Yarrow, a Battlefield Herb
Here at the Ornate Bird Garden I acquired my first yarrow plant as an impulse purchase in the garden center of a big home-improvement chain store. As with most herbs, it didn’t look like much. It resembled a weed, in fact. The little boxes of sprouting yarrow were clumped in with other hardy perennials marketed as plants to work into the border of your yard for that carefree meadow look.
I wasn’t really sure what to do with mine when I got home, so I just planted it straight into the back lawn under a small apple tree. It poked up hopefully with its white crown of plain-looking flowers and its feathery leaves. I never really thought about it or gave it much attention again.
This year I notice that it has spread feathery little offspring all around the apple tree. This is under such dry conditions that the lawn itself has withered up around it. I’m impressed – even though I’ve since read that yarrow is plentiful and grows everywhere. I could believe it running wild in greener climates, but not in the desert beneath the hot, parched wind.
So I did a little research on its lore and found that this herb is indeed a fighter. In fact, it has a host of unusual associations from battlefields to divination. Some of our ancestors reviled it as a toy of the Devil , and others revered it for its protective qualities and wove it into garlands with which to decorate their churches .
Its battlefield history is especially illustrious. Its Latin name Achillea millefolium makes you think of the Greek hero Achilles, right? Legend has it that Achilles gravely wounded a Trojan noble while the Greeks were en route to lay siege to Troy. The Trojan offered to escort the Greek armies right to the gates of Troy if Achilles would agree to heal him – which Achilles did with a yarrow plant that grew up from traces of rust that fell from his spear . Weird? You bet.
However, yarrow really does have blood-clotting properties. Native Americans and Civil War soldiers used yarrow to treat wounded warriors .
If you know any Spanish or French, the millefolium part of the Latin name may remind you of the number one thousand which greatly overstates the number of fine leaflets and sub-leaflets branching out from the yarrow’s main stem. Poetic exaggeration, no doubt.
The importance of yarrow didn’t stop with the western world. In China, the Taoists used yarrow stalks for divination. This is still practiced by I Ching enthusiasts to this day.
 A Modern Herbal by Mrs. M. Grieve, Volume II, Dover Publications Inc., 1971 (an unabridged republication of the original book published by Harcourt, Brace, and Company, 1931). Page 864.
 The Secrets of Wildflowers by Jack Sanders, The Lyons Press (an imprint of The Globe Pequot Press), 2003. Page 183.
 Sanders, page 182.