Plant-Lore

Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Yarrow

0791. [Essex, 1950s]  When I was a child we small fry used to call it break-your-mother’s-heart.  According to our folklore that’s what would happen if you picked it [e-mail, July 2016].

2.  [Halifax area, 1930s] Yarrow, which we brewed like tea, then sieved, made a beneficial rinse for hair after a shampoo [Redcar, North Yorkshire, January 2014].

3. [b. 1932] My French governess would pick yarrow leaves and eat them saying they were good for purifying the blood [Streatham, London, March 2012].

4. [Mardu, Shropshire] Hot yarrow tea, made from the leaves and flower-stalks chopped and dried, for colds, achy backs or wind [Newcastle-on-Clun, Shropshire, November 2004].

5. [From my mother, born in Enniskillen, Co. Fermagh in 1921, but has lived in Belfast for over 40 years] Yarrow put under your pillow to dream of your lover:
Yarrow, yarrow, I love thee,
In my pocket I’ll carry thee.
The first young man that e’er I see,
Will my true love be! [Wandsworth, London, April 1998].

6. As a child of about 10 (present age 74) we were staying with friends of the family in Hampshire. My sister and I developed colds and the grandmother of my friends picked sprays of yarrow (milfoil), putting it inside our handkerchiefs which we were told to inhale. She was a confirmed believer in the efficacy to relieve cold symptoms and advised us to permanently keep some of the flowers in our handkerchief sachets to ward off future colds [Chester, Cheshire, July 1996].

7. I have learned, living in south Scotland that yarrow was used for nose-bleed, but in the north a handkerchief dipped in cold water and placed over the bridge of the nose was the usual cure [Edinburgh, October 1991].

8. I can remember quite distinctly looking for a yarrow plant which my grandmother infused on the hob of our old-fashioned range, back in the 30s – her cure for aches and pains [Bettws, Gwent, February 1991].

9. [According to my 86-year-old aunt] girls used to go out on moonlit nights into a field of yarrow and, with their eyes closed, pick some yarrow. If this remained wet in the morning it meant that their boyfriends would soon start taking an interest in them [Histon, Cambridgeshire, January 1989].

10. Yarrow – known as mother-die or fever-plant – unlucky to pick or bring into house – it was thought to cause sickness [Langtoft, Humberside, March 1985].

Images: main, Northampton, Northamptonshire; inset, Penrith, Cumbria,  both May 2015.