Plant of the Week
Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
By Edna Rey-Vizgirdas, Forest Botanist, Boise National Forest
Common yarrow or milfoil is a plant that’s familiar to hikers as well as gardeners. A member of the aster or composite family (Asteraceae), yarrow has flat-topped or dome-shaped clusters of small white flowers that bloom from April to October. An attractive, hardy perennial, yarrow can reach about 3 feet in height. Its aromatic, fine, feathery-cut leaves give the plant a soft, fern-like appearance.
Yarrow has a circumboreal distribution. It is found throughout North America from the coast to alpine zone, as well as in Europe and Asia. The genus Achillea was named after Achilles, who used plant extracts to treat soldiers’ wounds in the battle of Troy. The name milfoil comes from its Latin name “millefolium” meaning “a thousand leaves”.
Cultivated varieties with white, yellow, gold, pink, or red flowers are staples in home gardens throughout the world. Yarrow attracts butterflies, bees and other insects, making it a nice addition to a pollinator garden. This species can become weedy, however, since it spreads readily and tolerates disturbance.
Numerous tribes in North America used yarrow for a variety of ailments. The crushed plant was applied to wounds and burns. The dried leaves were used as a tea to soothe colds, fever, and headache. Yarrow beer has been brewed in Europe since the middle ages. The Chinese considered yarrow plants to be good luck. Even Lewis and Clark were acquainted with yarrow. It was collected during the Lewis and Clark Expedition while they were camped near Kamiah, Idaho in May 1806.
Fragrant bouquets of yarrow brighten many of our nation’s forests and grasslands. Next time you meet a yarrow plant, you’ll be connecting with a rich history of cultures around the world!