yarrow defined in 1913 yearyarrow - Yarrow (Milfoil, Achillea millefolia);
yarrow - "The Yarrow and the Sneezewort," says Maeterlinck, "march along the roads like silent schoolgirls clad in a dull uniform... wearing the practical grey livery of autumn which already is felt to be at hand." Under the brilliant sun of the passing July days when the grey-green stems first begin to assert themselves, this greyness is accentuated by the tight clusters of dull-grey buds that tip the branches. Nowhere is there a hint of that joyous vividness that is so marked a characteristic of the plants of the spring, for over the whole of the Yarrow Nature has thrown a filmy veiling of grey silken hairs. The plant is, indeed, at this stage the apotheosis of the unobtrusive, and, even later, when the flowers come, detail is lost in their insignificance and matters are not much better. Moreover, the magnificent constitution of the plant enables it to flourish by the dustiest roadside and in the most neglected of spots, and so familiar association with dust and dullness is added to its other drawbacks, and it has become the symbol of 'the commonplace - a thing without power to charm. But make the Yarrow rare and magnify it fourfold, and it would be at once acclaimed for its beauty! While as for its inherent virtues our forefathers would be astonished at our apathy on this point. Let us, then, give the plant our sympathetic consideration.
Now even in the early, greyest days of its career a flower-lover will note the rigid, elegantly-grooved column of its main stem, and the miniature reproduction of it in the branches; also the fern-like leaves of many leaflets, folded face to face, leaflet to leaflet in the young leaves, but stretching apart in older leaves and showing that each leaflet as well as each leaf is daintily cut in a filmy fashion. Therefore do the country folk call it "Milfoil" or "Thousand Leaf," Latin, Mitte folia. The main rib of the whole leaf is a white channel bordered with dark green, and the upward tilt of the leaf ensures that all rain and dew that it collects shall run along this channel and from it trickle down the furrowed main stem to the root. Pungent juices lie within the grey-green tissues, to which juices the old herbalists attributed many virtues. "Most men say that the leaves chewed, and especially green, are a remedy for the toothache," says one, and it is quite possible that the toothache might then be the lesser evil and forgotten in the noxiousness of the remedy. "The leaves being put into the nose do cause it to bleed and ease the paine of the megrim," is another prescription which gave the plant its old English name of "Nose-Bleed," "Old Man's Pepper" and "Sneezewort," though this last name is perhaps more properly applied to the other species of Yarrow native here, namely, the Achillea ptarmica. Even to-day country people still stuff the leaves up their nose when they suffer from headaches due to congestion in the head.
A few days later than when our first observations were made some of the grey, massed buds become topped with a suggestion of white. The whole cluster is greener, too, having shed most of the covering white hairs. Each bud now appears wrapped in silvery scales with broad midrib and brown edges. Still a day or two later and little white rolls of petals, five as a rule, can be detected in each bud. Then suddenly, all together, the petals complete their uncurling and spread, and the united action of the buds places before us a flat, white, floral disk, apparently composed of many flowers, each with a golden centre. But a great surprise is in store for us, for on closer inspection we find we have really cluster within cluster, for each of the little apparent flowers, so small that a shilling would cover twenty of them, proves to be itself a head of flowers. The five or six short, broad rays, shaped like palm-leaf fans, are not merely petals, but flowers consisting of five united petals - the fan part - and a minute tube, the handle - which tube encloses a still more minute ovary with a forked style. The yellow centre, which we took for merely stamens, is really made up of several white, tubular corollas, whose mouths are filled with brilliant yellow stamen-heads, five heads all joined together going to each. But the united stamen-heads are so prominent that the surrounding corolla is practically negligible at a cursory glance. In the older of these inner florets a rod from the ovary below thrusts itself through the stamens pushing out their pollen - the anthers retracting a little - and then opens into a fork. Notice there are no stamens in the outer, more showy florets. Under a lens it can be seen that the stigma forks are covered with pollen dust, not from the stamens in their respective florets, for these are below them, but from the stamens of adjacent florets and clusters. For if the Yarrow is no favourite with man it is immensely popular with little flies of many sorts; in fact, about one hundred and twenty different kinds of insects have been seen visiting the flat clusters - and fine platforms these make, too, for their peregrinations and fine feeding grounds, also, so far as pollen is concerned, and pollen is often quite as acceptable as honey. Each floret will eventually produce a single, little, dry seed of no special interest. The plant does not, however, trust to its seeds solely for its propagation. It probably owes its prevalence far more to its strong, creeping root that forcibly pushes its way about, however stony or hard the soil around.
Sometimes the Yarrow flower-heads are attacked by gall-mites, and then most extraordinary things happen, "the flowers being metamorphosed into green funnels with jagged mouths, and into small flat-lobed and toothed foliage leaves, whilst short, green, scale-like leaflets rise from the midribs of these leaves representing the metamorphosed stamens," says Kerner.
To the country girl the chief interest of the Yarrow lies in the fact that it is a first-rate fortuneteller. One has only to stitch up an ounce of Yarrow in a piece of flannel and put it under one's pillow, and say before getting into bed:
"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,"
for one's dreams to declare infallibly who is to be one's true love! Sometimes the ritual is a little different. A maiden will rise exactly at the first hour of dawn and gather three sprigs of the plant, saying as she does so:
"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,"
and then place them in her shoe or her glove and go forth in full faith that she will meet her future husband during the day.
Certain of the remedial virtues that are supposed to lie in its leaves have already been mentioned, but there still remains to tell of the wonderful ointment that can be made from it, an ointment that will quickly heal up all wounds. The Icelander and the Highlander specially used it and do perhaps to this day, following a tradition from the mythological days of Achilles, who learnt the secret from the Centaur, Chiron, that he might heal his soldiers wounded at the siege of Troy. Therefore is the plant still Achillea to the botanist, and "Woundwort," "Soldier's Woundwort," "Knighten Milfoil," or "Kinglatin Milfoil" to the children of to-day, even though they have never heard of the heroic, days of Helen of Troy. At one time, too, this ointment was further esteemed for its power to stay the shedding of the hair. Milfoil tea has a fame that still lives in certain remote parts, where it is brewed by the old wives for sufferers from the ague. The women of the Orkneys give it to those who are subject to fits of melancholy.
As to the name Yarrow, it is somewhat of a mystery how the plant got it. Apparently it has annexed one of the vervain's names, namely, the Greek hiera botane, i.e. holy herb, and since the Greek hi becomes g or y in our language, the "hiera" has become "Yarrow" - at least, this is Dr. Prior's surmise, which must be accepted for want of a better. In Wales the plant is called the "Death Flower," since it is considered to presage death if brought into the house. Probably the superstition arose because the Yarrow is a plant that frequents the churchyard. For this reason, too, it is used as a funeral token.
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