Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is also called "milfoil." It's a flowering ornamental perennial that's often included in butterfly gardens. Different species of yarrow are native to different parts of the world; native species are found in Asia, Europe, and the United States. Because there are so many species and cultivars, it's possible to find yarrow in many different colors.
Growing Yarrow Plants
Yarrow plants can be grown in planting zones 3-8. In other words, they thrive across most of the United States except in extreme climates such as deserts and high mountains. The fact that a particular species and cultivar can grow in your area, however, does not mean that it is native to your area. You may want to check to be sure that the species you've selected is not an invasive that will push out other, local flora.
Once you've selected the particular type of yarrow you'd like to grow, it's helpful to know these facts about caring for your plants.
- Yarrow plants can reach 3' in height with a spread about 2'. These perennial fragrant plants are known for their feathery, fern-like foliage, and flattened flower clusters. Blooming occurs June-September. Flowers come in a variety of colors, including white, yellow, pink or red.
- Yarrow plants grow best in full sun and in well-drained soil, but they will tolerate clayey soil better than many plants. They are drought-tolerant once established.
- Yarrow plants are especially popular as edging plants and in rock gardens. As a deer-resistant perennial, they are useful in deer control. They also make for a good cut flower.
- Yarrow plants should be staked, or else you may find the stems flopped down on the ground after high winds. Trim plants back after flowering to encourage additional blooms. Dividing every other year or so promotes good air circulation, cutting down on problems with powdery mildew.
- Yarrow plants spread by rhizomes and have been known to naturalize. They are considered somewhat invasive plants.
Medicinal Uses for Yarrow Plants: Achillea as a Herb
Yarrow has been used as a medicinal plant for centuries. According to Botanical.com, a tea made from this plant "is a good remedy for severe colds, being most useful in the commencement of fevers, and in cases of obstructed perspiration."
The genus name, Achillea derives from Greek mythology. Achilles, the hero of Homer's "Iliad," had been a student of Chiron, the centaur renowned for his knowledge of medicinal herbs. Yarrow plants were highly regarded at the time for their medicinal properties. Yarrow plants were widely used prior to modern times to stanch blood.
Achilles, no doubt, didn't forget the lessons he learned from Chiron. In leading the Greeks against Troy in the bloody Trojan War, Achilles and his men would have had frequent occasion to use yarrow plants to treat their wounds. The association between Achilles and this miraculous herb stuck. But Greek mythology was rarely satisfied by such associations and preferred to tell a tale, instead. So according to legend, yarrow plants owe their very origin to Achilles: they were supposed to have sprung from some metal scrapings off the great warrior's spear!
Meanwhile, the specific epithet, millefolium (thus the common name, "milfoil") means thousand-leafed and derives from yarrow plants' deeply toothed, fern-like foliage.