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Yarrow (Achillia millefolium) is a garden staple at this point for me. I couldn’t imagine not having her each year to provide medicine for our family. She is easy to grow, a joy to behold and and doesn’t take much effort to keep her happy in the garden. She is an independent and multi-talented lady of the garden.
A familiar wildflower, Yarrow’s mythical roots are often debated and are somewhat confused. The word “Achillea” refers to Achilles, an ancient hero. “Millefolium” means “coming of a thousand leaves”. This refers to the very small, fine and feathery leaves of this plant.
Yarrow carries several other names: bloodwort, common yarrow, carpenter’s weed, knight’s milfoil, noble yarrow, old man’s pepper, nosebleed and staunchgrass.
She comes with quite the legend, going all the way back to the time of gods and goddesses. Legend says that Achilles (half mortal and half god) used Yarrow in the battle of Troy to stop the bleeding of his soldier’s wounds by applying poultices of this herb. According to myths and stories, Achilles mother, being concerned about her son’s mortality, including dunking him into the River Styx, whose waters were said to confer the invulnerability of the gods. However, she gripped him tightly by the foot as she dipped him into the river and the water never touched his heel. As a result, Achilles was invulnerable everywhere but there.
Achilles met his demise with a fatal arrow shot into his heel, bleeding to death. What a story! Ya Yarrow comes with her this amazing tale that gives us a peek into the medicine she holds for our blood system, wound healing, plus so much more. But hence the scientific name of Yarrow.
Yarrow, while a lovely garden herb, also grows as a wildflower all over parts of North America and parts of Europe. She can be found growing on the edges of woods (even sometimes in the woods) in open fields and along roadsides. So it is very possible while out hiking, you might see this herbal friend.
Now, take my hand and lets tiptoe into the garden and meet Yarrow.
Her scientific name, Achillea millefolium, mirrors the fact that her leaves are tiny and for each plant it appears to have millions of leaves that have a fern-like look.
Her flowers are also tiny and bunched together in a type of tight umbel, growing in bunches of 25 or so flowers.
She puts up thick woody stems that can get as tall as 3-4 feet. Her stems have vertical ribs and are not smooth.
Her flowers are most commonly found in white or pale pink (although there are many colors such as yellow and even blue) however white is the true wild Yarrow with the highest medicinal offerings
It grows anywhere from 1 to 3 feet tall, usually in dry ground, and blooms late spring through fall.
*** Always make sure you are 100% sure you have Yarrow. To someone new to this plant, she can look like Wild Carrot or even Water Hemlock, which is deadly poisonous. I recommend using your favorite plant ID book and even following up with a reputable plant ID app. I’ve been enjoying PlantNet. ****
Once you have yarrow, you always have her. She is a perennial, which means she will come back year after year.
She will easily grow via root/rhizome spreading but also seeding herself which means you’ll see yarrow babies pop up over the years in your garden. She is, in fact, a beautiful companion plant for your garden, bringing pollinators in along with her beauty and medicine.
She prefers full sun and will grow in just about any soil, although she thrives in dry areas and is drought tolerant.
I recommend growing her in a place where she can happily spread and not crowd out other herbs and flowers.
She starts to flower in early summer. Her flower, leaves and stems are what you want to harvest. I like to harvest a couple of inches below the flower when she first blooms, which gives her a chance to flower again.
You can also find her in the wild - along roadsides or at the edge of a woods or in open fields. So keep an eye out in the summer for this herbal friend. It’s incredibly satisfying to know at least a few of the medicinal and edible plants that grow in the places you hike or frequent. It’s like having friends all around you.
Once harvested, you want to dry in a cool dry location out of direct sunlight until completely dry. You can then store for teas or even future tincture making.
Yarrow offers such a variety of healing opportunities. Let’s take a look at some of the medicines humans have enjoyed and used from this plant for centuries. This is certainly not an exhaustive list but covers some of her most known attributes.
Yarrow is a diaphoretic, meaning she helps us sweat. So she helps the body detox through sweat when needed, including when we are experiencing fever.
She can provide a sedative effect which can help with anxiety and depression
Very helpful with allergies where nasal secretions and watery eyes are caused by molds, dust, pollen and dander.
She is known to help keep women’s hormones in balance and support the uterus. She helps stimulate menstruation. Interestingly, she can also help with excessive menstrual bleeding - she has this unique ability.
She is known to help the body with gassiness and general gastrointestinal discomfort
She stimulates the circulatory system, especially the veins and in doing so can help to reduce blood pressure.
She has anti-septic properties as well, helping to heal from problematic bacteria, fungi and other types of pathogens.
She can support the urinary tract, making her helpful in treating urinary tract infections, also supporting the bladder and kidneys
She helps to stimulate and move the lymph in the body, which can help move toxins through the system, dispel extra water being held in the body and overall keep our internal waters flowing.
She helps to deter mosquitos and other biting insects
She can also help to soothe bug bites and stings
Yarrow can stop bleeding by applying her fresh or dried flower to a wound
She also helps wounds to heal quickly, so adding her to a salve could be a great idea
The oil or salve can also be used to help treat eczema and similar skin conditions.
Ways to use Yarrow Internally
Tea - Yarrow is pretty bitter so I would caution you up front on this. For those who have an issue with bitter (especially children), drinking the tea by itself can be a bit much. However, a nice fever tea would be a blend of Yarrow, Elderflower and Peppermint. Perhaps add a bit of honey to balance the bitter of the Yarrow even more. I like to make sure to cover the tea pot/cup as well to keep the steam in while it steeps, keeping all the good medicine in your pot.
Spray - using 3/4 tincture and 1/4 water, I will use this spray to deter mosquitos and help sooth bug bites and stings in the moment. You can add Lavender, Lemongrass or any other favorite of your essential oils that deter mosquitoes/smell great.
Dried herb - grinding down the dried leaves into what we call a Styptic powder. Having this already prepared herbal preparation on hand, means you can stop a bleeding wound quickly. I would use this on a wound that is profusely bleeding. I have used this myself many times and it works like a charm!
Tincture - If you don’t have the dried powder, you can use the tincture on a wound which will help disinfect the wound and yes, help stop the bleeding, although not as well as the powder.
Fresh poultice - taking the Yarrow leaves and bruising them or even chewing them a bit and putting on a wound can help stop bleeding and disinfect a wound.
Oil - Yarrow oil or salve can be used to help treat eczema or similar skin conditions. Energetically, this oil has a long history of being used to anoint the skin and energy body with protection.
Even though yarrow is widely deemed safe when consumed in small food amounts or taken medicinally in small amounts by mouth, some folks can have a sensitivity when she is used on the skin. So if you’re using an oil containing Yarrow, note how your skin feels. This is all about listening to your body. Even the safest herbs can irritate a small portion of people.
If you are sensitive to ragweed or hay fever plants in the Asteraceae – Compositae family, like daisies, chrysanthemums, and marigolds, you could experience the same adverse reaction to being around or using Yarrow.
Yarrow is not recommended for use or ingestion by animals. It could cause anorexia, diarrhea, hyper-salivation, and vomiting in members of the equine family, cats, and dogs.
Yarrow should not be taken or used by either pregnant or nursing women.
As always, use your best judgement when taking any new herb internally or using on your skin. This article is not to be used as medical advice but to pass along wisdom gathered by humans who have used this herb for thousands of years.