Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
North Dakota and many other parts of the Northern Hemisphere are home to the common yarrow. Plants occur at elevations up to 10,500 ft.
The plants can be identified at long distances because of the large flat-topped clusters of white flower heads. In our area, yarrow is from one to two feet tall. Stems are unbranched except at the very top and are perennial from short horizontal rhizomes. The narrow leaves are divided into hundreds of fine segments and remind one of green feathers. Fruits are tiny, flattened achenes as in the sunflower.
The effects of cattle grazing on yarrow seem to vary regionally. In the rich moist soils of eastern North Dakota, plants are about equally abundant regardless of grazing intensity; in drier thinner soils to the west, more plants are found on lightly or moderately grazed pastures.
Yarrow has an extensive and interesting literature. The plant or decoctions made from it have been recommended as a cure for sores, toothaches, and diseases of the lungs, bladder, and kidneys; a local anesthetic; a stomach and nerve tonic an ingredient in salads and soups; a tobacco substitute.
Most intriguing is that a random selection of stalks of the humble yarrow was selected by the ancient Chinese sages as the means to consult the oracles of the I Ching or Book of Changes. This compendium arose from mythical antiquity and contains the seasoned wisdom of thousands of years of human history. Most scholars consider the book one of the most important in world literature.
Yarrow is a member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae). The healing powers of yarrow were said to have been discovered by the Greek warrior Achilles. The specific epithet millefolium means "thousand leaved" in botanical Latin. The plant was first described for science by the great Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus in his monumental Species Plantarum in 1753.