A Useful Invasive


I thought that this plant growing along a path on the northwestern slope was probably cow parsnip, so common along trails in Point Reyes.  But the Pl@ntNet app on my cell phone did not agree.  It analyzed a photo of the flower and a few seconds later came back with the opinion: Achillea millefolium.  Yarrow.

I took the photo home and checked it out on the web and concluded that Pl@ntNet was right.  This is not cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum) but a much more interesting and useful plant.

I really should have known its name without looking it up.  I photographed it and wrote about it at some length and with enthusiasm on this blog three years ago.  Well, they say as you get older, two things start to go.  The first is your short term memory.  The other, I forgot.  So, at the risk of repeating my earlier post, here goes:

Yarrow is already mentioned in Greek mythology as an herb that Achilles carried to stop wound bleeding; hence the plant’s Latin name.  Many cultures have used it for a variety of medicinal purposes.  It’s been here so long that it’s considered a native.  It was used by Native Americans from coast to coast.  According to Wikipedia:

  • Yarrow and its North American varieties, was used in traditional Native American herbal medicine by tribes across the continent.[43] The Navajo considered it to be a “life medicine”, chewed it for toothaches, and poured an infusion into ears for earaches. The Miwok in California use the plant as an analgesic and head cold remedy.[43]
  • Several tribes of the Plains Indians use common yarrow. The Pawnee use the stalk for pain relief. The Cherokee drink a tea of common yarrow to reduce fever and aid in restful sleep.[43]
  • Among the Zuni people use the occidentalis variety medicinally. The blossoms and root are chewed, and the juice applied before fire-walking or fire-eating. A poultice of the pulverized plant is mixed with water and applied to burns.[44]
  • The Ojibwe sprinkle decoction of the leaves on hot stones and inhale it for headache.[45] They also apply a decoction of the root to the skin for ‘eruptions’. [46] They chew the dried root and spit it onto the limbs as a stimulant.[47] They also apply decoction of the leaves and stalk to horses as a stimulant.[48] They also smoke the florets for ceremonial purposes, and place the florets on coals and inhale the smoke to break a fever.[49]
  • Gardeners also like it as a companion plant because its odor drives away noxious insects and attracts beneficial ones, notably butterflies.  Its parsimonious ways with water make it a plant of choice in drought-stricken areas.  It grows as a volunteer in disturbed soil, a quality it shares with much of the Cesar Chavez Park plant array.

And, like almost everything else that grows here, it’s invasive.  However, not fiercely invasive, just moderately so.  This probably explains why I saw only a small stand of this plant along the path, instead of acres of it.  The park is a tough neighborhood for things with roots.  Only the toughest and most adaptable thrive here.


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