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In almost every language, the toast given with raised glasses around the table is to “health.” The ultimate universal currency, few things are as heartily wished for or as ardently missed as good health. Many people, when struggling with short term illnesses, have a greater appreciation for their vigor and strength once they recover, but most of us- when faced with a chronic or long term condition- will struggle both in body and mind to remain positive and hopeful. While cards and caring words can help convey our love and encouragement, flowers have actually been shown in scientific experiments to help in the recovery process by reducing pain, anxiety and fatigue, as well as blood pressure and stress. Long used by Native Americans for medicinal purposes, yarrow has long been associated with a sense of healing and in the language of flowers sends the message of a return to good health.
Yarrow, know by the Latin name of Achillea millefolia, is a flowering perennial plant native to the northern hemisphere. Its feathery leaves are fern-like and soft, forming a dense carpet in the landscape where it sends up tall flowers in the summer and fall. The stems of the flowers are topped with a cluster of tiny, flat individual blooms that resemble sunflowers. These make perfect landing spots for butterflies and are a wonderful addition to a perennial garden. The lasting power of these stems when cut have made them a florist favorite and using them in a bouquet or vase arrangement will add cheer and encouragement to the bedside of a friend who could use a bit of positivity when faced with a long road to recovery.
The stems of yarrow are long, more than 2 feet in height, and come in flowers that are golden yellow, bright red, soft pink and white. The clusters are more than 3 inches across and look amazing mixed with other wildflowers like larkspur, lupine and asters. Try mixing them with bright zinnias and dahlias, which are also at their prime in the summer for a sunny look that will warm even a dreary hospital room.
The chemical components that make the astringent yarrow naturally healing include flavonoids, tannins and salicylic acid- which is the main metabolite of aspirin. It was used by the Greeks to staunch bleeding in wounded soldiers and chewed by the Navajo to relieve toothaches. While parts of the plant are edible, its best use is in providing bedside beauty and comfort to a friend or family member that could use a bit of both.