There are many herbs that can catapult the success of our gardens. Yarrow is one of those herbs. It’s a medicinal powerhouse and has many uses in the permaculture garden. Here are 5 reasons to grow yarrow in your garden.
This page may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more info.
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.
It grows 36-inches high and produces white flowers. Other varieties produce pink, yellow, red, or orange flowers. Like many other prairie plants, its deep, fibrous roots enjoy absorbing water in my rain garden.
In fact, my first experience growing yarrow was adding it to my rain garden. See: How to Build a Rain Garden to Capture Runoff
I was impressed with the cheerfulness of the flowers, the roots’ hardiness to push through the clay soil, and the number of pollinators landing on the flat flower tops or seeking shelter in the fern-like foliage.
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.
5 Reasons to Grow Yarrow
Here are five reasons why I enjoy growing yarrow in my garden.
1. Yarrow may accumulate nutrients.
According to this USDA database, yarrow’s deep roots mine the subsoil for potassium, calcium, and magnesium. And according to sources like Gaia’s Garden and Edible Forest Gardens, yarrow may also mine for phosphorus and copper, making it a potentially nutrient-rich mulch.
We don’t have a lot of scientific data about these nutrient accumulators. For example, does the plant make the nutrients available to the soil if used as a mulch? While the jury is still out, my food gardens seem healthier when yarrow is grown in them.
Using yarrow as a potential fertilizer is just one of many ways we can “stack the deck” toward a thriving, healthy garden. Perhaps not every experiment will yield the result we’re looking for, but with a richness of plant diversity comes a rich gardening experience. I buy these yarrow seeds.
Tired of generic permaculture design advice that you can’t apply to your specific goals? If so, check out my Permaculture Design Program and get the tools and support needed to create and implement your own permaculture design.
Grow healthy fruit trees. Create healthy mulch and compost.
Because of its potential ability to fertilize, grow yarrow under fruit trees to enhance fruit production. You can also chop and use it as mulch around the vegetable garden, or add it 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, you’ll want to protect the soil until the trees have matured and begin to provide shade. 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 the following mix that includes yarrow, mowing just once or twice per year:
For more about food forests, see:
Where lead contamination in soil is a concern, yarrow may help with the clean up.
Yarrow may mine 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 soil test can determine if 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 who prefer umbel-shaped flowers for nectar collection.
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, so you might consider growing it near pest-prone gardens.
3. Yarrow makes a good ground cover.
If left to its own devices, yarrow grows to about three feet high, producing flowers throughout the summer.
You can also grow it as a running ground cover, mowing it a few times a year. Light foot traffic is okay, though you may not get flowers. However, the beneficial insects can 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. In fact, it is one of my top wild herbs to grow in my backyard pharmacy.
A yarrow tea can help to reduce a fever and a yarrow poultice can calm the inflammation and soreness of a bruise.
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. Yarrow should not be taken internally by pregnant women.
5. Yarrow 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.
Yarrow is simply a joy to have in the garden!
What’s your favorite reason to grow yarrow?