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Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) – A Grower’s Guide To Success

Yarrow is an invasive herbaceous flowering perennial, often referred to as a weed. However it is a useful and striking herb to grow in any border, given a little bit of care not to allow it to take over!

Usually grown from division, however we are always happy to look at growing from seed as well. Yarrow will flourish in full sun and is not too fussy about soil condition, making it perfect for those roadside verges. It will put down 20cm taproots to make it sturdy and pretty much drought tolerant too.

Let’s look at how to get them started, as once established they are very much self sufficient.

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How To Grow Yarrow From Seed

  1. Start yarrow seeds indoors about 6 weeks before the fear of frost has passed.
  2. Use a biodegradable pot as your seeds will develop strong root systems quite quickly. This makes transplanting your young yarrow seedlings much easier with a higher success rate.
  3. Wet the soil prior to placing one yarrow seed per pot. Press it lightly on to the surface of the soil, ensuring the seed is making contact.
  4. Sprinkle with perlite and then spray with a water mister. Cover the yarrow pots with a clear plastic bag to help retain warmth and put in a sunny windowsill.
  5. Yarrow seeds take between 14-21 days to germinate. You can get them to grow a little faster by putting them into a heated propagator, however it doesn’t really affect germination rate so we tend towards a sunny windowsill instead (preferably one above a radiator).
  6. Once the seeds have sprouted remove the plastic covering and make sure to keep the yarrow seedlings moist but not wet.
  7. When the plants are large enough to handle, They have a good covering of their feathery leaves, not the first leaves, you can transplant them to their forever home. Choose a spot with plenty of sunlight as yarrow will prefer full sun (6-8 hours minimum).
  8. Caring for your yarrow is pretty straightforward and no special care is required, other than a water if it has been dry for several weeks. WE plant ours towards the back of a lower height plant bed. Yarrow will grow to be 0.5 meter in height and 0.5 meter in spread. It will take between 2-5 years for your seed grown yarrow to be ready for division.

There are over 140 different varieties of Achillea and this is the basic requirements for sowing by seed. In general the worse the soil conditions and more erratic the watering is, the better the fragrance and potency of this perennial. If you plant them in rich, fertile soil you will get a slightly more dull flavor and aroma. This is due to the volatile oils or essential oils being a sort of survival trait. So the worse the treatment, the more volatile oils it will produce.

Growing Yarrow From Division

  1. Division is nice and easy and can take place in Late Spring when shoots are really starting to come up. Use a fork to loosen the soil around your yarrow and lift it up and pop to the side.
  2. Using a shovel with a sharp edge cut through the root base, leaving each section of yarrow with at least three shoots for new growth.
  3. Make a new planting area and move each new clump of yarrow to be at least 30-60cm (12-24 inches) apart. Water in well and if you feel inclined use a mulch to stop the water from evaporating too quickly.
  4. Make sure it is in full sunshine as your yarrow will need this more than anything you can add to the soil.
  5. Division is essential to many perennial plant and yarrow is no exception. It will stimulate new growth and encourage a healthy abundance of flowers the same year.
  6. Division of yarrow will need to take place every other year and care must be taken to avoid this perennial pleaser becoming a wandering weed.

How To Avoid Yarrow Becoming A Weed

Like mint, yarrow will propagate underground and without you being aware. So at times it can seem like you have a wonderful season round display of inverted umbrellas of flowers, ranging in color and intensity. Filling out borders for a prairie style low maintenance look. Whereas in reality it is working it’s way underground to shoot out rhizomes and fill your lawn.

Controlling Yarrow’s Spread By Roots / Rhizomes

To control yarrow spread by rhizomes you have two non-chemical options. The first is in your choice of planting location. By sowing seeds directly under a mature tree you can limit the spread of the root system. This is ultimately only as successful as your control of seed spread, so have a little look at that next!

The second option is to physically dig out each individual piece or section of root stock. This is unlikely to be completely successful as you will need to dig down around a foot to take care of it. I really do mean every last speck as well!

Controlling The Spread By Seed

Each of those wonderful flower clusters can put out hundreds of tiny seeds. As we have seen from the growing guide, yarrow will grow from seeds scattered on the soil. This means each gust of wind can take your seeds far and wide. My main tip here is to harvest the flower heads before they get a chance to become seed heads.

Like it or not there will be a need to just keep your invasive plants in check a little. So this very low maintenance herb has now got a little bit of effort involved, but regular ‘weeding’ of the new plants should be a great way to keep on top. Alternatively you can think of it as a wonderful way to fill any spaces in your garden?

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Harvesting Yarrow

  1. Harvest your yarrow as the flowers have opened and offered up their first feed to the bees, but before they start to go over.
  2. Test the potency of your leaves by rubbing a few between your fingers. IF the aroma is still faint, allow your yarrow a little longer to grow.
  3. When it comes to harvesting wear gloves as there is a slight risk of contact skin burns.
  4. Take cuttings a few inches from the base of the stem and do this after the dew of the morning has dried off, but before the heat of the day has taken the essential oils.
  5. Gently shake your cuttings to dislodge any pests and ladybirds. Then you can use fresh or dried.

Drying Your Yarrow – Do’s and Don’ts

  1. To dry your yarrow it is best to use a dehydrator. I would advise against air drying as the leaves are so full you will struggle to get air circulating around them and it will encourage mold to grow in the feathery fronds.
  2. Start by denuding your yarrow stems. Cut the flower umbrellas off and strip the feathery leaves away.
  3. Rinse them under a cold running tap and very gently move them around, this is just to get any remaining bugs off. Yarrow tends to be pest free but there are times when aphids will persevere and try their luck.
  4. Dry off completely on a paper towel or in a salad spinner. The less you handle the yarrow the more it will retain it’s aroma and distinctive flavor.
  5. Lay the achillea flowers and leaves out as flat as possible on each layer of your dehydrator.
  6. Yarrow is really variable depending on location and growing conditions, this means that I tend to set my timer for 2 hours and then check back regularly. Set the temperature to the lowest setting, we bought this model deliberately because it had a timer and would dry at a low enough setting.
  7. After two hours if the yarrow stems still bend and do not snap with a brittle sort of twang then they are not ready to be removed.
  8. This process can take a few more hours and is worth keeping an eye on as yarrow retains it’s flavor and aroma really well when dried.
  9. Do not chop or process the dried yarrow any further, but instead store in an airtight container and label with the name and date! This is an error I have fallen foul of myself! Dried Yarrow should last in a cool, dark place for around 1 year, after this time it starts to lose it’s intensity of flavor.

Medicinal Herbs & Uses For Yarrow

Yarrow is from the asteraceae family and is also known as common yarrow,
devil’s nettle, soldier’s wound wort, field hops, herbe de St Joseph and Knights Milfoil. All of these names are linked to the story in Homer’s Iliad of Achilles using a herb to heal soldiers wounds. This now has a powerful symbolism and connection to yarrow.

These stories of achillea being used a a poultice to stem the flow of blood from a wound was passed into biblical tales as well. Jesus is said to have used yarrow and it has now become one of the nine holy healing herbs.

There is growing evidence to suggest the uses for yarrow from our Ancient history is actually based in some reality, although further research is needed.

Historical Uses For Yarrow

  • Closing up wounds and reducing swelling and associated inflammations. Yarrow would be used a compress to be applied directly to the affected area.
  • When eaten by women experiencing irregular bleeding yarrow is said to encourage a more regulated cycle.
  • When taken as a herbal tea, achillea has a history of being used to aid digestive issues.
  • Yarrow would be prescribed in Anglo-Saxon time as a leaf to chew to alleviate toothache.
  • Yarrow has been used as a rudimentary mood booster for many centuries. This may well have a basis in scientific research, but again more thorough studies are needed to prove a link between reducing the symptoms of depression and yarrow.
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Where To Buy Yarrow UK

In the UK you can look no further than a trusted nursery and Mr Fothergill’s sell yarrow seeds available here.

The horticulturist Rob Smith has a vibrant pink and red mix called Summer Berries, available via this link, which really does deliver on it’s promise to liven up your border!

Further Reading

What Next

We hope to have inspired you to grow your own yarrow or at least to forage for it! Keep in mind all of our warnings about it becoming a bit of a weed as well as safe foraging skills!

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