Posted by: Merlin PJ22 JUL 2009
The summer months see the flowering of one of Merlin’s favourite herbs, the yarrow or milfoil (Achillea millefolium, Asteraceae). Wild yarrow has a delightful aroma when crushed.
A number of cultivars can be obtained from garden centres but these seem not to have the same aroma, being presumably bred for the flowers.
Achillea’s generic name is said to be derived from the Greek hero Achilles who, during the Trojan War, used it to treat his and his soldiers’ wounds. The herb was said to have the property of staunching blood flow.
Culpeper, in his ‘Complete Herbal’ (1653), claims that Achilles learned of this use of yarrow from the centaur Chiron. Its specific name means “a thousand leaves” and refers to its feathery foliage.
The name “yarrow” may be a corruption of the Anglo-Saxon name for the plant, yearwe. The folk names “nosebleed” and “wound-wort” confirm its traditional use as an emergency styptic. According to Culpeper, “it stays the shedding of hair, the head being bathed with the decoction of it”, although Merlin doubts that yarrow would be a serious competitor to Regaine.
Yarrow has been used for love divination in the past. In Ireland it was said that young girls would cut a square sod in which grew a yarrow plant and place it beneath their pillow so that they would dream of their sweetheart.
In some European countries, yarrow is one of the herbs associated with St John, in addition to the well-known hypericum or St John’s wort.