Yarrow As an Herb

Discover the herbal side of yarrow.
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Achillea Millefolium

Photo by: Aldo Pavan

Aldo Pavan

Tuck common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) into your garden and you’re cultivating a native wildflower that’s also an herb. Like other herbs, yarrow boasts a host of uses in everyday life, from medicinal treatments to kitchen applications. Learn how to harvest the yarrow herb and benefit from its useful properties.

Like many herbs, yarrow does boast culinary uses. Edible leaves provide a fresh addition to salads and sandwiches. Harvest young leaves for best tenderness and flavor, especially in early spring. At this point, leaves are packed with minerals from the soil and provide a healthy nutrient boost. Yarrow leaf taste tends to be bitter but not inedible. 

In Sweden, yarrow leaves are reputed to be better than hops for brewing a tasty beer. The leaves not only flavor the beer but also act as a preservative. The great plantsman Carl Linnaeus reported that yarrow beer delivers a headier brew—and a stronger intoxication—than hops beer. 

As an herb, yarrow makes a fine tea with strong aromatic properties. Both flowers and leaves are used to brew tea, which can be blended with other herbs, like mint and chamomile, for a more soothing flavor. The flowers contain certain essential oils that work well to flavor soft drinks.

In the herb garden, yarrow pairs beautifully with Mediterranean herbs, like lavender, rosemary, sage and thyme. Like yarrow, these herbs grow best in lean, droughty soil. Growing yarrow in tough, lean soil with little water beyond rainfall yields a higher essential oil content in leaves.

Visually, yarrow looks great with many other herbs. Its finely textured foliage provides a strong contrast to the chunky leaves of comfrey or the round leaves of oregano. You can also pair yarrow with bee balm, which is another ornamental herb. 

Yarrow flowers attract a host of pollinators to the garden, and the large flower heads make good landing pads for butterflies. In an herb garden, place yarrow near edges of planting areas. This is because, following bloom time, you’ll want to cut flowering stems back to the tuft of leaves. If you place yarrow into the center of an herb bed, the leaves may be lost and overshadowed by taller plants. 

To harvest yarrow for herbal or medicinal use, gather flowers, leaves and stems. Gather flowers when they’re fully open. Pick leaves when they’re dry. The best time of day to harvest yarrow is mid- to late morning, after the dew has dried. By midday, essential oil concentrations in leaves are highest.

Air-dry your harvested yarrow on screens or in bundles hung upside down in a dark place. Store the dried herb in tightly sealed containers in a cool, dark place. If you’re not using the yarrow you harvested right away, store it whole. To use, break it up or chop it in a food processor.

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