Monday, September 24, 2012

Permaculture Plants: Yarrow

Yarrow, a small herb with a big list of attributes.

Common Name: Yarrow
Scientific Name: Achillea species
Family: Asteraceae (The aster, daisy, or sunflower family)

Common Species:
  • English Mace/Sweet Yarrow (Achillea argeratum): Zone 7, edible leaves (fair), tea from leaves
  • Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): Zone 2, edible leaves (pretty good), most common species used for food and medicine... the rest of this article is basically about this species; however, they all share very similar characterstics
  • Sneezeweed/White Tansy Yarrow (Achillea ptarmica): Zone 5, edible leaves (fair)
  • Siberian Yarrow (Achillea sibirica): Zone 6, edible leaves (fair)

Yarrow flowers are small, but extremely attractive to beneficial insects.
 
Description:
Yarrow is a small herbaceous plant that is currently used decoratively for its pretty flowers; however, in traditional times Yarrow was used as a food source and a medicinal plant (hence the name "soldier's woundwort"). It also happens to be drought resistant, a great groundcover tolerant of foot traffic, an attractor of beneficial insects, and much, much more. One of the most versatile plants in the food and Forest Garden.
History:
There are about 85 species in the Achillea genus found mostly in Europe, Asia, and North America. Yarrow species have been used for food and medicine for thousands of years, and it has only been recently that the traditional uses of Yarrow have been all but forgotten. Most recent cultivars have all be developed for flowering characteristics. Fortunately, this is a very resiliant plant, and it can be found almost everywhere.

Trivia:
  • The genus (Achillea) is named after the Greek mythological character Achilles whose soldiers used yarrow to staunch their wounds.
  • Other names for Common Yarrow was herbal militaris, staunchweed, soldier's woundwort, knight's milefoil, carpenter's weed, nosebleed weed, and many more... a plant used to stop bleeding at home, in the shop, or on the battlefield.
  • Dried, ground leaves from Sneezeweed/White Tansy Yarrow (Achillea ptarmica) is used as a sneezing powder.
  • Some species are considered poisonous to sheep, cattle, and horses.
  • Common Yarrow was part of the classic Gruit recipe for preserving ales before the widespread use of hops.
 
Modern Yarrow flowers come in more colors than just white.

USING THIS PLANT
Primary Uses:
  • Leaves - raw or cooked. The young, tender leaves are much more palatable and are a great addition to a mixed greens salad. Cooked leaves are also good, with a sweet and bitter flavor combined - a good spinach substitute
  • Decorative plant - flowers

Secondary Uses:
  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant - Plant for beneficial insects
  • Shelter plant for beneficial insects (bettles, lacewings, parasitic wasps, spiders)
  • Lacewings prefer to lay eggs on this plant
  • Aromatic Pest Confuser
  • Pioneer Species
  • Drought Tolerant Species
  • Maritime Tolerant Species
  • Groundcover (space plants 6-18 inches apart), quite tolerant of foot traffic
  • Dynamic Accumulator (Potassium, Phosphorus, Copper)
  • Liquid Plant Feed - soak leaves in water for a few weeks, dilute with water, apply to plants
  • Dye (yellow and green) from flowers
  • Aromatic oils from seeds used as fragrance
  • Flavoring/preserving component to beers - Part of the traditional herbal mixture, Gruit (sweet gale, mugwort, ground ivy, horehound, heather, and yarrow, plus additional local herbs), much more common before the widespread use of hops
  • Tea Plant - leaves and flowers
  • Traditional medicial plant
 
Harvesting: Anytime there are leaves on the plant. Seed can be havested directly from the plant.
Storage: Leaves should be used immediately or within a few days. Keep in a cool location, as with other salad greens.

A large planting (wild in this case) of Yarrow is stunning.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

Plant Type: Herbaceous Perennial
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Herbaceous Layer, Groundcover Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: Many species/varieties/cultivars/hybrids available.

Pollination: Self-Pollinating/Self-Fertile
Flowering: Summer (June - September)
 
Life Span: relatively unimportant as this plant spreads so easily - if one area starts to die back, just cut it out and transplant runners from the edge back to the center

Yarrow leaf has long been compared to a feather.
 
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT
Size: 6 inches to 3 feet (15-90 centimeters) tall, spreads as wide as allowed
Roots: Fibrous roots that send out runners (rhizomes) which allow the plant to grow indefinitely
Growth Rate: Fast

Yarrow, in its natural environment, is often an understory plant...
 
We can use this knowledge in our design, like this peach tree underplanted with Yarrow

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT
Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates moderate shade
Moisture: Can tolerate dry to medium moisture soils
pH: can tolerate a range of soils (5.1 - 7.5)

Special Considerations for Growing:
Spreads easily. Keep this in mind in choosing a location. Can often be planted in a grass lawn (on purpose!) as it can be cut low, tolerates foot traffic, and stays green later than most grasses.

Propagation:
Easily divided in Spring or Autumn. Will also easily root from cuttings 4+ inches (10 cm). Seeds planted at almost anytime other than cold Winters, germinate in 4-13 weeks.

Maintenance:
Minimal. May need to work to keep in bounds.

Concerns:
  • Spreading habit - the roots are quite vigorous and can send up/out shoots extensively. Be sure to plant in an area where this is tolerable.
  • Poisonous (?) – Some people will develop an allergic rash, develop photosensitivity (skin becomes sensitive to sunlight), or can develop gastrointestinal discomfort when eating this plant or even coming into contact with it. I recommend sampling small amounts of this plant to determine personal tolerance first; if you can handle it, then enjoy!

2 comments:

  1. Great article, this has always been a favorite plant of mine! :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Needed to see what narrow looked like, reading Warriors series by Erin Hunter and its mentioned a bunch of times.

    ReplyDelete