A perennial herb with a creeping rhizome and erect, furrowed and downy stems. The dark-green basal and stem leaves are lanceolate and finely divided (two or three times pinnate). The small flowerheads are clustered in dense, flat corymbs. The ray-florets are white or occasionally pinkish; the disc-florets whitish. The fruit, an achene, is strongly compressed and slightly winged. All parts of the plant have a characteristic strong smell.
Yarrow is common throughout Europe and Asia in hedgerows and fields and on dry banks and roadsides. It is native to the British Isles. The plant's healing properties were known to the ancient Greeks who named Yarrow Achillea after Achilles, the legendary heroic warrior. The specific name millefolium (- a thousand leaf') refers to the plant's many feathery leaves. The common name Yarrow is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word gearwe, but the meaning of this is not known.
The non-woody parts of the flowering stems, sometimes only the flowers, free of stalks, are used medicinally. The principal constituent is an essential oil with azulenes that turn blue after distillation. The plant also contains the alkaloids achilleine and stychydrine, tannins and bitter compounds. These constituents give Yarrow antiseptic, stomachic, antispasmodic, astringent and diaphoretic properties and it has a variety of uses both internally and externally. For example, herbalists use an infusion for digestive upsets, diarrhoea, flatulence, menstrual disorders, colds and fevers. Externally a decoction is used to treat slow-healing wounds, skin rashes and eczema, chapped skin and as a gargle and bath preparation.
Yarrow should always be taken in moderation and never for long periods because it may cause skin irritation.
The fresh leaves and the flowers also have many cosmetic uses. The taste is slightly bitter and peppery and young leaves, chopped up, give 'bite' to a mixed salad.
Flowering time: June to August