Herbal A-Z: Yarrow
By Meagan - December 04, 2015
Yarrow. Achillea millefolium.... from the plant family Asteraceae. Also known as woundwort, bloodwort, old man's pepper, carpenter’s weed, thousand-leaf, and nosebleed among other names.
HistoryThe use of yarrow goes all the way back to Ancient Greece. Legend says that Achilles used it to stop the bleeding of his soldiers during the Trojan War. From that time on, it's been used in many wars to staunch the bleeding of wounds in battle. It's one of a handful of plants labeled as "all-heal" in the English herbal tradition as it has many therapeutic actions and can be used for almost anything. In fact, Native Americans called it "life medicine" for this very reason. (Rogers, 2006).
Plant DescriptionYarrow is a beautiful plant. To me it's very delicate and feminine. It blooms June through August, and can be found in grasslands and wooded regions in the Northern Hemisphere. Yarrow starts out with a patch of low-growing feathery like leaves that produce a fern-like stem. As the stem continues to grow it becomes straight and fibrous resulting in a tall, 3-foot stem that is covered in these feathery leaves. Clusters of tiny cream flowers grow at the top of each stem resulting in a 3x3 inch flower head. The roots are rhizome-like and sit just below the surface of the soil.
Growing Your Own YarrowWhere I live, yarrow is easy to grow. I simply uprooted some wild yarrow and planted it in an herb bed at my house that gets a lot of sun. At first, it looked as if it had died, but it came back that fall in a fury of green, feathery goodness! Yarrow doesn't need great soil or a lot of water as long as there's good drainage, but it's thought to grow best in zone 2. When starting yarrow plants from seed, they'll take around 10-12 days to germinate at 75-80 degrees F. Once seeds have sprouted they will be ready to transplant into herb beds in 8-12 weeks. Each plant will eventually need divided which can be done in early spring or late fall. I planted 3 yarrow plants in the fall and by the next spring my bed was full of yarrow! Flowers bloom in the second year. Harvesting Yarrow The top 8 inches of plant tops are what is normally gathered and harvested for medicinal use. Tops are laid flat and dried over a period of 3-5 days until fully dry. (Rogers, 2006).
Amino acids, Calcium, Chromium (high), Fatty Acids, Folate, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, Phosphorus, Potassium, Selenium, Zinc, Vitamins B1, B2, B3, and C
Volatile oil with variable content (azulene—up to 51%, borneol, cineole, terpineol, eugenol, trace of thujone, linalool, camphor, sabinene, chamzulene); sesquiterpene lactones, flavonoids, saponins, sterols, glycoalkaloid (achilleine), alkaloids (acilleine); polyacetylenes; triterpenes; salicylic acid; coumarins; tannins, sugars. (Rogers, 2006)
ActionsAntibacterial, Antiseptic, Anti-inflammatory, Analgesic, Astringent, Vulnerary, Styptic. (Herbarium, 2014)
EnergeticsCooling, drying, bitter
Medicinal UsesI heard it said by an experienced herbalist once that if anything was wrong with you to drink yarrow tea daily and eventually the ailment will correct itself. That was so reassuring because at the time I was new to herbs and the thought of learning hundreds if not thousands of herbs was absolutely overwhelming to me. The idea that one herb could do so many things was great. If anything came up, I immediately thought of yarrow. It's a great herb to start learning with as it's easy to grow, easy to find in stores that sell herbs, and it can be used for so many different things. As with many herbs with endless uses, I'm going to highlight 3 of the most common uses for it. Bleeding Yarrow has been used successfully for hundreds of years to slow bleeding. It has styptic and hemostatic properties that help to slow bleeding in wounds. You can use fresh or dried yarrow for this as a poultice, powder, or extract placed directly on the wound. Fevers Yarrow is a bitter herb that stimulates the cardiovascular system, gets blood moving, and causes the body to sweat thus lowering fevers naturally. The only thing to remember when using yarrow to lower a fever is to drink it as hot as possible and often! Immune System & Infections Yarrow has properties similar to that of echinacea although not a strong and has been used to stimulate the immune system when needed. It also has a good bit of antimicrobial properties thus is a great herb for preventing infections in wounds, helping the body manage active infections (specifically urinary tract infections) and aiding with viral infections. Remember... yarrow can be used for much more than this. This is just a brief guide to help get you started using this great herb!
- Infusion: 1-2 teaspoons of dried yarrow per 8 ounces of boiling water, steep 15 minutes, drink hot 3 times a day. (Hourly during fevers.)
- Tincture: 2-4 ml tincture (1:5 in 25% alcohol), 3 times per day. (Hoffman, 2003)
- Contradicted during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
- Caution is allergies to plants in the Asteraceae family are common.
Interferes with iron absorption and other minerals. Topical use may cause irritation. Individuals who are sun sensitive should avoid.
- Drug interactions can occur with excessive yarrow dosages and sedative, diuretic, blood pressure, and blood thinning drugs.
- Balch, Phylis. (2006). Prescription for Nutritional Healing. New York, NY: The Penguin Group.
- Duke, J. (2000) The Green Pharmacy Herbal Handbook. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press.
- Herbarium at HANE (2015). Yarrow Monograph. Retrieved September 25, 2015.
- Hoffman, D. (2003). Medical Herbalism. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.
- Rogers, M. (2006). Herbalpedia. Retrieved August 19, 2015.