| What is it?
The leaves and flowers of Yarrow, a perennial herb found all over the world. The name ‘millefolium’ translates to ‘a thousand leaves’ because of the way Yarrow’s leaves multiply as they divide. Yarrow flowers form dense clusters and have a strong, distinctive, pleasant odour.
How has it been used?
Yarrow is one of the oldest medicinal plants known to humankind. A grave excavated in Shanidar in Iran that is estimated to be over 60,000 years old held the pollen grains of 8 medicinal plants; Yarrow being one of them.
It is both the structure of the leaves that so perfectly help form a bandage as well as the potent natural antibiotic properties of its volatile oils that make Yarrow such a renowned healer of wounds.
Yarrow's Latin name; Achillea, relates to this herb being dedicated to the Greek hero Achilles. In the ancient legend Chiron the Centaur showed many herbal secrets to Achilles but when he was struck in his 'Achilles' heal' it was the Goddess Aphrodite who entreated him to use Yarrow to heal the grievous wound.
Many of Yarrows common names; Nosebleed, Soldier's Woundwort, Stop-Bleeding Herb, show how it was used to stop bleeding from wounds. The French called it 'Carpenter's herb' because woodworkers frequently injured themselves with tools such as axes, hammers and saws and this is what they always had to have ready to use when calamity struck.
Many of Yarrow's common names relate to its use for injured men but it has equally been a great support to women over the millennia. The great 16th century English herbalist Parkinson wrote 'Achillea closeth bleeding wounds and preserveth them from inflammations, and it stayeth the flux of blood in women...'
The tender leaf of Yarrow was called Supercilium Venus (the eyebrow of Venus) and it was dedicated to this Goddess of Love, Beauty and Grace. Renowned German herbalist Maria Treben says 'I cannot recommend Yarrow enough for women. They could be spared many troubles if they just took Yarrow tea from time to time!'
Yarrow is also a herb that is renowned for improving circulation, most immediately obvious when the body is trying to mount a fever. Taking a cup of Yarrow tea at this time should produce profuse sweating; in effect helping the body easily do what it has been struggling to achieve.
Simon Mills writes 'Yarrow may be used as the central ingredient in any fever-management program, helping to reduce the unpleasant symptoms of the process and keeping the body temperature from rising too high. Its effect in hot infusion is quite quick so it can to a large extent be taken on demand.'
Yarrow also has historical recommendations for diarrhoea, biliary colic and stomach cramps. It has also been widely used in traditional herbal medicine to improve appetite and settle the digestion.
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Science on Yarrow
~ Yarrow, along with Feverfew and Aspen was compared, in a randomised, double-blind, crossover trial to the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug ibuprofen in patients with osteoarthritis. It was found to give a similar level of pain-relief but to be much better tolerated with low side-effects. The dose used was quite conservative and would equate to no more than about 1 or 2 mls of the tincture in a day (Ryttig K et al: Ugeskr Laeger 153(33):2298-2299,1991)
~ In laboratory experiments Yarrow infusion was found to demonstrate anti-inflammatory and antipyretic (fever reducing) actions. The active ingredients were identified as protein-carbohydrate compounds within the plant (Goldberg AS et al: J Pharm Sci 58(8):938-941,1969)
~ Yarrow tincture, in laboratory studies, was found to be effective against Staph.aureus, Bacillus subtillus, Mycobacterium smegmatis, Escherichia coli, Shigella sonnei, and Shigella flexneri (Moskalenko SA: J Ethnopharmacol 15(3):231-259,1986)
Safety of Yarrow
I would suggest avoiding Yarrow in pregnancy unless you can be sure that the variety you are using is low in Thujones. It is likely that you would have to take a very great deal of Yarrow to run any risk of lowering birth weight and there is no evidence of any other harm being likely so if Yarrow has been taken inadvertently then do not be overly concerned. Yarrow appears to be very safe to use whilst breastfeeding and certainly can and should be used as a healing herb by the young or elderly.
Note that there is a higher than average likelihood of allergy to Yarrow as it is a member of the Compositae family. Symptoms such as itching or sneezing when using Yarrow are the sign that this is not the herb for you. 50% of Compositae-sensitive individuals (3.1% of a sample of 3851 people) were shown to be Yarrow sensitive -- those numbers mean you have about a 1% chance of being allergic to it...
This preparation can be used for external wounds with great benefit but I have more often used this tea for people with internal damage, These days you don’t get many people lurching up to the village herbalist with blood pouring out of their battle wounds however many people that do see us are 'wounded' on the inside. They especially get wounds in their digestive tracts; anything from the tiny tears that cause 'leaky gut syndrome' all the way up to full blown ulcers.
Combine equal parts of the dried herbs Calendula flowers, Plantain leaf and Yarrow. Mix the three herbs together and take a small handful (approx 12-15 grams or about 8 tsps), put in a vessel and pour over 2 large cups or 3 small cups of freshly boiled water.
Cover the infusion and allow to steep for 15 minutes. Strain and drink in divided doses throughout the day and/or use as a compress* If this tea is for external use only then it will also be highly beneficial to add equal parts of Comfrey leaf.
*a compress is made by soaking a clean cloth into the tea then applying it 'wringing wet' either hot or cool to the affected wound and then either allowing it to simply cover the wound or wrapping another cloth around the area to hold it in place. You keep a compress on the area until it has naturally dried out somewhat from the heat of the body. 20 minutes or so is about average.
You can keep re-using the tea for a day after you make it so if the wound is bad then the compress may be replaced with a freshly soaked cloth as frequently as needed. Wet, weeping wounds may be wise to keep covered with compresses until they have stopped weeping.
Cool compresses are likely to be best for recent wounds that are still red and inflamed. Hot compresses are likely to be best for older wounds that are not healing well. However the comfort of the patient is the best guide here, if they clearly prefer the compress to be warm or cool then trust their instinct, the medicinal action of the herbs will not be affected one way or the other.
Note: without exaggeration you should be aware that these herbs markedly stimulate tissue healing and new cellular growth. Make sure the wound is clean before putting the wound tea compress on the area as it heals from the outside in and you do not want to trap infection or debris in the rapidly healing wound.
Yarrow combines perfectly with Chamomile flowers and Elder flowers to help the body resolve a bad flu or fever. Mix together and take half a handful of these three herbs (approx 8 grams or about 5 tsps) and pour over 1 large cup of freshly boiled water. Cover and allow to steep for 10 minutes then strain and drink as much of the tea as can be comfortably taken in (all of it if they can manage it but don't force it down!).
For a person who is already in a fever process this tea will likely quickly produce a profuse sweat, which is a very good sign and you should see that they will soon cool down and feel much better in a short while; however the fever may rise again and so the process may need to be repeated.
The Fever tea can safely be made and given up to 4 times within a 24 hour period. The tea is best made fresh each time and drunk whilst still hot, it is okay to add honey if this is well tolerated
An excellent tea for painful or heavy periods can be made by simply combining equal parts of Yarrow and Raspberry leaf. Take a small handful (5 or 6 tsps or approx 8-10 grams) and infuse in 1-2 cups of freshly boiled water for 10-15 minutes. This tea can be made twice within a 24 hour period. It will taste strong but regularly sipping the tea over the course of a day should provide a rapid response.
Tea vs Tincture
Yarrow lends itself to medicinal use very readily. When a rapid response is needed such as for wounds, cramps, fevers and inflammation then I think that the tea of Yarrow is the best way to get its help.
For a slower or deeper action for such problems as healing a chronic gut disorder, improving circulation or assisting chronic menstrual problems then it may be even better to use Yarrow in tincture form over a longer time frame. In such cases I typically use around 3 to 5 mls a day of the organic Yarrow tincture that we make in our clinic.
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Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Yarrow is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with herb B.
There is value in this approach in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another but where it falls short is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Yarrow might work brilliantly for one person but less well for another with the same sort of symptoms -- why is this?
The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are more hot or cool and at the same time more dry or damp; more info to introduce this subject here.
There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Yarrow can particularly offer its benefits when a nourishing action is needed in the 'cycle of healing' - something that is discussed here and shown in a chart here.
Excerpt from Felter & Lloyd's Kings Dispensatory from 1898
Yarrow possesses astringent properties and is tonic, alterative and diuretic. In infusion its use in chronic diseases of the urinary apparatus is especially recommended.
It exerts a tonic influence upon the venous system, as well as upon mucous membranes. It has been efficacious in sore throat, hemoptysis, hematuria and other forms of haemorrhage where the bleeding is small in amount, incontinence of urine, diabetes, hemorrhoids with bloody or mucoid discharges, and dysentery; also in amenorrhoea, flatulency and spasmodic diseases, and in the form of injection in leucorrhoea with relaxed vaginal walls.
Prof. T. V. Morrow made much use of an infusion of this herb in dysentery. Given in half-drachm doses of the saturated tincture, or 20 drop doses of specific achillea, it will be found one of our best agents for the relief of menorrhagia.
~ In some Eastern Countries Yarrow is called Yarroway and in olden times the following lines were spoken whilst tickling the inside of the nose with a leaf. If the procedure caused the nose to bleed it was a certain omen of success*
"Yarroway, Yarroway, bear a white blow,
If my love love me, my nose will bleed now"
*this is not as unlikely as it might sound for a herb that is used to stop bleeding. Yarrow looks silky smooth but if you rub it against your skin it feels quite rough because there is a tiny barb at the end of each leaf!
~ An ounce of Yarrow sewn up in cotton and placed under the pillow before going to bed, having repeated the following words brought a vision of the future husband or wife
"Thou pretty herb of Venus' tree
Thy true name it is Yarrow;
Now who my bosom friend must be,
Pray tell thou me tomorrow"
~ In the time of Achilles Chinese physicians were using Yarrow to treat bleeding and bites. The Chinese also used Yarrow in the ritual of the I Ching, the oracle used to predict the future. Nowadays coins are used but the traditional way to cast the I Ching used to always used dried Yarrow stems.
Please understand that I cannot personally advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in my clinic but ideas
on how you might find a good herbalist in your area are here.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!
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