It helps the blood to clot quickly in a fresh wound. Myths say it was named for the mythological general Achilles, given the herb by the gods to help his fallen soldiers live to fight another day. The Romans carried it with their legions. No Medieval monastery or colonial American garden would be without this essential. What is this wonder plant?

Pink Achillea
While yarrow’s hot-colored hybrids work well in dryland settings, the softer pink varieties add romance to cottage gardens and perennial borders.
Photo Credit: Maureen Gilmer
Achillea millefolium ‘Paprika’
Bright red Achillea millefolium ‘Paprika’ stands out in a mass of yellow hybrids for a lovely two-tone effect.
Photo Credit: Maureen Gilmer
Achillea filipendulina
Achillea filipendulina features wider leaves, silvery coloring and a tidier clump than its milfoil cousin.
Photo Credit: Maureen Gilmer
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When cutting yarrow to dry, snip flowers at their peak of color – just after they emerge from bud state.
Photo Credit: Maureen Gilmer

It’s yarrow (Achillea)!

To most American gardeners, this plant is known for its naturally dried flowers called “everlastings.” Combined with strawflower and statice, yarrow is the third member of the dried flower arranger’s triad. This cutflower’s beauty, its medicinal value as an Old World Band-Aid® plus its rugged constitution make yarrow indispensable to household gardens.

Today the single species, A. millefolium (also known as milfoil), is the most widely grown. Not only is it naturally drought-resistant due to its Mediterranean origins, milfoil is a naturally low-growing plant that spreads by underground stems into patches. Flowers rise up on stiff stems in spring and bloom for weeks into summer. When cut at the peak of color (before they fade), the everlastings make easy-to-dry flowers for fall or winter decorating.

There are lots of nice colors to choose from. Consider the red-orange ‘Paprika’ or the redder ‘Strawberry Seduction’, ‘Appleblossom’ (‘Apfelblüte’) and ‘Fireland’ (‘Feuerland’). For softer pastels try ‘Terracotta’, ‘Apricot Delight’ and ‘Wonderful Wampee’.

From Eastern Europe comes fernleaf yarrow, derived from the yellow-blooming species, A. filipendulina. This is a more substantial plant (up to 4 feet tall), producing massive flower heads over heavier silvery foliage. It’s sold exclusively as named hybrids, many of them quite similar. The most unique is ‘Moonshine’, which features pale flower heads that become iridescent under moonlight. It produces nice, tight clumps for a more precise look than other yarrows.

For dried flowers, fans love the big, bright blooms of ‘Coronation Gold’ fernleaf yarrow because they really hold their color. Foliage is greener with this cultivar, and it makes a fine source of long-lasting color in full-sun gardens. All the fernleaf hybrids can be combined with the colored milfoil yarrows to add more interest, height and texture.

The one Achilles’ heel of this perennial is that it doesn’t do well in saturated soils, particularly during the growing season. In areas of summer rainfall, be sure to grow the plant on high ground, mounds, rock gardens or banks where drainage is guaranteed. On the other hand, you’ll find success with yarrow in marginal soils containing a preponderance of sand and gravel (which facilitates drainage). This makes it a super problem solver for gardens with garden fertility issues.

Don’t hesitate to cut yarrows during their long bloom season because this stimulates replacement stalks. To harvest, cut them in the morning just as the little buds are opening. The longer they stand in full sun, the more the flower color bleaches out. Bundle small groups of stems together and hang upside down in a dark closet with good air circulation.

Whether you live in a cold, dry climate or a Mediterranean one, yarrow is among the most floriferous of the aromatics. Don’t be satisfied with the ordinary whites when a whole range of mystic flower colors await! After just one season of harvesting, you’ll discover how precious the everlastings are in the dead of winter. There’s no doubt you’ll plant new colors and forms as the years go by because no other perennial can give you so much everlasting beauty for so little!