What’s Blooming Week Four Yellowknifer July 21, 1999

Taking Time to Smell The Clover

Yellow sweet clover,
Melilotus officinalis

Two fragrant plants that beautify the roadsides can be seen in many areas of town this week. Masses of yellow sweet clover (Melilotus officinalis (L.) Lam.) and yarrow (Achillea millefolium L.) are in bloom between the Co-Op parking lot and Airport Road. If you pass under the road through the tunnel and turn to the left, you’ll find the road embankment here also filled with the yellow and white blossoms of these two plants.

Yellow sweet clover can be recognized by its tall, yellow flower spikes, which wave gently to and fro in the wind. This sweetly scented member of the pea family (Fabaceae) has small yellow pea-like flowers arranged alternately in a spike at the tips of the branching stems, which grow up to three feet. Yellow sweet clover grows world wide as a roadside weed. White sweet clover (Melilotus alba Desr.) quite often grows alongside it.

Sweet clover is a favourite of honey bees who perform the task of pollination as they take nectar from the plant. The vanilla-like taste of sweet clover comes from a substance called coumarin, which is used to make blood-thinners. The dried plant can be used in teas that relieve headache and soothe the nerves. Poultices made from sweet clover can reduce inflammation; salves can heal ulcers and burns. The botanical name Melilotus is derived from the Greek mel for “honey” and lotus for “lotus flower.” Aptly named, the fragrance of yellow sweet clover will lift your spirits if you simply walk through it.

Common yarrow also takes part of its botanical name from the Greek, but this time from the famous hero, Achilles. Achilles reputedly used poultices of crushed yarrow to staunch the wounds of his soldiers after battle. The species name of the plant millefolium means “thousand leaves,” referring to the numerous, feathery-looking leaves that grow alternately on its woolly stem. Growing up to one-and-a- half feet high, this member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae) is topped by flattened flower clusters. Members of this family have flowers that have two floral parts: ray flowers, which in this case are the white petal-like florets, and disc flowers, which are the yellow florets in the centre. Similar species are the everlastings and pussytoes, which mature a little later in the season.

Yarrow, Achillea millefolium

Used for centuries for its healing properties, yarrow poultices stimulate blood clotting and soothe aches and pains. Teas were traditionally used as an internal remedy for new mothers and infants. Yarrow is a potent medicine, but it can be toxic for some people. Yarrow is strongly aromatic with a spicy, almost medicinal fragrance. Mosquitoes and black flies can be kept at bay if you rub the plant on your clothes and skin. Throwing a few stalks in your campfire can deter mosquitoes the next time you’re camping.

Text © 1999 Alexandra Milburn