From its ancient roots in folklore and mysticism to its revered healing properties in herbal medicine, Yarrow is a truly wondrous wildflower. Offering vibrant, long-lasting flowers and aromatic foliage, this near-indestructible plant is perfect for herb gardens and cottage gardens, novice gardeners and botany enthusiasts alike.
With our guide to fifteen of the best varieties of yarrow and how to grow them, your garden too could soon be full to bursting with this fantastic, versatile flower.
What is Yarrow?
Achillea is a large genus of flowering, herbaceous perennials belonging to the Daisy family, Asteraceae. More commonly known as yarrow, there are around 115 individual achillea species, and a great many more hybrids and cultivars.
Often considered a wildflower, this long-blooming plant can be found growing abundantly throughout the grasslands, woodlands, wastelands, and highlands of Europe, North America, and parts of Asia. Its delicate inflorescences mask a tenacity and robustness that allows yarrow and spread voraciously in even the poorest of soils and driest of conditions, something which has gained it a reputation as an invasive plant in some parts of the world.
Its thick, fibrous root systems can easily displace smaller, more fragile plant species, so its cultivation in gardens should be managed accordingly.
Yarrow typically produces leathery, frilly, and lightly fuzzy foliage which emits a subtle, faintly herby scent, often likened to cooking herbs such as rosemary and oregano. Its blooms sit proudly atop its tall stems, either as broad, flat clusters of tiny flowers or as larger, individual button-like flowers, depending on the species.
Heritage yarrow plants typically produce yellow or white flowers, but extensive hybridisation and development of the species have delivered flowers in shades of red, pink, purple, and orange. Some species of yarrow are capable of reaching over a meter in height, although most species reach a little over half of this at full maturity. There are also dwarf varieties, which rarely exceed a few inches in height.
Yarrow has a particularly long blooming season, often flowering and re-flowering from late spring up until late autumn, and occasionally into early winter. As the temperature cools, their flowers tend to lose their vibrant colouring, fading to more muted shades before dropping completely.
The long flowering season, nectar-rich blooms, and bright colours mean that yarrow attracts plenty of native pollinators and beneficial insects, making them a perfect addition to a wildlife or butterfly garden.
How did Yarrow get its name?
The genus Achillea takes its name from the Greek warrior Achilles. It is said that he used yarrow to treat soldiers who had been wounded in battle. This anecdote has given rise to many colloquial names for yarrow, such as soldier’s woundwort, allheal, and bloodwort. The common name, yarrow, is derived from the old Anglo-Saxon word gearwe, meaning ‘entirely’, or ‘certainly’.
What does Yarrow Symbolise?
Yarrow has multiple meanings and deep symbolism attached to it. Closely associated with the occult, yarrow is an important component in traditional herbalism and witchcraft and is widely used in modern pagan rituals to help connect with ancestors and other ethereal beings.
In traditional Chinese culture, the yarrow plant is used in divination ceremonies, where fifty dried stems of yarrow are thrown into the air, and their landing positions are interpreted by the diviner.
In Medieval Britain, yarrow was associated with the Devil and thought to bring misfortune or even death where it grew. In medieval Europe, the Christian Church used yarrow in exorcism rituals to rid the afflicted of their satanic possession, whilst paradoxically, witches used yarrow as a talisman to summon the devil.
Aside from its occult connections, in the Language of Flowers, yarrow has earned far more pleasant associations. It is considered to represent healing, thanks to its centuries-old reputation as a healing herb, and also everlasting love, in part due to its longevity as a hardy perennial.
Uses and benefits
Nowadays, yarrow is often grown purely for its pretty flowers, but historically, it was cultivated mainly for its medicinal benefits. Evidence of medicinal yarrow has been discovered at neolithic burial sites dating back to as early as 60,000 BCE.
Brewing yarrow for herbal tea is a practice that has endured for millennia. Whilst the benefits of drinking yarrow tea are largely anecdotal rather than scientific, many swear by this tea for its holistic health benefits. It is thought that the tea delivers multiple health benefits to those who consume it, including improving circulation and blood flow, improving digestive health, treating menstrual cramps, and fighting infections.
Yarrow itself has something of a bitter taste, so it is often combined with other ingredients such as lemon or honey to create a pleasantly flavoured brew. In rare cases, yarrow can cause skin or stomach sensitivity when consumed, so as with any natural ingredients, proceed with caution, and never consume yarrow in large quantities.
For centuries, yarrow has been used as a coagulant to help stem bleeding and speed up wound healing. Both the Greek warrior Achilles and Native American communities have used yarrow to treat wounded soldiers, especially during the American Civil War. It has also been used as a mild analgesic to relieve painful burns, toothaches, and sore throats.
Many gardeners cultivate yarrow not simply for its inherent beauty, but also its natural soil-improving properties. Studies have shown that its deep root systems can absorb large amounts of nutrients from deep within the earth. The yarrow can then be cut down and used as mulch, which releases these nutrients back into the soil as it breaks down over time. Yarrow is also thought to be effective at removing excess lead content from the soil where lead poisoning is a concern.
The herby scent released by yarrow foliage is an effective deterrent against potentially harmful insects such as aphids and whitefly. When grown near pest-prone fruit and vegetable crops, yarrow repels pests which are averse to its aroma, whilst simultaneously attracting beneficial insects that help to pollinate crops.
Fifteen of the best Yarrow Varieties to grow
With over 115 species and a great many more hybrid varieties and cultivars, you are spoilt for choice when it comes to selecting a yarrow to grow in your garden. To help you decide, we’ve curated a list of fifteen of the best types of yarrow.
- Apple Blossom is a hybrid variety that boasts broad clusters of delicate pink flowers throughout summer and winter. It’s a medium-sized variety, usually growing between 40 and 60 centimetres tall.
- Cerise Queen is a beautiful yarrow with broad clusters of flowers ranging from deep fuchsia to bright scarlet. With an impressive maximum height of around one meter tall, this larger variety is best suited to a position in a border where it won’t swamp other, smaller plants.
- Common Yarrow is a long-blooming wild variety which offers bursts of delicate white flowers from June to November. It has a rampant, vigorous growth habit so it may require a little pruning, although it’s a firm favourite of native insects and pollinators.
- Coronation Gold is a statuesque cultivar, often reaching heights of a meter or more. Its upright stems are adorned with dense crowns of deep gold flowers, and its foliage gives off a delicately aromatic scent throughout summer and into autumn.
- Greek Yarrow is a low-growing variety with a compact growth habit and dense silvery foliage. Its delicate flowers are made up of white petals framing a central yellow disk throughout spring and early summer. Greek yarrow is particularly adaptable, ideal for rock gardens, containers, and ground borders alike.
- King Edward is a compact, dwarf variety with a maximum height of around 10 centimetres. Its elegant pale yellow flowers often endure throughout autumn and even into winter with the right care.
- Lilac Beauty is a relatively tall variety of yarrow, often exceeding 60 centimetres in height. Its upright stems are topped with broad clusters of lilac and lavender inflorescences throughout summer.
- Moonshine is a variety famed for its abundance of sunshine-yellow flowers and upright foliage. Its cheerful blooms can remain long into October with the right care and are sure to brighten up a dreary autumn day.
- New Vintage Rose is a truly stunning variety offering shocking fuchsia blooms throughout summer and into autumn. With a maximum height of around 60 centimetres and a fairly modest spread, this versatile yarrow is equally as happy in a container as it is in a border.
- Paprika, as the name suggests, produces a grand display of fiery red blooms which are beloved by gardeners and pollinators alike. Flowering throughout summer, the paprika yarrow is a great addition to any colourful garden border.
- Peter Cottontail is a unique and charming yarrow, offering an abundance of pom-pom-like ivory blooms. Unlike most yarrows, its flowers are displayed individually rather than in clusters. Peter Cottontail takes its (very cute) name from the fluffy rabbit tails which are not dissimilar to its equally adorable flowers.
- Red Velvet boasts deep red blooms, reminiscent of the popular cake from which it takes its name. Come autumn, its flowers will fade to a warm pink hue as it enters a winter dormancy. It has a vigorous, spreading growth habit, ideal for covering large areas quickly.
- Strawberry Seduction is a real show-stopping variety that features large clusters of bright pink and scarlet-hued flowers with deep gold centres. It offers long-lasting summer blooms and subtly scented foliage.
- Summer Pastels is a compact hybrid variety that offers small but stunning clusters of multi-tonal blooms in a range of peach, pink, and purple hues. The long flowering season of this variety means its rainbow-coloured petals will create a charming display in beds and borders even into the colder months.
- Terracotta takes its name from the clay earthenware which boasts the same deep orange colour as its large flower clusters. Flowering from summer through to late autumn, this is one of the tallest yarrow varieties often reaching well over a meter in height.
How to grow and care for yarrow
Whether you want to test out its health benefits, are hoping to enrich your soil, attract more pollinators, or simply want to enjoy its charming blooms, there are plenty of reasons to grow yarrow in your garden. Happily, there’s no special expertise required, since this almost indestructible plant will flourish just about anywhere, with minimal care and attention. With our simple care guide, you can soon enjoy all the benefits of this wonderful wildflower in your own garden.
How to grow yarrow from seed
Yarrow is an incredibly easy plant to grow from seed, and whilst young plants purchased from nurseries will bloom more quickly, yarrow grown from seed can still be expected to bloom around three to four months after planting.
In late winter or early spring, sow your seeds indoors in a tray filled with standard potting compost. Yarrow needs lots of light to germinate, so don’t cover the seeds with soil, and place the tray on a warm, sunny windowsill. Keep the seeds lightly moist until seedlings start to appear around two weeks later. The seedlings can then be transferred into individual pots and given a light, weekly watering until the last frost passes. They can then be gradually hardened off before eventually being transferred to their permanent growing position in the garden.
Planting and Positioning
Yarrow is known for its deep roots and spreading growth habit, so it’s not always best suited to being grown in containers. If you do want to grow yours in a pot, consider a dwarf variety that is unlikely to rapidly outgrow its confines. For larger varieties, be prepared to repot yearly. Terracotta pots are best for yarrow since they are porous and all plenty of airflow through the soil to the roots. If there’s one thing yarrow can’t stand, it’s soggy soil, so plenty of drainage holes are a must.
In borders, your yarrows need around two feet of space to allow them to spread comfortably as they mature. Make sure you dig a hole plenty deep enough to accommodate the whole rootball, with the top of the rootball being flush with the surface of the soil.
Adaptability is one of yarrow’s greatest qualities, and it will happily adapt to a range of soil types, nutrient contents, and pH levels. So long as the soil is well-draining, yarrow will grow. If you have very heavy, clay soil that retains a lot of moisture, you will need to amend it with additional drainage material such as sand, horticultural grit, or perlite. Dwarf varieties do particularly well in rockeries. It’s not usually necessary to add extra organic matter to your yarrow’s soil, since the added nutrients can stimulate even more vigorous growth which can quickly become unmanageable.
Yarrow plants flourish in full sun positions and are perfect for filling very sunny spots in your garden where other plants might suffer. Although they can tolerate some shade, too little sunlight can cause their usually dense foliage to become leggy as it stretches out in search of more light. If you are trying to grow yarrow somewhere with lower light levels, consider staking the stems so they don’t become too long and top-heavy or collapse altogether.
Temperature and Humidity
Yarrow is a heat-loving plant, preferring a warm, sunny position in the garden. This isn’t to say that they’re frost tender, however, as these hardy perennials can easily withstand temperatures as low as -25°C in winter.
Generally, yarrow is moisture averse, preferring a relatively dry humidity level. In very wet locations, they are more susceptible to fungal diseases and root rot, so avoid planting near ponds or water features.
One of the reasons yarrow is a particularly easy plant to grow is its extreme drought tolerance. Up to an inch of water per week is usually sufficient for healthy growth, even during summer. Younger plants will require slightly more regular watering until they have become established. Container-grown yarrow should be allowed to drain thoroughly after each watering.
Your yarrow plants won’t need much in the way of fertiliser, since they are incredibly efficient at accessing and absorbing nutrients hidden deep below the surface of the earth with their deep roots. Too much fertiliser can cause their already voracious growth to become increasingly unruly.
To promote an abundance of blooms throughout the whole of your yarrow’s blooming season, it’s important to regularly deadhead any fading or spent flowers to encourage new buds. Excessively tall stems can collapse under the weight of their flowers, so these should be cut back to encourage stronger stem growth. To avoid rampant self-seeding, remove the seed heads from late summer onwards before they have a chance to disperse.
Because yarrow spreads so readily, both through its root systems and by self-seeding, it’s unlikely that you will ever need to propagate your plant. However, to keep your yarrow in check, it’s a good idea to divide the clumps every two to three years, creating new yarrow plants in the process, that can be redistributed around the garden if you wish.
Division should be done in early spring. Loosen the soil around the base of your yarrow until the root clump is visible. Use a spade or sharp knife to separate the root ball into two or three segments, making sure that each section has plenty of healthy stems attached. You can then simply plant your new yarrows in various spots around the garden. Surplus clumps make a great gift for friends and family, particularly when dried and arranged in a bouquet.
This hardy flower can withstand temperatures well below freezing, so even in the harshest of northern climates, they require very little attention over the winter months. In late autumn once all the flowers have faded, you can cut the stems right back to just a few inches tall. Removing the majority of the foliage means your yarrow can devote its energy to maintaining strong root systems to see it through the winter. In very icy climates, a little mulch around the base of the plant gives an extra layer of protection against the elements. Come spring, your yarrow will soon burst back into life, producing lots of fresh new foliage and budding blooms.
How long does yarrow live?
Yarrow is a hardy perennial and can live a long life spanning several seasons so long as it receives the right care and conditions.
Effortlessly simple to grow and breathtakingly beautiful to boot, yarrow is a fantastic addition to wildlife gardens, cottage gardens, and herb gardens alike. Bursting with beneficial properties and steeped in occult symbolism, this wonderful wildflower surely deserves a place in every garden.