Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

August 2019

YarrowAchillea millefolium, commonly known as yarrow or milfoil is native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere in Asia, Europe, and North America. It can be common in a variety of soil types, both wet and dry, along roadsides, meadows, forests, fields and coastal areas.

Native American tribes in New Mexico and southern Colorado have called yarrow plumajillo (Spanish for ‘little feather’) from its leaf shape and texture. Yarrow was used for a variety of ailments including applying crushed leaves to wounds and burns, as a tea to soothe colds, fevers and headaches. It was reportedly used in Europe to brew beer since the middle ages and considered good luck by some Chinese cultures.

Yarrow can have one to several stems extending 0.2–1 m (0.66–3.28 ft) in height. Although the flowers of horticultural varieties can vary in color, the native flowers are generally pink to white and often arranged in flattened disc-like clusters at the top of a long stem. The 5–20 cm (2.0–7.9 in) long leaves are distributed spirally along the stem, with the leaves near the middle and bottom of the stem being the largest. The leaves can be “feathery” in appearance, botanically described as bipinnate or tripinnate. When pollinated, the flowers produce a profusion of tiny achene-like seeds that look like minuscule sunflower seeds.

Yarrow is a versatile and valuable plant used in native plant restoration efforts and great for landscaping. It is drought tolerant, spreads rhizomatously, grows in a variety of soils, flowers prolifically and serves as a host plant to a wide variety of wildlife. The leaves and stems are used as food by a long list of insects and mammals, the flowers attract a variety of pollinators and the “fluffy” leaves are reportedly used as nesting material by some birds. When managed properly, yarrow has been used as a drought tolerant replacement for turf grass lawns or, in the right conditions, it will form dense lush-looking patches bearing long stalks with large fragrant flower clusters. It can be grown from seed or by dividing root clusters. Yarrow does spread, which can be good or bad depending on the long-term plan for where it is planted.