Jersey Wildflowers: Yarrow
Jersey Wildflowers: Yarrow
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is a perennial plant found commonly throughout the island, notable for its feathery leaves and clustered, flat heads of flowers present in the summertime. The plant is well-suited to drier and grassier habitats and therefore flourishes in wayside ground and hedgerow banks. Being highly ornamental and rather aromatic, cultivars of the species are also often planted in gardens.
Nomenclature: In Jersey French, yarrow is known by the name hèrbe à mille fielles, directly translating as the thousand-leaved plant. This reflects the Latin species name millefolium and French name achilée millefeuille, which similarly describe the plant’s feathery and finely-divided leaves.
The plant is also known as d’la tcherpentchiethe in the western parishes and hèrbe au tcherpentchi in the east, meaning the carpenter’s plant. According to both Le Maistre and Le Sueur, this relates to the plant’s traditional use in staunching blood from wounds which would have proven useful to manual workers including carpenters. In her Flora, Le Sueur cites a chemist, Attenborough, as reassuring her of this fact. This customary Jersey use is reflected in the Latin genus name Achillea – a noun derivative of the Greek hero Achilles, who similarly is alleged to have used the plant to heal the wounds of his friend Telemachus at the Siege of Troy.
Besides using yarrow to staunch bleeding [faithe sèrvi d’la tcherpentchiéthe pouor êtantchi l’sang d’eune cope], Le Maistre intriguingly also conveys the plant’s use in treating hemoroides [les morrhouites]. In his Dictionnaire he describes the custom of infusing yarrow leaves in a bucket of boiling water and sitting atop it in order to relieve pain, the effectiveness of which is unfortunately not conveyed [nou m’ttait des fielles dé tchèrpentchiéthe dans eune bouqu’tée d’ieau bouoillante et nous s’assevait d’ssus]. Although a little bizarre, this would have been beneficial in some respects as the plant has antiseptic properties. It is also likely that the leaves were made into an infusion and that the leaves were used as a tobacco substitute during the Occupation.
Lester-Garland described yarrow as both ‘native’ to Jersey and ‘common’ in his Flora of 1903, describing the species as endemic to ‘fields, dry banks and waste places.’ Similarly, Le Sueur describes the plant as ‘common in dry grassland, and on roadsides and hedgebanks,’ commenting that occasionally the flowers are pink instead of white. The plant remains common in such places today and is found throughout all of the Channel Islands and neighbouring Normandy, flowering throughout summer from June to November.
Pg 202, Sterry, ‘Collins Complete Guide to British Wild Flowers’, 2006
Plate 1 and annotation, Provost, ‘Atlas de repartition des plantes vasculaires de Basse Normandie’ Presses Universitaires de Caen, 1993
Pg 501, Le Maistre, ‘Dictionnaire Jersiais-Francais’ Don Balleine 1976 ed.
Pg 53, Le Sueur, ‘A Natural History of Jersey’, Phillimore 1976
Pg 157, Le Sueur, ‘Flora of Jersey’, La Société Jersiaise, 1984
Pg 146 Lester-Garland, ‘Flora of the Island of Jersey’, 1903
Pg 59, Shirreffs, ‘The Wild Flowers of Jersey’ Brambleby Books, 2015
Pgs 134-135, Bird, ‘A Gardener’s Latin’ The National Trust 2015
Written August 2018 for the Jersey Biodiversity Centre. Dominic Hodnett is an amateur nature enthusiast and member of La Société Jersiaise, an environmental and heritage organisation founded in Jersey in 1873.