Share the Magic

So You’re Interested in Finding Yarrow?

Me too! I just started my journey into herbalism a few weeks ago and was so keen to get started with something easy and approachable.

Around the summer solstice, I was able to collect elderflowers, though I wasn’t able to find enough to make fritters, cordial, tinctures, and the like. It was a great hands-on foraging experience, but it didn’t really give me a chance to work in the kitchen with herbs.

Enter yarrow.

This dainty and hardy little fellow lives in our garden without us even needing to care for it, so it was a no-brainer to gather it in its last few days of glory.

You might still be able to harvest some fresh flowers in the next few weeks, though ours are starting to dry and bleach out. The leaves of the plant will still be good through the fall. Get searching!

 

How to Identify and Forage for Yarrow

Obviously, I’m going to tell you to get yourself a guidebook and a trusty human guide to help you identify yarrow in your garden. That being said…

Chances are that your mom or grandma will be able to lead you straight to it.

Yarrow grows from late spring through summer. It’s about a 2-3 foot tall plant. Ours has always grown in a large cluster, though I just recently saw a volunteer wild white yarrow growing in our back flowerbed that has just one stalk. Our cultivated patch consists of many long stems growing so closely together that they form a shrub.

These stems have dainty, feathery, and lacy foliage, though the leaves are usually spaced about 3-4 inches apart on the stem. They’re complex leaves, which means that there is a small stem that branches off from the main stalk which is then covered in smaller batches of leaves. The leaves also grow alternately, which means that they aren’t across from each other on the main stalk. Most of the leaves are basal, which means they’ll be found around the bottom of the stalk [9]. (But I didn’t really notice too many basal leaves on mine this year!)

yarrow flowers
Yarrow flowers can vary from white (wild type) through cultivated varieties of yellow, orange, red, pink, and purple. These here are yarrow flowers. Note the white center bundle which is the disk flowers.

The flowers will start to appear in June through mid-July, though they’ll start getting a bit sad and wilted by then. Our yarrow usually starts to fall over around the beginning of July due to the weight of the flower heads. It will look like something came and sat down in the middle of the patch! You could always tie it up at this point to keep it looking tidy.

yarrow falling down after blooming
My yarrow falls over every single year after its main blooms open up. It’s just too heavy to support itself! You can tie it up at this point, and it will stand up like a cute shrub.

The blossoms are gorgeous and look like tiny bouquets, clustered together. The tip of the stalk will subdivide into a couple “umbrellas.” Each one of these umbrellas will produce a number of little yarrow blossoms. The blossoms usually have five ray flowers and one circle of disc flowers. Each ray flower is approximately the same size as the disc flower cluster.

yarrow flowers
Yarrow flowers grow in a variety of colors from white (wild type) through yellow, orange, red, pink, and purple cultivated varieties. Note the white center on these, which are the disk flowers.

If you’re used to identifying wild flowers, yarrow will probably remind you of Queen Anne’s Lace. Just remember that QAL’s blossoms form a flat top like a platter. Yarrow tends to curve like a sweet nosegay.

not yarrow flowers
A shrub that grows in our yard (whose name I always forget!) blooms around the same time as yarrow. This is NOT YARROW. Be careful when looking for plants, because it’s easy to grab the wrong thing.

One other thing to note is that yarrow does have a smell! Some have described it as “aromatic,” though that seems so silly to me [1,9]. To MY nose, it smells suspiciously like a certain chest cold salve. It’s a little difficult to catch a whiff of it from the blossoms, but crushed leaves will produce it well enough to detect it outside. Once processing the flowers inside your home, you’ll be able to detect the scent a little better. I find that it’s much more noticeable once they have been dried.

Once you see yarrow and spend some time with it, it will be impossible not to recognize it. Though the flowers and their flower crowns are always shaped the same, the color of the actual flowers can change quite a bit. This includes both the ray flowers (petals) and the disc flowers (center). Wild type yarrow has white flowers. The cultivated varieties can include a deep purple-pink, red, salmon, watermelon, baby pink, orange, yellow, tea, and even a rare BLUE! If you’re wildcrafting, you’ll most notably find the white on white of the wild type yarrow. But cultivated varieties and their gorgeous colors are identical in structure to the wild type.

If you feel like growing some, I highly recommend it! It’s a self-seeding perennial (as long as you don’t steal all of its flower heads), so it will come back every year for you without having to work for it. The only thing I’ll note is that yarrow has been known to interbreed with other yarrow in its area and turn back to the wild type white. Perhaps save some seeds from the colors you especially love in case this happens.

If you’re looking to wildcraft it, it is found in nearly all of the United States and Canada, especially in disturbed soils, forests, and meadows [1]. My cultivated variety thrives in full sun in pretty awful, dry soil without additional watering from me. The wild one that came up this year volunteered in partial shade with poor, sandy soil among irises, Queen Anne’s Lace, and a wild raspberry bramble. I personally have never see yarrow growing wild in fields or roadsides near my home.

It is sometimes mistakenly called tansy, though I should note that this is a completely different medicinal plant! It looks very similar to yarrow but instead of tiny flowers, it has little “yellow buttons.” It looks like a dandelion that got a little crazy and hosted a family reunion. It’s adorable.

 

Wildcrafting with Yarrow

Since I am just getting started on my herbal journey, I wanted to start with an herb that was completely safe and useable. Every part of yarrow is technically edible (though traditional uses would probably keep me from eating a bunch of it!).

yarrow flowers
A closeup of the yarrow flowers, which were traditionally thought to be highly medicinal.

Not only is it safe when dried, it is also completely useable as an oil or alcohol tincture. I didn’t want to get too complicated and work with any glycerin infusions for now, since I’m a basic witch.

My goals were to gather enough of it to make an alcohol tincture, an oil based tincture for eventual process into a thickened salve, and enough to dry for potential tea use in the future.

When you’re working with wildcrafted plants, the first thing you want to do is ensure that you don’t have any hitchhikers in your collection. Some say to place the plants on a white sheet or poster for an hour or two to allow the creatures to meander off. It has definitely worked for me in the past!

However, I also like to check them by hand carefully as I sort and process. There are some bugs that are sleepy bois and will nestle into the cracks to get away from the sunshine. This little stinkbug, for instance, had special needs and required a little bit more assistance. It was missing two legs on its left side, so walking off of the plant was a slower and more difficult process. However, it took me no time to coax them onto my finger and carry them to safety outside.

Working with plants, you will inevitably have insect collaborators. It’s a fun part of getting to know your garden though!

yarrow stinkbug
Be sure to check your plants for hitchhikers before adding alcohol or oil. This little buddy blended in pretty well and had some mobility needs that required some assistance!

Once everything is checked and sorted, you’ll want to wrangle up all of your supplies. My usual station contains my scale, alcohol, coconut oil, my foraging and herbalism books, and Ball jars (always Ball, babyyyy). I’ll make a post soon of my favorite books and supplies!

yarrow workstation
My workstation while I was processing my yarrow. I was separating the fresher flowers from the older ones here. It’s always best to use a scale and to keep your books nearby.

I cleaned my leaves from my stalks (yarrow stalks traditionally were thought to not be very potent) and placed them in their own bowl. I was planning on drying and storing the leaves and flowers separately, but I didn’t have enough leaves during this photo session for that!

yarrow in jar
How adorable is this? My yarrow flowers hanging out while waiting for their steeping liquid.

 

Yarrow Wildcrafting Recipes

For my yarrow experiments, I based my recipes off of the two recipes from Lisa M. Rose’s Midwest Medicinal Plants book. For both tinctures, I used a pint Ball jar, just because it’s what I had available. You can use whatever size fits your foraging needs though!

Alcohol-based Tincture

For both of my tinctures, I used 25 grams of leaves and 25 grams of flowers. I then put in around 250 grams of 100 proof vodka. I would have liked to have used a higher proof vodka (like Everclear), but I didn’t have any on hand.

Rose says to use menstruum of 100 proof alcohol and water (50% of each), but some of the other texts I had said to use a much higher alcohol content. I opted to just not dilute the alcohol into a menstruum and see how we go.

yarrow jar
I decided to keep my yarrow jar stratified with leaves on the bottom and flowers on the top just because I like the look. It mostly just sits in the closet now while it steeps though.

Oil-based Tincture

I also prepped my oil-based tincture in the same way:  25g leaves, 25g flowers, 250g coconut oil. I then cooked it in a bain marie for 2-3 days, topping up the water constantly. Afterward, I sieved it and flash heated it on the stove to remove any residual water in it. And I mean FLASH heated it. Coconut oil heats up fast, and I didn’t want to overheat and lose the potency of anything in the oil.

I then put the oil in the fridge to cool it down, though you don’t really need to do that.

yarrow oil tincture
The oil tincture after a few days in the bain marie. You’ll notice that the flowers have lost their color but the oil is a very dark green. It smells very much like eucalyptus at this point!

Drying

I also chose to dry my leftover yarrow flowers for future tea or bath use. I first put them in the dehydrator for a day or so, just because they are quite a thick material. Afterward, I placed them on my drying screen in the Mud + Breath lofts for a few more weeks to ensure they were bone dry.

 

Summary

And that’s that! I also made a few magical charms that I talk about in the history and traditional uses article.

It was a lot of fun getting to know this plant and it felt like a very comfortable way for me to get into the herbalism process. That everything at your own pace though, find a guide or herbalist to help you, and don’t consume or touch anything that you aren’t 100% sure of.

I’m not sure if I will ever actually use my tinctures, but it was enjoyable to feel like an old-timey witch for a day or two.

Let me know if you already work with yarrow, or grow yarrow in your garden! Personally, I would really love some seeds to other cultivated colors if anyone feels like mailing a tiny packet to a witchy lady. <3

If you’re interested in the history and traditional uses of yarrow, click here.

 

Bibliography
[1] Angier, Bradford. Field Guide to Medicinal Wild Plants. Stackpole Books. 2008.
[2] Arber, Agnes. Herbals:  Their Origin and Evolution. A. Asher & Co. 1912.
[3] Culpeper, Nicholas. The Complete Herbal. A. Cross. 1850.
[4] Cunningham, Scott. Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs. Llewellyn Publications. 2019.
[5] Easley, Thomas and Steven Horne. The Modern Herbal Dispensatory. North Atlantic Books. 2016.
[6] Fernie, W. T. Herbal Simples Approved For Modern Uses of Cure. Boericke & Tafel. 1897.
[7] Folkard, Richard. Plant Lore, Legends, and Lyrics. R. Folkard and Son. 1884.
[8] Kadans, Joseph M. Modern Encyclopedia of Herbs. Simon & Schuster Inc. 1993.
[9] Kane, Charles W. Herbal Medicine. Lincoln Town Press. 2009.
[10] Kruger, Anna. American Nature Guides:  Herbs. Dragon’s World. 19925
[11] Pickston, Margaret. The Language of Flowers. Michael Joseph Ltd. 1979.
[12] Rose, Lisa M. Midwest Foraging. Timber Press. 2015.
[13] Rose, Lisa M. Midwest Medicinal Plants. Timber Press. 2017.

A little addendum here:   herbalists are not medical practitioners, are not qualified to diagnose or treat any type of illness and are not able to cure people. So if you have a medical issue, I recommend going to your family doctor. That being said, I personally am playing around with these herbs in my own kitchen and seeing how it feels to supplement my body with them in certain situations.


Share the Magic