Yarrow and Queen Anne’s Lace have overlapping bloom times so it can be easy to mix them up, but these tips about their differences will help you tell them apart!
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is a perennial flowering plant with feathery leaves. You’ll often find it growing in sunny meadows, at the edges of fields, and roadsides. (You can even grow it yourself – check Strictly Medicinal for seeds.) It attracts bees, butterflies, and other native insects, making it a great addition to a pollinator garden.
The highest medicinal levels are found in the wild white flowered form, especially when growing in poor soil and stressful growing conditions. The different colors and cultivars for your garden are pretty, but don’t have the same herbal qualities.
The flowers or whole aerial parts (flowers, leaves, stems) are gathered and used, fresh or dried, in herbal remedies and skincare products, such as:
Yarrow has some fame for being an excellent first aid field remedy for cuts and a hemostatic (something that stops bleeding), which explains one of its names – Soldier’s Woundwort. You can bruise or chew some of the leaves and apply as a field poultice, wrapping so it stays on if possible, in case an injury occurs while you’re out and about in nature.
Yarrow can be ingested medicinally (normally as tea or tincture) for fever, but should not be taken during pregnancy.
What’s Queen Anne’s Lace?
Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota) is a common biennial wildflower found in meadows, fields, and roadsides. I almost always find it growing in the same area as yarrow, blooming just a bit later, as the yarrow is starting to wind down.
Depending on where you live, you may spot the flowers from June to August. (Here in zone 7 USA, it flowers late June to early July for us.)
Like Yarrow, Queen Anne’s Lace attracts a range of native pollinators, butterflies, and bees. The seeds are also enjoyed by various small critters.
While Queen Anne’s Lace is sometimes used in herbal remedies, it should never be taken when pregnant. I’ve used just the flowers to make soap (a wash-off product), and sometimes the flower heads are used to make fritters or jelly, but the sap can cause you to be more sensitive to the sun if left on your skin and then exposed to a lot of sunlight, so take care to wash up after handling Queen Anne’s Lace.
Queen Anne’s Lace is sometimes confused with Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum), but Queen Anne’s Lace has hairy stems (see photo down below, under Differences Between the Stems), while poison hemlock has a smooth stem with purple splotches. Poison Hemlock is often (but not always) quite a bit taller (up to 10 feet) than Queen Anne’s Lace (which grows to just 2 to 3 feet.) For more details and plenty of photos, be sure to check out Poison Hemlock: How to Identify and Potential Look-alikes, over at Grow Forage Cook Ferment!
Differences Between Yarrow & Queen Anne’s Lace Flowers:
For Yarrow, each flower head is made up of five ray flowers (that look like petals) surrounding 10 to 30 tiny disk flowers. These flower heads are then clustered together at the top of the plant.
Queen Anne’s Lace flowers are made up of lots of tiny white flowers, arranged in an umbel; it’s common to find a purple or dark red flower (that shows as a purple or dark red spot) in the middle of the flower cluster. You won’t find it on ALL Queen Anne’s Lace flowers, but it’s usually there. To remember that, there’s a little legend that Queen Anne pricked her finger while making lace, and the drop of blood formed a spot on the flower head.
Another distinctive feature is that pronged bracts can be found at the bottom of each flower umbel.
Differences Between the Leaves:
Yarrow leaves are alternate and look feathery; the size of the leaves grows smaller as they go up the stem.
Queen Anne’s Lace leaves are compound and fern like, they start below the flower and increase in size as you go down the stem.
Differences Between the Stem
Queen Anne’s Lace has a hairy stem. When you rub your fingers along it, you can feel the texture of the hairs. Many people (including me!) remember this by thinking: Queen Anne has hairy legs.
Yarrow stems are leafy – they have feathery leaves alternating all the way up. They may or may not be hairy.
So there you have it!
Those are some of the differences between Yarrow and Queen Anne’s Lace to remember. It’s also advised to carry a foraging or plant ID book for your area with you, and the Picture This plant identification app is a great (but not primary) source to point you in the right direction as well.
Cech, Richo. Making Plant Medicine. Williams, OR: Horizon Herbs, 2000. Print.
Drum, Ryan. Three Herbs: Yarrow, Queen Anne’s Lace, and Indian Pipe. Accessed June, 2021. http://www.ryandrum.com/threeherbs.htm
OARDC – Ohio Perennial and Biennial Weed Guide: Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Tadić, Vanja, et al. The estimation of the traditionally used yarrow (Achillea millefolium L. Asteraceae) oil extracts with anti-inflamatory potential in topical application. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 2017 Mar 6;199:138-148. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2017.02.002. Epub 2017 Feb 3. Retrieved June, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28163113/
University of Minnesota Extension: Queen Anne’s Lace
Wood, Matthew. The Earthwise Herbal, Volume 1. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2008. Print.