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.
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.
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.