The books may tell you Yarrow flowers until September, but on The Lizard it will often keep going strong into October.
Photo: Steve Townsend

Scientific name: Achillea millefolium

Other common names: Yarroway, Staunchweed, Old Man’s Pepper, Nosebleed, Milfoil, Soldier’s Woundwort, to name but a few. The more usual common name of Yarrow is derived from its Anglo-Saxon name.

Cornish name: Minfel

The feathery leaves of Yarrow, a member of the large Daisy family (Asteraceae), are one of this pretty plant’s most distinctive features. It produces umbel-like heads of many flowers: these are usually white, but forms in which the flowers are pale or even darker pink can also occur. Flowering is normally from June to September, but Yarrow can be found blooming into the Autumn when conditions are right.

Yarrow is a common perennial of grassland, hedgerows and waste ground, and is also found on stable sand dunes by the coast. Widely-distributed across Great Britain, the rest of Europe and western Asia, it has also been introduced to and become naturalised in North America.

The leaves and flowers have a bitter taste (the alternative common name of Old Man’s Pepper reflects this quality), and the plant is very aromatic. As well as being a prized plant in herbal medicine from the Anglo-Saxon period, it was also used in divination and to protect against bad luck.

Did you know…?

…The Latin species name, millefolium, means ‘thousand-leaf’, and derives from its feathery highly divided leaves. The genus name, Achillea, is based on the legend that the hero Achilles used Yarrow to treat his soldiers’ wounds. 

…Although once used in herbal medicine for staunching wounds, it was also once thought that Yarrow could cause either nosebleeds or sneezing if you put a leaf up your nose (Mabey, 1997). In East Anglia, this supposed property was used in a love divination charm: if your nose bled after inserting a Yarrow leaf in your nostril, then the good news was that the object of your affections loved you in return!

More information and references:

Mabey, R., 1997. Flora Britannica. Chatto & Windus, London.

Rose, F. and O’Reilly, C., 2006. The Wild Flower Key, 2nd edition. Frederick Warne, London.

Stace, C., 2010. New Flora of the British Isles, 3rd edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Published: October 2013
Author: Amanda Scott
Photos: Steve Townsend