Mike is a freelance writer, researcher and amateur folklorist with a keen interest in nature and forage-based cooking.
Yarrow (Achillea Millefolium) is a flowering perennial weed common to the meadows, lawns, and grasslands of Europe, North America, and Asia.
Sometimes known as Soldier's Woundwort, Bloodwort, and Devil's plaything, the plant is a popular feature in folk stories and superstitions across the globe. And it has also been used in traditional medicines and continues to be used in various recipes today.
Here, we'll cover everything there is to know about these weeds, from how to cook yarrow soup to the many superstitions surrounding these little plants.
A Yarrow plant will produce one to several stems of 0.2-1 meter (8-40 inches) in height with long, dark green feathery leaves. The plant's flowers grow in flat umbels that can be either lilac or dirty pink in color. They are common in summer and early autumn across lawns, meadows, and anywhere where you can find grass.
Yarrow in Traditional Medicine
Many early herbalists believed that they could use yarrow to treat wounds. The plant's Latin name Achillea Millefolium originates from the stories that the legendary Greek hero Achilles used the plant to staunch the blood of his wounded soldiers. However, there exists no modern scientific research that backs up this claim.
Outside of healing wounds, people have used yarrow as a remedy for everything from treating headaches to soothing piles. But again, no research shows that yarrow can do any of these things.
Yarrow in Folklore
Yarrow has been a recurring staple of folk stories, myths, and superstitions, particularly those concerning visions, magic, and love.
In the 17th century, many people associated yarrow with the Devil and witchcraft. And there is at least one case of a poor woman who was tried as a witch being accused of using yarrow in her incantations.
Many superstitions across the British Isles and beyond that claim that yarrow can conjure up an image of a future sweetheart. Some old rhymes suggest that yarrow, sewn up in a bit of flannel and placed under one's bed, will reveal a prospective partner in a dream,
There also exists a Sussex & Devonshire rhyme made to be sung while picking yarrow from a young man's grave that will allegedly reveal a true love:
"Yarrow, sweet yarrow, the first that I have found,
in the name of Jesus Christ, I pluck it from the ground;
As Joseph loved sweet Mary, and took her for his dear,
so in a dream this night, I hope, my true love will appear."
A similar recital exists in Wicklow, Ireland, that a person should sing on hallow's eve to achieve a similar effect:
"Thou pretty herb of Venus' tree,
Thy true name is yarrow;
Now who my bosom friend may be,
Pray tell thou me to-morrow."
The entire yarrow plant is edible, though it is advised that you shouldn't consume too much. You should also be aware that it can cause skin irritation and allergic reactions and is dangerous for pregnant or breastfeeding women.
Though yarrow can be eaten raw and used in salads, its bitter taste and hairy texture can make the experience unpleasant. Nonetheless, its faintly aniseed-like taste and sweet scent make it a unique addition to teas and cooked dishes. That said, be aware that no amount of cooking will change the fact that this plant is very bitter.
Here's a traditional recipe made with yarrow leaves.
- 1 colander of washed yarrow leaves
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 small onion, finely sliced
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 3 cups water
- Salt & pepper
- 1 1/4 cups milk
- Nutmeg to taste
- 1 tablespoon of thick cream
Gently cook the yarrow leaves in a saucepan of boiling water for 10 minutes before draining and reserving the cooking water. Then, melt the butter in a saucepan and saute the onion until soft. Shake in the flour, stir to blend, and slowly add in the stock water reserved from earlier. Keep stirring until the soup thickens, and then add in the yarrow leaves and seasoning and simmer gently for 15 minutes.
Run the soup through a sieve and return to the pan. In a separate pan, heat the milk until nearly boiling and stir it into the soup. Grate over some nutmeg, and stir in the cream just before serving.
Yarrow & Ginger Tea
If you're looking to make a herbal infusion using yarrow, then ginger is the perfect accompaniment.
- 2 teaspoons of loose-leaf yarrow
- 2 slices of fresh ginger
Boil the ginger in water and let it steep for five minutes. Then allow the water to cool before steeping the yarrow in the ginger infusion, and enjoy!
How should Yarrow be stored?
Yarrow should be stored at room temperature, away from sunlight. It can also be stored in dried form, though it's best to throw it away once its sweet scent dissipates.
What are some traditional names for yarrow?
Many old country names for yarrow include soldier's woundwort, herbe militaris, bloodwort, sanguinary, staunchweed, devil's nettle, devil's plaything, old man's pepper, and field hop.
What are some other uses of yarrow?
Yarrow has also been used to make liqueurs and to aid in beer production. Years ago, people also used it to make snuff.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Mike Grindle