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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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 yarrow in your garden, it is a fun herb to forage for. The fern-like foliage of yarrow can be spotted in sunny, cleared areas.
It’s also easy to collect yarrow seeds after the flower heads have died, and sow them around your garden.
For more about foraging, see: Foraging for Yarrow: Nature’s Medicine
Here are five reasons why I enjoy growing yarrow in my garden.
1. Yarrow 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 yarrow a nutrient-rich mulch.
Fruit Trees, Mulch & Compost
Because of its ability to fertilize, yarrow 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 its nutrient content.
For more about fruit tree guilds, see: The Cherry Tree Guild and Natural Pest Control.
For more about mulching and fertilizing with herbs, see Mulching in the Garden and Fertilizing the Garden with Herbs.
In a food forest, where edible perennials like tall nut trees have recently been planted, 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 Benefits of the Edible Forest Garden.
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 about contaminated soil.
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. It may take more than one season to remove all of the lead, and regular soil tests are important. Because the leaves may be toxic in lead-contaminated sites, it would be important to NOT use these plants for mulching, medicinal, edible, or craft purposes.
2. Yarrow Attracts Beneficial Insects & Pollinators
Yarrow, with its white, yellow, or pink flowers, attracts many types of pollinators in search of nectar while it blooms 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 refuge for overwintering 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. Yarrow 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, yarrow can be grown as a running ground cover that can handle light foot traffic if it is mowed a few times a year (according to Edible Forest Gardens). Yarrow may not flower if it has been cut, but the beneficial insects will still be able to utilize the foliage for refuge.
4. Yarrow 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. Yarrow is Edible & Crafty
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!
What’s your favorite way to use yarrow?