Yarrow – A Foraging Guide to Its Food, Medicine and Other Uses

Yarrow is the herb of a million flowers thanks to its prolific foliage.

This wild edible has been used since ancient times in food and medicine, and it still a commonly used herb today.

Scientific Name

Achillea millefolium.

Family

Asteraceae.

Botanical Description

It has a rough, angular stem with long, dark-green, feathery leaves. The flowers are white or pale lilac that resembles an umbellifer.

Status

Perennial. Native.

Habitat and Distribution

Found in grasslands, meadows, pastures, and along roadsides.

Parts Used For Food

Leaves and flowers.

Harvest Time

Spring too Autumn.

Food Uses of Yarrow

Its peppery foliage and bitter leaves and flowers bring an aromatic flavour to salads.1

The leaves can be used in almost any dish as a vegetable, added to soups and sauces, or simply boiled and simmered in butter as a side dish.2,3

The flowering tops can be sprinkled on salads and other dishes as a condiment or decoration.4

Yarrow Recipes

Yarrow Purée

Pick, wash and dry some handfuls of young leaves. Bring a pot of salted water to the boil, add the leaves and simmer for 20 minutes. Then drain the leaves and chop them up, melt a knob of butter in a small saucepan, add the chopped leaves along with salt and pepper, Stir for 5 minutes, then serve.

Herbal Medicine Uses of Yarrow

Known as Herba militaris by the ancient Romans who used the wild herb to stop bleeding from cuts and wounds.

Yarrow was also called soldiers’ woundwort and staunch grass due to its ability to staunch bleeding.5,6

In herbal medicine, it was valued as an astringent herb for scratches, cuts, wounds and sores.7

Other Uses of Yarrow

Dried leaves were once used as a substitute for tobacco.3 As well as diving sticks when consulting the I-Ching.

Cautions

Yarrow may cause skin irritation in some people. It is best avoided during pregnancy and when breastfeeding.

About The Author

Robin HarfordRobin Harford is a plant-based forager, ethnobotanical researcher, and wild food educator. He is the author of Plantopedia: The Past and Present Uses of Wild Plants.

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References

  1. Grieve, M. A Modern Herbal. Tiger Books International. London, 1996.
  2. Facciola, S. Cornucopia II. A Source Book of Edible Plants. Kampong Publications. Vista, California, 1998.
  3. Jackson, PW. Ireland’s Generous Nature. The Past and Present Uses of Wild Plants in Ireland. Missouri Botanical Garden Press. St Louis, Missouri, 2014.
  4. Couplan, F. The Encyclopedia of Edible Plants of North America. Nature’s Green Feast. Keats Publishing. Connecticut, 1998.
  5. Watts, D. Dictionary of Plant Lore. Elsevier. Bath, 2007. 
  6. Baker, M. Discovering The Folklore of Plants. Shire Publications Ltd. London, 2008.
  7. Mabey, R. Food For Free. A Guide to the Edible Wild Plants of Britain. The Collins Press. London, 1978.

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  1. Thank you for posting this.
    Do you perhaps have any further information on how the Roman soldiers actually treated wounds with it? What part of the plant is used to stop bleeding, and in what form? I have heard both crushed root and bruised leaves are useful, but have no actual reference for either.

  2. Thank you Robin,
    for this work and the beautiful way of transmitting it. I have been gathering and drying yarrow every year for quite some while, using it as tea or in herbal teas for strengthening the urinal – and abdominal system. And in a book by the author ‘Maria Treben’ it’s said that the plant was known for its blood cleaning effect.
    Do you have any knowledge about the different colors and their effects yarrow has.
    I am especally glad for the rosepink ones that found a way to grow in my garden, but nowaday one can buy them in reds and yellows as well.

  3. Hi Christiane – Glad you like my work. I don’t know of any difference between the white and redish flowers. I suppose at the end of the day, you would need to experiment or ask a more folk-based herbalist. Interesting question though. Hmmmm…

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