Bloom of the Month – June

So far all of my celebrated natives earning the “bloom of the month” title have been shrubs, usually large if not brightly colored and hard to miss.  A month as full of color as June calls for a flower that is more than a pretty face, I’m looking for some style, some utility, maybe some mystery, intrigue and what the heck, Doktor Lanny’s stamp of approval.

Lanny has busted my chops a number of times about this month’s luminary, misidentifications, overall lack of respect and such… What’s the big deal I muttered to myself, it’s so common why would someone get so worked up over such a little bloom.  It’s had literally dozens of names over the millenia, some of the more colorful being old man’s pepper, devil’s nettle, nosebleed plant, eerie, death flower and staunch weed.  Can you guess yet?

Achillea millefolium, white yarrow… the REAL yarrow, not like that poseur yellow kind you find everywhere.  Leaves are lacy, a few inches long and grow shorter as you go up the one to two foot stem.  The inflorescence is a creamy white bundle made up of hundreds of tiny white aster flowers, usually blooming in May and June.

Yarrow run amok

In Ojai they tend to prefer partial shade, near or under the crown of an oak.  The first I ever saw in the wild was in Wills Canyon (on a Lanny tour, he was quite excited), there is a very large patch up on Kennedy Ridge as well.  Considering that it can be found in all 50 states (and most of the world), there’s not all that much white yarrow around here.  The nursery industry has taken yarrow and run wild, introducing pinks, reds, oranges and everything in between.  It makes a fine groundcover and is extremely easy to grow, though it can get invasive.  They attract all sorts of “good” pest eating insects and the foliage is used by birds to line their nests.

Yarrow hybrid with fritillary butterfly

Like I said, yarrow is more than a pretty face.  I’m not going to give you every single purported use, as there are literally hundreds.  Just some highlights from the annals of history:

  • Half man half horse of Greek legend Chiron taught his star pupil Achilles all sorts of neat herbal tricks, including staunching a warrior’s wound with yarrow.  Besides giving the plant it’s genus name, for ages yarrow becomes part of the soldier’s field kit
  • Yarrow is a key herb in many Chinese remedies, as well as the classic ingredient in casting the Yi Jing Dao, an ancient fortunetelling method.  Also supposedly growing on the grave of Confucius.
  • In the Middle Ages was used in all sorts of charms, spells, oddball remedies.  My favorite involves putting a yarrow leaf up your nose, saying “Yarroway yarroway, bear a white blow, if my love loves me my make my nose bleed now”, a creepier messier version of “she loves me she loves me not”.    Yarrow caused nosebleeds, so romance usually prevailed.
  • Medicinal uses include among many others treatment of:  Pain, inflammation, bleeding, toothaches, earaches, acne, diabetes, ulcers, insect bites, measles, sore nipples, smallpox and varicose veins
  • A hop substitute and preservative in the brewing of beer, as well as a flavoring for gin

Would love to hear if anyone has actually tried any of these home remedies.  Hopefully like me you will be a bit more humble and respectful in the presence of this truly remarkable plant from now on.

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4 Responses to Bloom of the Month – June

  1. doctorkdog says:

    Excellent article, Ron. No chop-busting called for. (Except that my wife, who is an R.N., wants to make sure that you and your readers know I am not really a Doctor, or Doktor either for that matter. Being ever watchful for my legal standing, she doesn’t want anyone to think I am attempting to practice medicine without a license. While I do refer to myself as an herbalist, it’s meant in the generalized sense of someone who gathers and uses herbs, not a “medical herbalist.” My WordPress nom de plume, doctorkdog, comes from my high school students who nicknamed me K-Dog after I rapped for them.)

    Thacher School has a successful lawn of Yarrow bordering the parking lot. The little Shanbrom Picnic Area on the far east side of Libbey Park by Montgomery Street also has a Yarrow lawn.

    It’s unusual that this same genus, Achillea millefolium, is indigenous to many diverse habitats worldwide. It gives us a rare opportunity to study the uses of the exact same plant in so many different cultural contexts where the plant has always been part of the local flora. Our local White Yarrow is variety Californica. I have seen Pink Yarrow on Santa Cruz Island, possibly a hybrid of White Yarrow and Dune Yarrow (variety Arenicola) which typically has pink flowers and grows on the Channel Islands and coastal dunes. Perhaps that is where the nurseries got their original stock.

    Interesting paradox about Yarrow and nosebleeds. The powdered dried leaves have a longstanding reputation for stopping bleeding but it’s been said that inserting a fresh leaf in the nose and twisting it will cause a nosebleed. Perhaps twisting any leaf in your nose long enough will do that but Yarrow was used that way intentionally in olden times to cure headaches believed to result from pressure of too much blood in the head. In fact, high blood pressure is known to cause headaches and nosebleeds so maybe there was something to their logic. Just speculating here. Remember, I’m not a doctor. (Okay, honey?)

    • ojairambler says:

      Thanks Lanny for all the great additional info, and I’d like to check out the yarrow “lawns” you mentioned. Hear that kids? Don’t be sticking yarrow leaves or anything else up your nose.

  2. Judith Gustafson says:

    Glad you have shown this month’s spotlight on yarrow, one of my very favorites! I have used it to ward off smallpox for many years … and it works! 😉

  3. Judith Gustafson says:

    Er, I mean “shone” or probably “shined.” I know Dr K-Dog will catch this if I don’t straiten up … er, straighten up … and fly right.

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