The Healing Hues of Yarrow: A Comprehensive Guide to Its Symbolism

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is a herb steeped in legend and symbolism, but it’s also a valuable part of any dry landscape due to its popularity with pollinators. This wildflower may be native to Europe, but it has spread far and wide today. Here I’ll take you through everything you need to know about Yarrow’s meaning in the language of flowers.

Ultimate Guide to Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Yarrow Symbolism – Key Takeaways

Yarrow is a beautiful flower that shares twin meanings of healing and love. In the language of flowers, Yarrow’s symbolic meaning is traditionally associated with healing, originating from Ancient Greek mythology. The Yarrow plant is also used for divination in Chinese culture.

Etymological Meaning

The proper name Achillea is taken from Achilles, the Ancient Greek hero who was immortal and invulnerable except for his heel. This name was linked to the hero’s myth due to the plant’s reputation for accelerating wound healing and the story that he applied to the soldiers injured at the Battle of Troy. 

The second part of the proper name, millefolium, refers to the finely divided leaves that appear to have thousands of individual segments.

Yarrow Meaning & Symbolism

Bright pink yarrow flowers in bloom

The yarrow flower shares twin meanings of healing and love. In the language of flowers, Yarrow’s symbolic meaning is traditionally associated with healing, originating from Ancient Greek mythology.

The symbolism behind the Yarrow flower has many layers, ranging from centuries of historical use to the colors of the flowers.

Common Yarrow Colors and the Meaning & Symbolism

  • White: Renewal, peace, purity, new beginnings, hope, and clarity.
  • Pink: Love, happiness, joy, youthfulness, and fun.
  • Red: Passion, romance, courage, power, and strength.
  • Yellow: Friendship, warmth, excitement, celebration, and positivity.
  • Orange: Enthusiasm, fresh starts, appreciation, gratitude, and friendship.

The Cultural Significance of Yarrow

Yarrow has played a medicinal or symbolic role in multiple cultures over the last few thousand years. From Ancient Greece to Chinese religions and Victorian flower messages, it plays many roles throughout the world’s cultures.

Yarrow in Greek Mythology

An ancient Greek statue

In Ancient Greece, the Yarrow plant was strongly associated with the Trojan hero Achilles. The plant’s Latin name and its genus are derived from the hero’s name. This is because the herb was added to the water in which he was dipped which gave him invulnerability. 

Later during the Trojan War, Achilles also used the herb to heal the wounds of his soldiers. As an essential part of the Illiad, this herb became a part of other dramatic stories and poems from the Greek culture as time passed. This also led to its spread throughout Europe and Asia where it wasn’t previously found as Greeks traded with other cultures.

Yarrow in Chinese Culture

Yarrow plays a vital role in Chinese traditional medicine and the divination practices known as I-Ching. Known in Mandarin as Ya Luo, this herb is recommended for supporting lung and kidney health. 

As part of the Taoist tradition, 50 dried stalks of Yarrow flowers are tossed, and the patterns are read as divination. It was said to grow around the grave of Confucius, the founder of the Confucian religion.

Yarrow in Myth, Folklore, and Witchcraft

Red yarrow flowers in bloom

During the Medieval period, where witchcraft was a major concern to the Church, Yarrow gained a reputation for being able to drive away the devil. It became a part of many complex Christian exorcism rituals used to send away demons or force witches to confess. 

Yet at the same time, some sources from the period also list Yarrow as a plant used by the witches to summon the devil. This dual meaning makes it a complex part of the symbolism of European folklore.

Other Symbolic Uses of Yarrow

Yarrow also developed into a symbol of youthful love. Numerous European cultures where the plant is native independently involved the herb in various courtship rituals. 

For example, in England and Ireland, young girls would put a plant leaf in one nostril. If they experienced a nosebleed while reciting a rhyme about true love, it would mean that their love was true. The Victorians also gave Yarrow a meaning of love and good health in their flower language.

Suitable Gifting Occasions

A vase of fresh cut yarrow flowers

Due to Yarrow’s strong associations with both healing and romantic love, these flowers are versatile and work for many gifting occasions. Consider using the delicate blooms in place of Baby’s Breath in a romantic arrangement with roses and red tulips. For someone who’s ill and recovering, Yarrow makes an ideal bouquet for wishing good health.

Wrap Up

Yarrow is a beautiful plant with a wide range of cultural meanings. Adding it to a landscape attracts pollinators and adds a subtle layer of symbolism.

Editorial Director | | Full Bio

Andrew is the Editorial Director at Petal Republic. He holds a BSc degree in Plant Sciences and has trained professionally at leading floristry schools in London and Paris. In amongst overseeing a global editorial team, Andrew's a passionate content creator around all things flowers, floral design, gardening, and houseplants.

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