My Love/Hate Relationship with Yarrow

2016-06-24 13.33.30Growing up, yarrow was a flower to be dried for arrangements. An innocuous plant that grew along the roadsides. I liked the flowers, and I loved the insects and spiders it attracted.

It wasn’t until I moved to New Zealand, where yarrow is a pernicious weed in my garden, that I began to consider yarrow more closely and learn more about it.

Yarrow is native to Europe and parts of Asia, but has been spread widely, because of its many uses.

It is referenced in Homer’s Iliad as being used for stanching wounds, and has been used all over the world for many other medicinal purposes—from reducing fevers and soothing earaches, to curing urinary problems and head colds.

Yarrow was probably originally brought to New Zealand as a medicinal plant, but it has other uses that are more valid than the medicinal ones.

Today yarrow is a common pasture plant. Its deep rhizomes make it drought resistant, and it is higher in certain key nutrients than either ryegrass or white clover. I discovered this when I began to worry about the goat paddock. After two dry summers, the yarrow was taking over a big swath of the paddock. I worried, knowing that to remove that much yarrow would be a Sisyphean task—dig it out and any bits of rhizome left in the soil will simply resprout. Even herbicides are largely ineffective against yarrow.

So I was thrilled to learn that its virtues went beyond pretty dried flowers, and that I could ignore it in the paddock.

Of course, it grows everywhere, and isn’t bothered by mowing. But that has benefits, too. This past summer, when all the grass of the lawn was brown and dead, the yarrow remained some of the only spots of green.

And then there are the insects it attracts, which I naturally love.

And so, I love yarrow…and I hate yarrow. Either way, I have to live with it.

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