Y is for Yarrow

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

Yarrow, was once used to cure everything from hair loss prevention and toothache reliever and blood stancher to snakebite cure and cold medicine. The often-invasive perennial blooms from May through June and sometimes again until autumn. It is used in food or tea, especially during the 17th century. During the middle ages in Europe, yarrow was an ingredient on gruit, a beer flavoring. Even today, the leaves and flowers of yarrow are used to make some liquors and bitters.

When planted in a garden, yarrow repels some insects and attracts good ones such as ladybugs. Yarrow repels insects when applied to the skin and clothing. Carrying yarrow granted bravery, reversed negativity, and protects from harm and hexes. Throwing yarrow flowers across a threshold protects a house from evil.

It is a symbol of good luck in China where the plant is used during divination. Rubbing a yarrow leaf against the eyelids was believed to grant “second sight.” Native North Americans used the plant medicinally. Hanging a bundle of dried yarrow over a bridal bed ensured lasting love. The Anglo-Saxons of the early middle ages wore yarrow amulets to protect against blindness, robbers, and dog attacks. It was tied to an infant’s cradle to protect against changelings and witches. Sleeping atop yarrow sachets caused dreams of true love. Yarrow is an ingredient in incense for divination and love spells.

It is called plumajillo (Spanish for little feather) in New Mexico and Colorado. It is also called gordaldo, nosebleed plant, old man’s pepper, devil’s nettle, sanguinary, seven-year’s-love, milfoil, soldier’s woundwort, thousand-leaf, and thousand seal. The genus name Achillea reportedly honors the ancient Greek hero Achilles who carried the plant to treat his army’s wounds.

In 1989, Ace Books published Charles de Lint’s urban fantasy novel called “Yarrow” wherein a fantasy writer visits a magic world in her dreams, but a supernatural predator seeks to feed on her imaginings and destroy the magical world.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow included the plant in his “Hiawatha’s Lamentation,” as did Sir Walter Scott in his “The Lady of the Lake.” William Wordsworth wrote the poems “Yarrow Visited” and “Yarrow Unvisited.” Walter Elliot wrote “A Song for Yarrow,” which includes the lines, “An ancient minstrel, so they tell, did sing the song of yarrow well. Faint echoes of his songs yet last to tell the tale of yarrow’s past.”