Botanically, the weed yarrow is Achillea millefolium, but is known by many common names: Bloodwort, Knight's Balm, Nosebleed, Old Man's Pepper, Stanchgrass, Thousandleaf, Carpenter's Weed, Sneezeweed and Woundwort among them. Most of the names refer to the plant's reputed ability to stop bleeding.
Edwin Spencer in his book All About Weeds wrote that 'this plant is about as worthless as any that grows.' This is a rather harsh review, but it is true that this naturalized European-native is very invasive and a strong grower.
Some stories say yarrow received the name Achillea because the Greek hero Achilles taught his fellow soldiers to use the herb's leaves to stop the bleeding of battle wounds. From that time right up to the U.S. Civil War, yarrow was used in battlefield medicine. Throughout history there are many reports on the medical uses of yarrow, from European physicians, to the Chinese, Shaker, and Native American herbalists. Some uses seem contradictory, as it was recommended to stuff the nose with yarrow leaves to both cure and cause a nosebleed. It was long thought that by inducing a nosebleed you cured a headache.
Modern archeologists have even found yarrow pollen in Neanderthal burial caves indicating man has used this plant for the last 60,000 years. Besides medicine, it has been used for amulets to protect from both blindness and robbers, as an ingredient in astringent and cleansing lotions, and as a yellow dye. It has also been used in black magic and prophecy. I Ching, the Chinese method of prediction used 50 dried stalks of yarrow. A European belief said you would dream of your future love by sleeping on a flannel pillow filled with yarrow.
The Achillea millefolium has come a long way as a garden plant. Within the last two decades breeders have crossed the millefolium with other Achillea genus to develop many new cultivars. The size of the corym has increased, the plants are better mannered, less raggedy, but the drought resistance remains, and the colors are a wonderful range of soft pink to gingery orange. They are wonderful additions for any garden and a must for dry locations and water-restricted areas.