Yarrow: Achillea millefolium 

Other Names: Carpenter’s weed, soldier’s woundwort, thousand weed, milfoil, herbe militaire, nose bleed, bloodwort, bad man’s plaything, staunchweed, noble yarrow, old man’s pepper, green arrow.

Family: Asteraceae/Compositae

Parts Used: Aerial parts

Taste: Bitter, pungent, astringent

Yarrow is an attractive perennial member of the Compositae family, cousin to dandelion and daisy, with numerous feathery aromatic leaves hence its Latin name millefolium, meaning a thousand leaves. It can be found all over the globe growing wild in hedgerows, lanes and meadows, on light sandy soils with minute white or pink flowers and is quite drought resistant. Because its superficial roots are extensive, they bind loose soil together preventing it from being eroded. 

Yarrow’s astringent effect is felt throughout the body, staunching bleeding from the nose, the digestive system and the uterus. It regulates the menstrual cycle, stems heavy menstrual bleeding and acts as a tonic to the nervous system. It helps clear toxins, heat and congestion by aiding elimination via the skin and the kidneys through its diuretic effect.

Yarrow is excellent internally and externally for stopping bleeding. It can be used for fevers, skin problems, eruptive infections, tonsillitis, allergies, colds and catarrh. With its bitter and astringent tastes, yarrow cools heat and inflammation; it soothes inflammatory gut problems, peptic ulcers, liver problems etc.

History and Traditional Uses: Yarrow is one of the finest and most versatile healing plants, and respected as such since at least the time of the Ancient Greeks and Egyptians. Dioscorides, the Greek physician, writing in the 1st century AD, referred to the healing properties of yarrow for battle wounds. The name Achillea commemorates the Greek hero Achilles, who used yarrow to heal the battle wounds of his friends and was renowned for his invulnerability. Throughout history until the First World War, yarrow has been used for treating wounds, hence its common names, soldiers’ woundwort and staunchweed.

The name yarrow is apparently derived from hieros which means sacred, because of the plant’s association with ceremonial magic. Yarrow was thought to be richly endowed with spiritual properties, so it was preserved in temples and treated with special reverence. Its healing effect upon the blood was seen as an ability to influence the ‘life-blood’, the essence or ego that is carried in the blood. It was used as an amulet, a charm to protect against negative energy and evil, capable of overcoming the forces of darkness and being a conductor of benevolent powers. It was also believed to be a love charm and to be ruled by the planet Venus. In folklore, a maiden who places yarrow under her pillow and repeats the rhyme below will dream of her future husband:

“Thou pretty herb of Venus Tree

Thy true name is Yarrow

Now who my bosom friend must be

Pray tell thou me tomorrow” - Halliwell

Cautions & Contra-Indications: Avoid in pregnancy, breastfeeding, or if you have a known allergy to Asteraceae family. Yarrow should not be used to treat large, deep, or infected wounds, all of which require medical attention. Yarrow may cause allergic skin rashes when harvesting the herb and when applied topically.

Herb/Drug Interactions:  None known

Growing & Harvesting: Propagate by sowing seeds in spring or autumn in well-drained soil and full sun. Alternatively, divide the plant in spring or autumn. Grows 6 - 24″ (15 – 60cm) and flowers from July – Sept. Harvest the aerial parts just as it is coming into flower and wear gloves for picking. The stems are very tough and so may require scissors or secateurs.

RECIPE

When young and tender in spring, the fresh young leaves can be finely chopped and added to salads, soups, bean and meat dishes and stir-fries.

Mint, elderflower and yarrow tea for colds, catarrh and fevers

1 tsp each of mint, elderflowers and yarrow.

Place in a teapot and pour over 500ml of boiling water. Leave to infuse for 10-15 minutes. Drink hot 3-6 times daily.

Anne McIntyre runs a one year course in experiential herbalism at Trill Farm, using the herb gardens and hedgerows to teach the practical side of using herbs.

Visit the course page to discover more about Herbal Medicine.