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Permaculture Plant: Yarrow

yarrow
Photo by Robyn Rosenfeldt

BOTANICAL NAME: Achillea millefolium

ORIGIN: Native to Eurasia

HISTORY: Yarrow has been used since ancient times: its fossilised pollen has been found in Neanderthal burial caves dating from 60 000 years ago. It’s named after Achilles, of Greek legend, who used it on soldiers’ wounds in the Trojan War. Popular as a vegetable in the 17th century.

DESCRIPTION: Yarrow is a perennial herb of the Asteraceae (daisy) family. It’s a wonderfully adaptable, low-maintenance, hardy and drought-tolerant edible and medicinal plant, that is very useful to have in any permaculture garden. It can be grown from sea level to elevations of 3500 metres, and is found almost worldwide. It’s an attractive plant, with delicate feathery leaves of dark green growing in thick mats, and an abundance of flat-top composite flowers, typically white, but also available in many colours. It generally grows in a spreading low mound, with the flowers reaching to one metre.

PERMACULTURE USES

As food. Young leaves can be used as a salad green or leaf vegetable – cooked (as for spinach) or added to soups, omelettes, stews and other vegetable dishes. Dried leaves can be used as a culinary herb.

As medicine. Yarrow is a famous wound and fever herb.

  • Leaves can be used directly on the skin. Its most famous and ancient use is for wounds, typically as a poultice. It can stop bleeding, nosebleeds, prevent infection, speed healing and give pain relief. It can be rubbed on skin to soothe arthritis, bruises and sprains, and reduce spider veins.
  • Both leaves and flowers can be used as a tea. It’s good for colds, fevers and indigestion.
  • Leaves added to bathwater can relieve menstrual cramps, bring down a fever and soothe itching skin.

There are also many positive benefits from adding yarrow to your permaculture garden system:

  • as a compost activator – add a few leaves in each layer of the compost
  • to improve the soil – its deep roots accumulate potassium, phosphorus, and copper
  • as a ‘chop and drop’ mulch, to build soil
  • add leaves to a no-dig garden
  • as a drought-hardy groundcover or living mulch to prevent soil erosion
  • as a good cover crop under fruit trees, to help fertilise and enhance fruit production
  • as a bee and good bug attractor, to provide habitat (for lacewings, parasitoid wasps, ground beetles, spiders, ladybugs and hover«ies) and its pungent odour repels pests
  • to improve pasture and help prevent mineral deõciencies in ruminants.

Or make a fertiliser by soaking leaves in a bucket of water for a few weeks: use one part tea to ten parts water.

PROPAGATION

Yarrow can be easily propagated. Divide o§ a section with some roots, and plant in a new location. In spring you can take stem cuttings.

CAUTIONS

Some people develop a rash from touching the fresh plant. Avoid the plant: during pregnancy, because it stimulates the uterus; or if you have an allergy to ragweed. Yarrow is a common weed, and should be grown with care.

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