Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Also known as: milfoil, nosebleed, old man's mustard, Poor man's pepper, staunchweed, yarroway
KingdomPlantae
PhylumAnthophyta
ClassMagnoliopsida
OrderAsterales
FamilyAsteraceae
GenusAchilla (1)
SizeStem length: 8 – 45 cm (occasionally up to 60 cm) (2)
Leaf length: 5 – 15 cm (2)

Common and widespread: not threatened (3).

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 ‘yarrow’ derives from the Anglo-Saxon name for the plant, ‘gearwe’ (7).

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).

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 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, yarroway, 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).

This species is not threatened.

Conservation action is not required for this very common species.

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

  1. ITIS, the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (September, 2009)
    http://www.itis.gov
  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)
    http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/y/yarrow02.html