Botanical name: Achillea millefolium
Family: Asteraceae (Aster)
Parts used: flowers, leaves, roots
Hatfield Botanic Pharmacopeia speaking of yarrow in the year 1886
“it is indeed difficult to say in what complaints it may not with advantage receive employment. It is one of the commonest wayside herbs, and as useful and well adapted for recourse in almost any emergency where other medicines are not at hand, as it is common.”
I am frequently asked, “If you were stuck on a desert island with only one medicinal plant, which would it be?”
Certainly a difficult question to answer but, if I were really pressed, my response may be yarrow.
Some plants are very specific in their nature and, therefore, we use them in a limited amount of ways.
Not so with yarrow. Its nature is so complex and its uses so far reaching that I find yarrow absolutely astounding.
Instead of asking what yarrow can do, it would be a shorter list to ask what it cannot do... Actually I am still working on the answer to that, so we might as well begin with what it can do.
Yarrow is complex in various ways. With many herbs we can say one is warming or cooling, but yarrow is not so clear cut. Conversely, we can label an herb as moistening or drying but, again, not so with yarrow. While its diuretic and diaphoretic properties define it as drying, its ability to stop blood and astringe tissues can actually hold moisture in. Yarrow is an herb that defies categorization.
Herbalist Matthew Woods says this of Yarrow
“Thus, it is both cooling and warming, fluid generating and controlling. Remedies with contradictory but complementary properties are often of great utility since they are able to normalize opposing conditions. This is true for yarrow.”
Despite its complexity, the uses for yarrow are simple.
Yarrow is a time-proven herb. Fossilized yarrow pollen has been found in burial caves dating back as far as 60,000 years! Yarrow is very old medicine.
If you only used yarrow for one thing, it could be for its incredible affinity to heal minor to serious wounds. It has been used for thousands of years on battlefields. Its scientific genus name, Achillea, is in reference to the Greek story of Achilles. It is said that Achilles was dipped in a solution made from yarrow, rendering him untouchable in battle.
Yarrow has several properties that make it ideal for wound care. Yarrow is a great antiseptic; thus, it can keep a wound clean and prevent infection.
It is also an anodyne and can be used to relieve pain associated with wounds.
But most amazingly is its ability to control blood. Yarrow can miraculously stop even heavy bleeding. It is commonly used for hemorrhoids, cuts, scrapes, post-partum care, bruises, and even sores found in the mouth.
Once, while camping, a friend of mine sliced through her hand while cutting an avocado. The bleeding was profuse and we were quite a ways from medical attention. We quickly packed the wound with bruised yarrow leaves and the bleeding stopped almost instantly. In this way we were able to safely transport her to the ER where she got stitches. At first the attending doctor was evidently upset that we were stupid enough to place a dirty plant in a wound. Once he saw how deep the cut went, however, he became very interested in exactly what plant was able to stop the bleeding so effectively.
Yarrow can also stop internal bleeding. Examples include excessive bleeding associated with uterine fibroids, bleeding hemorrhoids, urinary bleeding, coughs that produce bloody mucous, nosebleeds, and bleeding ulcers.
However, yarrow has the ability to control blood, so it not only stops bleeding, it can also promote circulatory flow! It is used on varicose veins which are essentially the pooling of blood often occurring in the legs. It can be used to ease the flow of blood in the case of hypertension. Yarrow is also a pelvic decongestant making it a strong ally for fibroids by both clearing the stagnation while simultaneously stopping excessive bleeding.
An infusion or diluted tincture of yarrow is great for spongy gums. Herbalist Michael Moore reports good results with using yarrow root for toothaches.
Yarrow is a bitter herb and can be used in small amounts to promote digestion. Its astringent, anodyne, and styptic abilities make it a great match for bleeding ulcers. Historically, it has been used for dysentery.
Yarrow works as a fabulous bug repellant. If you are in the woods you can simply rub the plant over your exposed skin. If you are planning ahead you can make a tincture out of the yarrow and spray that on your clothes and skin. I’ve found this to be very effective although I do have to reapply every hour or so.
Drink yarrow as a hot tea and it is an effective stimulating diaphoretic. It can be used for colds and flus, especially when a dry fever is present. Yarrow’s ability to promote sweating has made it a sacred herb used in sweat lodges and other types of therapeutic sweating.
Taken as a lukewarm or cold tea one can experience more diuretic properties, making it a powerful antiseptic for bladder infections. Herbalist Gail Faith Edwards says its affinity for the bladder along with its astringent properties make it ideal for helping with incontinence.
But wait! There’s more!
Yarrow is an anodyne, quite effective at relieving pain. It can be used topically on bruises, musculoskeletal pain, and even arthritis.
If that’s not enough I even found a reference in Culpeper’s herbal, dated in 1652, that a decoction of yarrow poured over the head will stop a person from going bald.
From hemorrhages to balding, yarrow does it all!
I've even seen insect activity that might suggest it's an aphrodisiac or perhaps just a good place to get comfortable.
And yarrow grows everywhere! Well, everywhere except Antarctica.
It likes to grow in dry soils and is often found in meadows and other clearings. Depending on the environment it can grow from 1-3 feet tall.
It has distinct feathery leaves. Its species name, millefolium, literally means ‘a thousand leaves. The leaves are alternate.
It flowers from early summer to early fall. It has a composite flower head with 5 ray flowers and 10-30 disk flowers.
Even spiders like yarrow
The leaves, roots, and flowers can be used for medicine. It can be extracted fresh in alcohol or oil, or dried for making teas.
Yarrow is the current featured herb at HerbMentor and this article was originally written as an introduction to yarrow for HerbMentor.com members. You can see a free HerbMentor newsletter about making Yarrow insect repellent here
Our next featured herb is Marshmallow!