Yarrow is a flowering herb with many uses medicinally and in the permaculture garden. Here are 5 reasons why you will benefit from growing yarrow.
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Growing Habits of Yarrow
Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is native to the dry, disturbed soils of prairies, meadows, and the edges of forest in the northern hemisphere. This perennial grows best in hardiness zones 3-9. Like many other prairie plants, its deep, fibrous roots enjoy absorbing water in my rain garden.
It will grow to 36-inches high and produce white flowers. Other varieties produce pink, yellow, red, or orange flowers.
Even if you don’t grow this herb in your garden, it’s a fun herb to forage. You can spot the fern-like foliage in sunny, cleared areas.
It’s easy to collect the seeds after the flower heads have died, so you can sow them around your garden.
For more about foraging, see: Foraging for Yarrow: Nature’s Medicine
5 Reasons to Grow Yarrow
Here are five reasons why I enjoy growing yarrow in my garden.
1. It accumulates nutrients (fertilizer).
Yarrow is a nutrient accumulator. According to Edible Forest Gardens, its deep roots mine the subsoil for potassium, phosphorus, and copper, making it a nutrient-rich mulch.
Grow healthy fruit trees, mulch, and compost.
Because of its ability to fertilize, it is often grown in fruit tree guilds to enhance fruit production.
Yarrow can also be chopped and used as mulch around the garden, or added to the compost bin to boost nutrient content.
For more about fruit tree guilds, see:
For more about mulching and fertilizing with herbs, see:
Create amazing food forests.
In a new food forest it will be important to protect the soil until the trees have matured. A mixed cover crop can be used in this less-visited area to build soil, mine minerals, break up compacted soil, and attract beneficial insects.
In Gaia’s Garden, Toby Hemenway suggests a mixture of the following, which would only need mowed once or twice per year:
For more about food forests, see:
Would you like to learn more about using herbs like yarrow to improve the biodiversity of your garden, reduce maintenance, and increase yield?
You’ll find loads of information just like this in my book, The Suburban Micro-Farm.
Clean up lead contamination.
Yarrow mines copper from the subsoil which is an important micronutrient for plant growth and an essential amendment for acidic soils. According to Gaia’s Garden, however, plants that mine for copper can also concentrate lead if it is present in the soil, “such as along the foundation of old houses where lead-based paint may have weathered”. A simple and inexpensive soil test can inform you whether or not contaminated soil is a concern.
This is why yarrow and many other accumulators of copper and zinc are used to clean up lead-contaminated sites: The lead concentrates in the plants, which are dug up at the end of each season (roots and all) and disposed of. If this is a concern on your site, do not use these plants for mulching, medicinal, edible, or craft purposes.
2. It attracts beneficial insects and pollinators.
The white, yellow, or pink flowers attract many types of pollinators in search of nectar while they bloom summer through early fall.
A wealth of beneficial insects such as lacewings, parasitoid wasps, ground beetles, spiders, ladybugs, and hoverflies find habitat for egg-laying or overwintering refuge in the fern-like foliage.
According to Carrots Love Tomatoes, yarrow emits a pungent odor that repels pests, and is therefore a boon to grow near pest-prone gardens.
Image: Flickr Shihmei Barger
3. It makes a good ground cover.
If left to its own devices, yarrow will grow to about 3-feet high, producing flowers throughout the summer. However, try growing it as a running ground cover. It can handle light foot traffic if it is mowed a few times a year (according to Edible Forest Gardens). It may not flower if it has been cut, but the beneficial insects will still be able to utilize the foliage for refuge.
4. It has medicinal uses.
The flower and the upper portions of leaf and stem have many medicinal uses, making yarrow an important herb to have in your medicinal garden.
According to Homegrown Herbs, the yellow flowers should not be taken internally, such as in teas, tinctures, elixirs, syrup, or honey. Only white or pink flower yarrows should be used for internal medicine. Also be aware that yarrow should not be taken internally by pregnant women.
5. It is edible and useful in crafts.
Individual flowers are edible, and Homegrown Herbs suggests using them for a confetti effect in cookie batter.
The dried cut flowers also make beautiful wreaths and dried bouquets.
Useful or not, yarrow is a joy to have in the garden!
Need more ideas for building soil in the permaculture garden?
Click here to get your 19-page Guide to Organic Soil Amendments!
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What’s your favorite way to use yarrow?