Plants of the month August---Yarrow and sneezewort.

Both of these late summer plants belong to the family Asteraceae and they share the same Genus name of Achillea. Both species have been used in herbal medicine and for culinary purposes. The review of these two species will commence with a description of the yarrow, Achillea millefolium.

Yarrow is a native perennial, very common, occurring in such places as meadows, pastures, banks , hedgerows and waysides. On grassy banks it can be a persistent weed. they have developed fibrous root systems and prostrate stems that root at nodes and may become far reaching stolons.It also produces branched rhizomes which may creep 7-20 cm per year. They over winter as leaf rosettes, that in spring, send up flowering shoots. However, on lawns the plants never reach the height required to produce flowers due to constant mowing, but the roots that produce the foliage will remain persistent. 

The stem is angular and rough, the foliage is arranged alternate along the stem. they are usually 4-6 inches long {10-15 cm} and about an inch broad, { 2.5 cm} clasping at the stem. The foliage is deeply cut into and are very feathery looking. The basal leaves may well be over one foot long {30 cm} . These much divided, aromatic leaves give rise to the species name of millefolium which literally means  1000 leaves. 

The feathery foliage of yarrow give rise to the species name of millefolium. Photograph by Dal

The flowers of yarrow

The tiny daisy like flowers are borne in terminal tightly packed flower heads which are flattish, each individual flower has tiny white ray florets {which appear petal like} and central disc florets. The plant produces  many flowers that may be encountered from June until October and they are often at their best during August. The flowers are usually white but a pale or deep pink varieties can occur.

The purple flowers of a cultivated yarrow species.


Medicinal and culinary uses.

Yarrow is one of the oldest known woundherbs as some of its country titles suggest, names such as soldiers woundwort, and knight's milfoil.  The Anglo Saxsons used yarrow in the form of an ointment to clean wounds that were compounded with grease. The grease was employed to stop the metal sword blades from becoming rusty.

Nose bleed, carpenter's herb, bloodwort and staunch bleed all give testament to the herbs vulenary properties.

Yarrow tea was regarded as an excellent tonic to combat the symptoms of cold s and flu. It was utilised as an ointment for the affliction commonly referred to as the piles. Other ailments such as loss of appetite and as a digestive tonic were all helped by yarrow. The fresh leaves employed beneath a bandage was regarded as being efficient in healing wounds. In various preparations the yarrow was also used to treat bites and stings, bruises,cold sores, eczema, gum and teeth problems, chicken pox, shingles and rheumatisim.

Yarrow should not be used during pregnancy or by anyone allergic to the Asteraeace {daisy family}. Any one  using yarrow {or any other herb} for the first time  is advised click on the link WILD HERB ADVISE.


Yarrow attracts many insects such as these soldier beetles


Culinary uses.

Yarrow foliage may be placed in the dish with meat or casseroles as obne would use basil or similar herbs to flavour the dish. The leaves can be added to salads. They can also be infused to produce a soothing tea.

Sneezewort Achillea ptarmica

 The flowers of this species are larger than those of the yarrow and the foliage very different, yet, when seen from a distance , and, where they are growing together they can look similar. However, closer observation will reveal many differences.. First the flowering stem will attain the height of 30cm {the same as yarrow} have stalk-less simple leaves which are finely toothed arranged alternately and lance shaped.

Sneezewort flowers,larger than those of yarrow



The flowers are in loose clusters and are button like,with whitish ray florets and darker central florets. Greenish bracts surround the flower.

The leaves of this species may be eaten in salads they are slightly hot in flavour and counteract the coldness of salads. The roots were was dried and crushed in to a powder which was taken in the manner of snuff. This produced sneezing which in turn cleared the head. Some say just sniffing the flowers will make one sneeze.

Garden varieties of sneezewort are popular such as A.ptarmica" the pearl".

There are also many species of yarrow cultivated  such as A.millefolium " Fire king" which is a vigorous upright perennial with a height and spread of 60cm {2 feet}. It produces a mass of dark green feathery foliage and flat heads of rich red flowers in summer.

A.millefolium " Moonshine"  is an upright perennial that bears flat heads of bright yellow flowers during summer above clumps of feathery foliage. Height and spread 60cm x 50cm.

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Basic plant biology 1-2-3-4

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