanks for the great info! There may be a spelling error above––Charon is the ferryman across the river Styx; CHIRON is the centaur who taught Achilles and many others. Happy spring
Oh my gosh is my face red. Thanks for looking out.