Common yarrow is an easy-to-care-for flowering perennial. Here we will introduce you to this native plant and give tips on planting it in your own green space.
Common yarrow has been an integral part of every monastery pharmacy for hundreds of years. Read on for our guide to this medicinal plant with tips on how and where to grow your own.
Common yarrow: flower, origin and characteristics
Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium), sometimes also referred to as devil’s nettle, lace plant or nose pepper, belongs to the daisy family (Asteraceae). It is probably the best known of all the yarrow species and is valued as a medicinal and bee-friendly plant. It is widespread across Europe, North America and Asia and is often found along woodland edges, fields, riversides and dry meadows.
This hardy perennial can reach a height of up to 80 cm. The fine, aromatic yarrow leaves are elongated and split into two to three pinnate parts and arranged alternately on the stem. Common yarrow is also called “thousand leaf” because of its delicate foliage. Yarrow flowers appear between June and August, though pruning after the first flowering can extend this period through to October.
The umbel-shaped flowerheads edged with white, pink, orange or red ray florets are particularly attractive to hoverflies and other pollinators. Although yarrow flowers contain comparatively low levels of nectar and pollen, the extended flowering period provides pollinators with food well into late summer. In autumn, the long, brown yarrow seeds, so-called “achene fruits”, ripen and eventually fall to the ground. While wild forms of yarrow spread through underground root runners, other types will grow densely in the same spot year after year.
Planting common yarrow: in a tub or in the garden?
Yarrow plants thrive in sunny locations with slightly acidic to neutral, well-drained and humus-rich soil. Plant either between October and the end of November, or in early spring from March onwards. When planting in spring ensure that the plant gets plenty of water. As the young plants have very few roots at that stage, they rely on extra watering, especially in summer.
Many yarrow varieties grow in large clumps about 40 to 50 cm wide, so it is important to keep a plant spacing of at least 45 cm. We recommend planting four to six of these perennials per square metre.
Yarrow can be planted both in beds and in pots. A high-quality, nutrient-rich potting soil, such as our Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost, is suitable for planting in a balcony box or pot. Our compost is peat free and sustainably produced in Germany. Make sure the planter has good water drainage – a layer (roughly 5 to 10 cm high) of gravel, sand or expanded clay will prevent waterlogging and root rot in the pot. When transplanting, plant the yarrow as deep as they were in their original pot.
- Perfect for all your house, garden & balcony plants
- For strong & healthy plants as well as an active soil life
- Peat-free & organic soil: CO2-saving composition
Yarrow is an extremely low-maintenance flowering perennial. Pruning is done in late autumn when the plant wilts above ground, or alternatively the following spring when new shoots appear. By leaving the dead flowers and stems on the plant over the winter, you can provide the plant with an extra level of protection against frost and severe sub-zero temperatures. Many varieties bloom more than once in a season, so if you cut your yarrow flowers back straight after the initial flowering, a second flower may form in October. Yarrows rarely need fertilising, an application of mature compost or organic slow-release fertiliser in spring is usually plenty.
When growing yarrow in containers, it is important to provide good winter protection. While the plant is hardy, if the root ball is allowed to freeze completely the plant will suffer and may die. An insulation of coniferous branches, fleece or jute around the pot protects the sensitive roots from sub-zero temperatures.
Is yarrow poisonous?
Yarrow is not poisonous, either to humans or pets like cats and dogs. Guinea pigs and rabbits quite enjoy eating yarrow in dried form as hay. While yarrow is not toxic for horses, they do, however, tend to avoid eating it wild from the pasture. Animals can have different tolerance levels to concentrated extracts and tinctures, so always consult your vet for advice.
Common yarrow: uses and medicinal properties
Both yarrow flowers and yarrow leaves have essential oils that have an antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory effect. Historically, the plant was used to treat inflammations and soldier’s wounds. Externally, extracts, ointments or pure yarrow oil are used to support wound healing, skin inflammations and menstrual cramps. Internally, yarrow tinctures and teas have a similar effect to chamomile (Matricaria) for loss of appetite and stomach cramps. As yarrow can cause allergic skin reactions on people with sensitive skin, it is generally recommended that you consult a doctor before using yarrow treatments.
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is another of our native wild plants with healing properties. Learn all about this bee-friendly medicinal plant in our comfrey guide.