Plant Lore-Yarrow/Milfoil

YARROW.—The Yarrow, or Milfoil (Achillea Millefolium), is a plant which delights to find a home for itself in churchyards. Probably on account of this peculiarity it has been selected to play an important part in several rustic incantations and charms. In the South and West of England, damsels resort to the following mode of love-divination :—The girl must first pluck some Yarrow from a young man's grave, repeating the while these words;—

"Yarrow, sweet Yarrow, the first that I have found,
In the name of Jesus Christ I pluck it from the ground;
As Jesus loved sweet Mary, and took her for His dear,
So in a dream this night, I hope my true love will appear."

She must then sleep with the Yarrow under her pillow, and in her dreams her future husband will appear.—Another formula states: The Yarrow must be plucked exactly on the first hour of morn; place three sprigs in your shoe or glove, saying:—

"Good morning, good morning, good Yarrow,
And thrice good morning to thee;
Tell me, before this time to-morrow,
Who my true love is to be,"

Observe, a young man must pluck the Yarrow off a young maiden's grave, and a female must select that off a bachelor's. Retire home to bed without speaking another word, or it dissolves the spell; put the Yarrow under your pillow, and it will procure a sure dream

on which you may depend. In another spell to procure for a

maiden a dream of the future, she is to make a posey of various coloured flowers, one of a sort, some Yarrow off a grave, and a sprig of Rue, and bind all together with a little hair from her head. She is then to sprinkle the nosegay with a few drops of the oil of amber, using her left hand, and bind the flowers round her head when she retires to rest in a bed supplied with clean linen. This spell it is stated will ensure the maid's future

fate to appear in a dream. The Yarrow acquired the name

of Nosebleed from its having been put into the nose to cause bleeding, and to cure the megrim, as we learn from Gerarde. Dr. Prior adds, that it was also called Nosebleed from its being used as a means of testing a lover's fidelity, and he quotes from Forby, who, in his 'East Anglia,' says that, in that part of England, a girl will tickle the inside of the nostril with a leaf of this plant, crying:—

"Yarroway, Yarroway, bear a white blow;
If my love love me, my nose will bleed now."

By a blunder of the mediaeval herbalists, the name and remedial character of the Horse-tail, which was formerly called Herba sanguinaria and Nosebleed, were transferred without reason to the Yarrow,

which has since retained them. The Yarrow is also known as

Old Man's Pepper, and was formerly called the Souldier's Woundwort. The Highlanders make an ointment from it; and it was similarly employed by the ancient Greeks, who said that Achilles first made use of this plant as a wound herb, having learnt its virtues of Chiron, the Centaur—hence its scientific name Achillea.

Astrologers place the herb under the dominion of Venus.- •

To dream of gathering Yarrow for medicinal purposes denotes that the dreamer will shortly hear of something that will give him or her extreme pleasure.
Plant lore, legends, and lyrics: Embracing the myths, traditions ...
By Richard Folkard


Achillea millefdlium

So named because its virtues are said to have been
discerned by Achilles.

A perennial, gray-green herb, with brownish white flowers in flat-topped clusters. At its best in July, when its finely dissected, fern-like leaves and stiffening stalks border every roadside. Naturalized from Europe.

Rootstock.—Horizontal, sending out runners.

Stem.—Erect, one to two feet high, leafy, sometimes hairy, branching near the summit at the flowering time.

Leaves.—Long and narrow, deeply cut into slender parts, each of which is again cut into very fine fringe. Curled and feathery, clasping the stalk at frequent intervals. Midrib hairy underneath.

Flower-heads.—Radiate-composite, with four to six small, oblong, three-toothed, usually white ray-florets which surround the tiny disk of perfect, yellowish or brownish disk-florets. Involucre is a small, pale-green cup, made up of tiny bracts. These heads are borne in many small, compact groups which are gathered into one or more large, flat-topped, stiff-branched, terminal clusters. The yellow centre which looks like stamens is really made up of several white, tubular corollas whose mouths are filled with brilliant yellow stamens.

Pollinated by many insects. Nectar-bearing.

Yarrow appears by the roadside in two forms: one, the seedling as a bunch of bright green, marvellously dissected leaves in a rosette so full and flowing as at once to attract the eye.

The other is the blossoming plant which begins to open its clusters in June. These are white with a dash of brown which spreads as the florets mature and the seeds begin to ripen—when at last the life-drama is ended, after the last floret has opened and closed, the plant stands a group of brown stalks crowned by a brown cluster of seed-vessels.

When these gray-green stems begin to assert themselves in June, they are accentuated by tight clusters of dull gray-green buds that tip the branches. A few days later the gray, massed buds show a suggestion of white and soon open. What looks in the open cluster like a single corolla with five petals is really a small flower-head with five white ray-florets and a centre Yarrow. Achilla mMefdiium of tubular white florets whose mouths are fitted with yellow stamens. There is no grace and little attractiveness about the plant, but it escorts the traveller along the roadsides of three continents.

Pungent juices lie within these gray-green tissues and it must be because of these that this commonest of common weeds confronts us, not only at the waysides of the world, but in the mythology, the folkYARROW

lore, the materia medica, and the literature of many peoples.

One of the stories told of the plant's medicinal virtues is that an ointment made from it will heal all wounds. This is said still to be used in Scotland and Iceland. In mythology it was the centaur Chiron who told Achilles of this wonderful ointment, that he might heal his soldiers wounded at Troy. Therefore, the plant is Achillea to the botanist. As a lovecharm it still survives among the peasants of Great Britain in that form of domestic divination of which both Scotch and English folk-lore is so full. On midsummer eve, a bunch of Yarrow under the pillow is supposed to bring to the sleeper in dreams the future husband or wife. An old rhyme showing this belief is still extant:

"Thou pretty herb of Venus tree
Thy true name it is Yarrow

Now, who my dearest friend shall be
Pray, tell thou me tomorrow."

The interesting question arises: How has the Yarrow succeeded in accomplishing so much? First of all, it is a composite, second, it is a perennial, moreover,, it increases both by runners and by seeds; its flowering season is long; brimming with nectar, it attracts many insects; and what is, perhaps, most important of all its magnificent vitality enables it to live and prosper where others perish.
The wayside flowers of summer: a study of the conspicuous herbaceous plants ...
By Harriet Louise Keeler


NOT the " braes " of that name, or " Yarrow Revisited," although both are suggested by the title, are we about to consider in the present paper, but the common plant, with its corymbs of white flowers and 'its finely divided leaves, which is just now so conspicuous by roadsides and in meadow ground, and which figures not unfrequently in cheap bouquets at this season of the year. It is a handsome plant enough; but with plants, as with other things, " familiarity breeds contempt," and so its claims to be regarded as ornamental are disregarded.

It is especially to the folk-lore connected with the Yarrow that we wish to direct attention. In spite of many contributions to the subject, the folk-lore of our British plants has as yet found no historian, and our notes may serve as material for a chapter in the work upon this fascinating subject which, although as yet unwritten, is certain to appear sooner or later, and certain to contain a fund of information which will interest the general reader no less than the antiquarian and the ethnologist.

Beginning with the " vcrtues" of Yarrow, we shall find them not only numerous, but of ancient renown. In the Herbarium of Apuleius, printed by M. Cockayne in his Saxon Lecchdoms, it is said :—" Of this Wort, which is named Millefolium, and in our language Yarrow, it is said that Achilles, the chieftain, found it, and he with this same Wort healed them who with iron were stricken and wounded. Also for that'reason, it is named of some men Achillea. With this Wort it is said that he also healed a man whose name was Telephos." This extract will show that the reputation of the Yarrow as a wound-herb is of considerable antiquity ; and indeed most of the recipes given in the above cited work are for the healing of wounds, although the plant is also prescribed for toothache and other matters. Drayton speaks of it as

"The Yarrow wherewithal he stops the wound-made gore,"

and in Scotland it is called " Stanch-girds," or Staunch-grass, from this property. Another of its old names, Nose-bleed, seems to have arisen from two diametrically opposed beliefs connected with the plant. Gerarde says," the leaves being put into the nose do cause it to bleed," upon which Parkinson comments, "assuredly it will stay the bleeding of it." But this name, Nose-bleed, has a very intimate connection with the folk-lore of the plant, as we shall see further on. Other old names of the Yarrow, all referring to its styptic qualities, are Bloodwort and Carpenter's-grass, both of which are given by Treveris in the Grete Hcrball. The name Yarrow is of obscure and uncertain origin. Dr. Prior gives various conjectures regarding it. Surflet, in his CountrU Farme, says that Yarrow "doth stay all manner of fluxes, especially that which cometh of a wound, the leaves [being] dried, made in powder, and drunke with the iuyce or water of Comfrey or Plantaine."

Milfoil, as the plant is also called, is simply an Anglicised form of the Latin Millefolium, and, like the common English names " Thousand-leaf" or "Hundred-leaved grass," refers to the much-divided leaves of the plant. It is sometimes called "Tansy," because its leaves somewhat resemble those of Tanacetum, and it

was considered, like that plant, to ward off fascination and "the evil eye." In modern rustic practice, a "tea" made from Yarrow leaves is used in various disorders, not, it would appear, for any specific malady, but as being generally " good to take when you're ill." It is one of the plants collected by bargemen on their travels, and sold by them in the towns through which they pass.

The chief point of folk-lore regarding the Yarrow is connected with the curious custom of placing a leaf in the nose, with the intention of making it bleed ; from the success or failure of this expedient a corresponding result in love concerns is expected! As is usual in such romantic affairs, certain rhymes have to be repeated during the process, which vary somewhat in different localities. Here are one or two. In Suffolk the formula is :—

'' Green 'arrow, green 'arrow, you bears a white blow,
I f my love love me my nose will bleed now;
If my love don't love me, it 'ont bleed a drop;
If my love do love me, 'twill bleed every drop."

In Devonshire the rhyme has somewhat of a religious character—the Yarrow must be plucked from a young man's grave, and placed under the pillow :—

1' Yarrow, sweet Yarrow, the first that I have found, And in the name of Jesus I pluck it from the ground. As Joseph loved sweet Mary, and took her for his dear, So in a dream this night I hope my true love will appear."

In Dublin, on May Day or the preceding night, women place a stocking, filled with Yarrow, under their pillow, reciting the following lines :—

"Good-morrow, good Yarrow, good-morrow to thee;
I hope by the morrow my lover to see,
And that he may be married to me;
The colour of his hair, and the clothes he does wear;
And if he be for me may his face be turned to me,
And if he be not, dark and surly he may be,
And his back be turned to me."

Mr. Halliwell, in his Popular Rhymes, says :— "An ounce of Yarrow, sewed up in flannel, must be placed under your pillow when you go to bed, and having repeated the following words, the required dream [of a future husband] will be realised :—

"Thou pretty herb of Venus' tree,
Thy true name it is Yarrow;
Now who my bosom friend must be,
Pray tell thou me to-morrow."

The gathering of Yarrow with an incantation was one of the charges against one Elspeth Reoch on her trial for witchcraft in March, 1616. It was alleged that she had plucked "ane herb called Melefowr," in which name we see a modification of Milfoil—sitting on her right knee and pulling it "betwixt the midfinger and thombe, and saying of In nomine Pain's, Filii, et Spiritus Sancii." By the plant so gathered she was enabled to cure distempers and to impart the faculty of prediction. There is no doubt that the Yarrow was the plant referred to, as the Melefowr is said to be the herb " quhilk causis the nose bleed." In the time of Elizabeth the Yarrow was gathered with certain incantations before sunrise on Midsummer Day.

English and Scotch traditions have each contributed their quota to the popular history of the Yarrow, and we will conclude with an Irish incident recorded in Notes and Queries (or July, 1872. The writer says he was engaged at Castle Blayney, in Ulster, in an important land case, when he "received in a very secret and mysterious manner a little packet from an old woman, with an assurance that if I would keep it it would assuredly bring me luck, and I should escape the wiles of my enemies." Success attended his efforts; and, on examining the packet, it was found to contain some dried Yarrow. The writer inquired of the old woman in what its virtue consisted, and " she whispered, after some hesitation, that it was the first herb our Saviour put in His hand when a child, and that, therefore, she added, to those who were by tradition acquainted with that fact it would certainly bring luck !" B. M.

Gardeners' chronicle, horticultural trade journal, Part 2