Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Yarrow flowers
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Yarrow fact file

Yarrow description

GenusAchilla (1)

Yarrow is a common herb that has been highly regarded for its medicinal properties in Britain since Anglo-Saxon times (4). The erect stems are woolly and the dense, flattened flower-heads are typically white, but more rarely they may be pink or reddish (2). The leaves are deeply divided, forming many small lobes (5); this feature is referred to by the specific Latin name, millefolium, which means ‘thousand leaf’ (6). The name of the genus, Achillea is thought to have arisen as it is said that Achilles used this herb to treat the wounds of his soldiers. The common name ‘plants’ derives from the Anglo-Saxon name for the plant, ‘gearwe’ (7).

Also known as
milfoil, nosebleed, old man's mustard, Poor man's pepper, staunchweed, yarroway.
Stem length: 8 – 45 cm (occasionally up to 60 cm) (2)
Leaf length: 5 – 15 cm (2)

Yarrow biology

Yarrow is a perennial herb that can spread both by seed and by means of creeping stems, known as stolons (2). The flowers, which are present from June to September (7) are visited by a huge range of insects (2). The whole plant has a strongly aromatic scent (2).

Yarrow was once held in high esteem as a medicinal plant, and has been used to staunch wounds and to ward off illness and bad luck (6). Conversely it was believed to be one of the Devil’s herbs, and was used in divination (4). It was also said to cause nosebleeds if a leaf was put into the nostril, and the plant was known as ‘nosebleed’ in some areas (4). In East Anglia, this property of the plant was employed in order to divine future love; a leaf was placed inside the nose and the following rhyme was recited: ‘Yarroway, plantsay, bear a white blow, if my love love me, my nose will bleed now(4). The leaves and flowers have a bitter, astringent and pungent taste; the alternative common name ‘old man’s pepper’ refers to this quality (7).


Yarrow range

This very common plant occurs throughout the British Isles (5). Elsewhere it is found in Europe and western Asia, and has been introduced to North America, Australia and New Zealand (2).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Atlas.

Yarrow habitat

Grows in most types of grassland habitat, including coastal sand dunes, lawns, road verges, waste ground and montane grasslands. It grows in all types of soil, save for the most nutrient poor, and is drought tolerant (3).


Yarrow status

Common and widespread: not threatened (3).


Yarrow threats

This species is not threatened.


Yarrow conservation

Conservation action is not required for this very common species.

There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Atlas.

Find out more

For more on British native plants and for details of how to get involved in plant conservation visit:



This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact: arkive@wildscreen.org.uk


Plants that live for at least three seasons; after an initial period they produce flowers once a year.


  1. ITIS, the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (September, 2009)
  2. Clapham, A.R., Tutin, T.G. and and Moore, D.M. (1987) Flora of the British Isles 3rd Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  3. Preston, C.D., Pearman, D.A. and Dines, T.D. (2002) New Atlas of the British and Irish Flora. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  4. Grigson, G. (1996) The Englishman’s Flora. Helicon Publishing, Ltd, Oxford.
  5. Stace, C. (1991) New Flora of the British Isles. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  6. Mabey, R. (1996) Flora Britannica. Sinclair-Stevenson, London.
  7. Botanical.com (September, 2009)

Image credit

Yarrow flowers  
Yarrow flowers

© Laurie Campbell / lauriecampbell.com

Laurie Campbell Photography
TD15 1TE
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 1289 386 736
Fax: +44 (0) 1289 386 746


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