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.
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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.
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.
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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:
- Mulching in the Permaculture Garden
- Fertilizing the Garden with Herbs (@ Herbal Academy)
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.
Yarrow has many first aid uses such as stopping bleeding, or as a general first aid remedy for calming and healing rashes, bug bites, bee stings, cuts, and burns.
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?
Milissa Cheves says
Hi. Thanks so much for your blog. It has been a great resource since I found you.
I recently bought a yarrow plant. It has started to bloom, but it neither yellow, white or pink. It think it may be paprika yarrow. Do you think it still has the same medicinal properties?
Thanks and Blessings.
You’re right – paprika yarrow is a dark orange color. There are some pretty red yarrows, too. I didn’t mention the orange and red varieties because I couldn’t find any information about their beneficial (or not) properties.
It couldn’t hurt to use the paprika variety as a fertilizer, but I can’t be sure about its medicinal properties.
My guess is that these two varieties were bred more for aesthetics, and may not have some of the medicinal/fertilizer properties of the other varieties, but I don’t have any evidence to support this either way.
I did try growing the paprika variety a few years ago (so pretty!), but it died in its first year. It wasn’t quite as adaptive to my environment as the yellow type that I grow. Could have been a coincidence.
Good question – if you find out more info, please share 🙂
Only white yarrow should be used medicinally ❤ http://www.wisewomantradition.com/healingwise/2011/03/safe-or-toxic-yarrow.html
I grow the white Yarrow mainly to stop bleeding](I bleed profusely). The yellow makes lovely dried flower arrangements.
Faithmary Madzvimbo says
My favourite reason to grow yarrow is that of nutrient accumulation, and that it’s medicinal
Good article. I have white yarrow growing next to my driveway and while it gets a bit intrusive I’m blessed with a neighbor who enjoys it as much as I do. I use it mostly in potpourri as it has a scent that doesn’t give me a headache after a hour or so.
It’s amazing how prolific many herbs are. Thank goodness for good neighbors 🙂
Angi @ SchneiderPeeps says
Great information, Amy! I just planted a yarrow plant yesterday on a whim. Now I’m glad I did!
Gwen Monroe says
I have an abundance of yarrow that an elderly lady gave me years ago. It multiples. Has white flowers. She told me it is good medicine but I never knew how fortunate I am to have this plant until I read your post. I often thought of getting rid of it because its so invasive but couldn’t because of my love of the woman who shared it and now I’m so glad I didn’t! Thank you!
I rub it all over my skin when I am out foraging, it keeps the bugs away, makes a great mosquito repellent when mixed with oil.
Was curious to what SueAnne says (May 21st/15) Re: mosquito repellent…do you mix the flower heads or the whole plant with oil? and what oil works best? thanks!
The flowers, leaves, and tops of the stems are the most effective parts to use. This recipe looks like a good one, though I haven’t tried it.
Hi, I love your site! My mom gave me some yarrow a few years ago that I planted beside my garage. I never knew what to do with it so thank you for this info. can you tell my why yellow yarrow can not be taken internally? Why is it different than white and pink? Can it still be used externally?
Tammi Hartung, the herbalist who wrote the book Homegrown Herbs, stated that yellow yarrow is different from the other varieties as far as medicinal uses. I have no idea why. I tried verifying this with other herbalists, but haven’t heard back. It’s certainly better to be safe than sorry, which is why I included the warning here.
I would like to know, too. If you find out why, please share 🙂
UPDATE: Through my membership at The Herbarium, I was able to ask a panel of professional herbalists about the difference between white/pink yarrow and yellow, or other colors of yarrow.
Here is what I found out: Because white and pink yarrows are the most native varieties, they tend to be more potent sources of medicine. Yellow and other colors of yarrow are cultivated varieties. They are safe to use in herbal preparations, but their medicinal potency is likely reduced.
Hope that helps!
I am so happy to find you. We are in SW Washington with a 10th acre lot & a 60 year old concrete block ranch style home, referred to as “the bunker”. The adventure befan on Halloween night 2 years ago as we hurried to move in. Clearing blackberry vines and honeysuckle, pruning and rehabilitating 50 year old trees are all part of the adventure. You are very inspiring. Thanks so much for sharing your journey.
Your journey sounds exciting, as well! Thanks for following along 🙂
Great info on the color of the flowers. I always wondered about that as I have yarrow of all colors around me!
Yarrow is pretty much deer resistant,as well.
Good to know!
There is wild yarrow growing all over my yard. It is the only thing that will dependably grow in some particularly harsh areas of my front yard where the topsoil is thin and the heavy clay subsoil at the surface is either baked hard in the sun, or soggy from poor drainage. In these areas it spreads and stays low to the ground,. The flowers are small and sparse, and the stalks are only 6-8 inched tall . The foliage provides a nice ground cover. I just rake a layer of leaves over everything in the fall. Slowly the soil in these tough spots is improving.
The very same yarrow in the back yard, where there is a good layer of topsoil over the clay, is lush and deep green. There, it flowers abundantly and the stalks are 2 to 3 feet tall. The flowers are a rather dirty white and the butterflies adore them! They don’t seem to mind any weather conditions, will grow in any amount of sun (more is better), and the deer leave them alone. To me, they represent all the reasons native plants are desirable!
It sounds lovely to have a yard full of blooming yarrow. You are in good hands with this soil builder!
Jessica Lane | The 104 Homestead says
My yarrow bloomed for the first time this year. It is one plant and yet it had stark white, orangey yellow, and dark pink flowers. I dig down to confirm that it is truly one plant and not three that were closely planted by the nursery. Have you ever heard of that before?
That’s so cool! My blooms go from light yellow to dark orange as they mature, but I’ve never seen all of the colors you describe in one plant. I’ve never heard of it, but it sounds like a good plant to save seeds from!
Carol Mazurek says
Thank you. I learned so much about yarrow. I will plant some at my daughters. She has a soggy area and some dry areas that the yarrow may do well. I planted some near my small pond (yellow and white) and are doing great. I will share them with her.
i love yarrow! i have several different kinds. i live in aridnew mexico and have planted in areas that get little or no water!.i seldom water these plants yet they are abundant and flower so beautifully! thanks for the additional info regarding medicinal uses which i did notknow about. i have anew respect for this plant now.
I have not tried it yet, waiting for the yarrow to bloom this year, I read that you can use yarrow instead of rennet when making cheese. Going to try it when I make some of my goat’s milk cheese this summer.
I hadn’t heard that yarrow could sub for rennet–interesting! It sounds like a useful thing to know!
My yarrow is doing well but it so top heavy that the blooms are laying on the ground. It is not standing tall like I see in pictures. Any suggestions? Thanks.
Yarrow is known to be a flopper, so in some ways, this is to be expected. I use “grow through” supports and small garden fences to keep my yarrow in place.
But there are some things that can contribute to flopping. Soil that is too rich or too moist will do it. Yarrow likes poor soil that is well drained. Also, certain varieties will need divided after about three years.
My paprika yarrow died after a year, too, but the yellow is doing well. And, of course, the wild white yarrow is extremely prolific! Today I found, growing with white yarrow, 2 pink plants. These are the first wild pink ones I’ve seen. How common – or uncommon – is pink yarrow?
According to my friend at Joybilee Farm, pink yarrow is the most common color of wild yarrow in Europe. It sounds lovely!
Thanks! I’ll be looking for more pink flowers. 🙂
Glenn Thompson says
I’m an avid homebrewer. I been experimenting with gruits lately. Gruits are ales made without hops. “Beer” is the designation of ale made WITH hops. Look up gruit. It is a fascinating history of the first multinational agri-business (the Roman Catholic Church), religion, politics, the reformation and other areas of political and economic intrigue. So I’m close to figuring out a yarrow based gruit. I’ve made a few batches. Many folks like it, but it’s still a bit underdeveloped for me. ……but I digress.
Mid last summer I salvaged some near dead, headed for the dumpster, “close out” yarrow at a local Lowes for the express purpose of brewing with it. A pile of yarrow and mugwort for a buck – what could possibly go wrong?! I put the yarrow down in an aweful section of my yard with really harsh southern afternoon sun and hard packed clay soil. I’m in Nashville. A place where even the bermuda grass fears to take hold. I threw some mulch around it and let it roll. It pretty much recovered on it’s own with a little watering and some organic fertilizer. I also placed two clusters of yarrow in a big flower pot, in good potting soil, a few feet away sitting on my sidewalk. It took off too. I harvested parts of the foliage from time to time for brewing. My brew was enough of a hit that I decided to harvest all of it before the first freeze and store it for winter brewing. I chopped it all down to the roots and vacuum sealed and froze all the foliage recovered. The first freeze of the season really didn’t happen as advertised and week later the yarrow started sprouting from the stub I left after harvesting. Then the first freeze of the season really was on tap a few weeks ago. Since the yarrow was coming on again I decided to dug it all up, move it inside for the winter and see if I could continue to harvest it . First off, in three short months the root system in the hard clay planting had gone halfway to China. I potted everything in a large pot and moved it inside. Within a week the stuff had really taken off to foliage nearly the size of what it was when it was harvested 4 weeks earlier. All of this has earned our little crop of yarrow the designation of “The Chuck Norris of herbs”.
My question is, all the new grow it tall, spindly, and lightish green. The previous foliage from outside was dark and full like a fern. Is it just young growth or should conditions be adjusted? Granted sun is a bit deficient with winter and being inside and all. The good thing is, where it’s at in the house, it get’s sun in the exactly same direction and duration as it would outside. Apparently the deeper the green the more the flavor contribution, but it is also written the more stressed the plant, the better the flavor. Dunno.
I’ve never had or paid attention to yarrow for a full season before. Any thoughts and/or ideas?
I love that the yarrow grew explosively in the clay soil. That is what makes yarrow such a healing plant for the earth (and humans)! In just a few years, it could really help to break up that clay, attract earth worms, and incorporate organic matter, so I would encourage you to let it permanently in that area.
Spindly growth is a sign that the plants aren’t receiving enough sunlight. The plants are also probably just a little confused. Yarrow is a perennial that naturally wants a dormant winter phase, and it had already signaled to its roots to go into dormancy when the change occurred. Also, some windows can filter out some of the rays of the sun so that the plants indoors do not receive the full spectrum.
Good luck with your gruits! I did not know about this term, so I am glad to have learned!
Emily in Ohio says
My husband begged some yarrow off a neighbor who was thinning her patch. He wanted it strictly for gruit! It makes an excellent brew with sage, coriander, sweet woodruff, and rosemary. I guess we have a beer theme garden. I don’t drink it but I’m happy to grow the ingredients!
Denise LoGiurato says
Hi Amy, I enjoyed reading about yarrow and all its benefits and uses. I have 10 year old yarrow in my garden that probably came in a packet of wildflower seeds and it has almost taken over the whole area (9 x 12). The soil is poor and can get very hard when neglected, but the yarrow seems to love it. We have all four seasons here in Northern Nevada and temps range from 15 – 105 degrees Fahrenheit. I use the fern-like fronds in my cut flower arrangements and they last longer than the flowers! I only wish it was a little easier to dig out when it’s time to thin and tidy up for spring.
Amy Schmelzer says
My neighbor planted a “wildflower” bed along our mutual property line years ago. The mix included yarrow. We now have ferny yarrow mixed into our lawn. My husband mows the grass regularly so the yarrow never gets tall enough to flower. He hasn’t complained that there is a “weed” in his grass. Our yard was an old farm field devoid of topsoil and full of clay. Is the yarrow benefiting the soil and grass?
I can’t say definitively that the yarrow is providing benefit, but it is said that yarrow provides this benefit. As it is cut back, the cut parts become a nutrient rich mulch, and each time the tops are cut, a portion of the roots die back, which supposedly add nutrients to the soil. As with any plant that has root die back, it will naturally enrich the soil and increase biological activity. So technically it would provide this benefit. In reality, it would be fun to do a soil test in the grassy area where the yarrow grows and compare it to soil from a grassy area where the yarrow doesn’t grow. I would leave the grass/yarrow cuttings in place rather than carting them away if your goal is to improve the soil.
Luba Nemcow says
Hi Amy, and thank you for your blog! Where do you buy Yarrow? I am a beginner gardener and don’t have a yard but have a small area in front of the house. I an not very successful with seeds but am better with bulbs.
I never knew yarrow has deep roots. Your description of the deep roots and planting around fruit trees sounds a lot like the benefits of comfrey. I have both yarrow and comfrey. Yarrow doesn’t have deep roots, but comfrey has deep roots. Also I have comfrey planted around my fruit trees.
I was looking at yarrow in a nursery and fell in love with a purple colored yarrow called Vintage Violet. Unfortunately I decided not to buy their last one, thinking it would be cheaper and more productive to buy a packet of seeds online. Can’t find Vintage Violet seeds anywhere though. Hoping to find another VV plant and harvest its seeds in the fall so I can plant a lot of them next year. Thank you for the informative post!
Ali Grissom says
High Country Gardens
I have never tried to grow yarrow. I don’t want it to spread and grow everywhere — I prefer my plants to stay where I want them. Should I try to grow it in a buried pot, as with mint?
While mint spreads by rhizomatous roots, yarrow spreads by sowing seeds. I’ve grown yarrow in my garden the last ten years, and I’ve never had a problem with it spreading. But as with any plant that spreads by seed, you can minimize its dispersal by cutting yarrow back as soon as the flowers start to fade.
Sharon Thomas says
Where do I find the seeds to plant yarrow?
Janine hunt says
Johnny’s selected seeds has two colorful yarrow mixes. Also, try Etsy, there are quite a few seed sellers there.
Thank you so much for this great info! I just bought my first yarrow plant and I’m trying to find the best spot for it. I love that it’s a perennial but I did not know that it could become intrusive so I’ll keep that in mind when choosing it’s final location. My yarrow has yellow blooms so I’ll only be using it for garden decor and maybe cut flowers if it blooms a lot. 🙂