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. Like many other prairie plants, its deep, fibrous roots enjoy absorbing water in my rain garden.
In fact, this was my first experience growing yarrow, when I added it to my rain garden. I was so impressed with the cheerfulness of the flowers, the roots’ hardiness to push through my heavy clay soil, and the number of pollinators I would catch coming in to land on the flat flower tops or seek shelter in the fern-like foliage.
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. Yarrow may accumulate nutrients.
According to Dr. Duke at the USDA, 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 to be healthier when yarrow is grown in them.
Using yarrow as a potential fertilizer is just one of many ways we can “stack the deck” in our favor of having a thriving, healthy garden. Perhaps not everything we try will yield the result we’re looking for, but with a richness of plant diversity comes a rich gardening experience.
Grow healthy fruit trees. Create healthy mulch and compost.
Because of its potential ability to fertilize, yarrow is often grown under fruit trees to enhance fruit production.
It 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, 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 a mixture of the following mix, 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 award-winning book, The Suburban Micro-Farm.
Where lead contamination in soil is a concern, yarrow may be able to 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 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 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 will grow to about 3 feet high, producing flowers throughout the summer. However, you can 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. 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.
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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- Attract Beneficial Insects in the Edible Landscape
- What is Comfrey and How to Grow It
What’s your favorite reason to grow yarrow?