By: Marlene Affeld ~
Yarrow, also known as Herba Militaris, common yarrow, stanchgrass, knight’s milifoil, soldier’s woundwort, or sanguinary, is a perennial herbaceous plant prized for its wealth of medicinal benefits and culinary applications. The healing herb is native to Africa, Asia and Europe and naturalized across all of North America. Additional names for the plant include dog daisy, ladies’ mantle, noble yarrow, old man’s pepper, and thousand seal and thousand-leaved. Widely used by health practioners in France and Southern Europe as a treatment for feverish diseases, yarrow is often referred to as “Englishman’s quinine.”
Treasured as an heirloom medicinal plant, a European variety of yarrow was first introduced to the United States by European immigrants in the early 1600s. Native American Indian healers knew the many benefits of the miraculous plants long before the first white settlers arrived. Although today yarrow can be readily purchased from organic growers or health food stores, it is abundant in nature and it’s free.
Yarrow Just Might Save Your Life
Best known for its blood clotting properties, yarrow can be a “lifesaver” in a wilderness emergency. Hunters and hikers are wise to familiarize themselves with the prolific plant. A nosebleed or profusely bleeding wound can be stanched with a handful of fresh yarrow leaves.
When used fresh, leaves are crushed and placed as a poultice directly on a wound or laceration to stop bleeding and promote healing. Traditional healers used yarrow on an open wound not only to stop blood loss but also to prevent infection or blood poisoning from a dirty laceration.
In a wilderness survival situation, a hemorrhaging wound can be deadly. Packing the wound with yarrow leaves, covering with a layer of moss and binding the yarrow dressing in place with a vine or flexible twig has saved countless lives.
History Of Yarrow
Centuries ago the Greek military leader Achilles advised his warriors to carry dried yarrow leaves to treat battle injuries, hence earning the plant the Latin name Achillea millefolium. Millefolium means “a thousand leaves” referring to the fine fern like foliage of the yarrow plant.
In North America, soldiers fighting in the Civil war used yarrow to stop bleeding and treat wounds giving the prolific weed the name “soldier’s woundwort.” For a nosebleed, naturopathic health practitioners suggest packing the nostril with a rolled up yarrow leaf.
Burnadaran is the Persian name for yarrow. Throughout the Mediterranean and the Middle East, wild gathered yarrow is used to brew an invigorating tonic, valued for its diuretic, diaphoretic, anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties. Sweetened with honey, yarrow tea is helpful in reducing fever and combating the symptoms a cold or influenza.
Native American Tribal Medicine
Native American Indian tribes relied on yarrow to treat a diverse array of physical complaints. The Ojibwa tribe gathered young yarrow leaves for ceremonial smoking. They used a compress of moist yarrow leaves to stop bleeding and prevented infection in wounds and chewed the purplish colored root to soothe stomach discomfort and relieve toothaches.
The Cherokee and Pawnee tribes drank yarrow tea to encourage a restful sleep and to relieve pain. The Chippewa boiled the leaves and inhaled the steam for headaches, fevers and bronchial infections. Members of the Potawatomi tribe have traditionally used yarrow as a fumigant to protect against evil spirits and to revive those who succumb to coma.
Respected as a primary “medicine twig” used in Navajo traditional medicine, yarrow need not be fresh to be effective. Tribal people chewed the bitter leaf of the yarrow plant to relieve the discomfort of swollen gums, canker sores, mouth ulcers, sore throat or painful decayed teeth. The Navajo people also depended on a strong tea brewed from both the flowers and the leaves of the yarrow plant to treat painful inflammation and swelling from arthritic joints or broken bones. In the case of a broken bone, a poultice of moistened yarrow leaves was applied to the break. Yarrow was also administered in this manner to treat broken bones in animals. Yarrow is frequently employed for its beneficial uses in treating animal injuries and a host of miscellaneous animal ailments.
Mystical Herb – Holy Smoke
A scared ingredient in mixtures for ceremonial smoking, yarrow imparts a woody, pungent flavor and is useful in eliminating toxins from the lungs. When the leaf is smoked as a tobacco substitute it has a mild stimulating effect. Flowers are not included in the smoking mixture as they exude a nauseating smell when burned. If the odor of the burning flowers can be tolerated, the ensuing smoke is inhaled to treat breathing problems.
Yarrow Essential Oil
Oil of achilea, also known as yarrow oil, presents an earthy, slightly bitter taste similar to the flavor of the fresh new leaves themselves. Both the leaves and the flowers of the common yarrow plant produce aromatic volatile oils. Chamazulene, contained in the plant imparts a blue color to the oil.
Yarrow promotes healing and relieves painful symptoms of varicose veins, hemorrhoids, bruises, thrombosis, phlebitis, ulcers and fistulas. Yarrow oil is also useful in improving the appearance and texture of old scars.
Both the flowers and leaves of the yarrow plant are edible. During the 17th century, yarrow was harvested as a highly nutritious food source.
Young yarrow leaves are a tasty addition to salads and can be boiled or steamed for spring greens. Yarrow adds nutrition and substance to soups, stews and sauces. Dried leaves were grounded and used as a spice or brewed as a rejuvenating stimulant.
Yarrow tea is brewed from tender new leaves harvested just prior to the plant beginning to bloom. Young leaves can be brewed fresh or dried for future consumption. To make yarrow tea, steep 2 teaspoons of dried leaves in 1 cup of boiling water. Natural healers suggest drinking 1-to- 3 cups daily as a rejuvenating stimulant. Yarrow tea is a satisfying substitute for coffee.
Used for thousands of years as a healing herbal drink, yarrow tea is beneficial in relieving the symptoms of allergies, sinusitis, colds and coughs. The flavorful tea is considered an effective relief from heavy menstruation. Medical research shows the active chemical achilliene slows menstrual bleeding in the same way it does for external wounds. A traditional treatment for relieving cramps and menstrual distress uses fresh young leaves seeped in chilled white wine.
Yarrow tea offers anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, astringent and antiseptic properties, making it effective for fighting infections. It is also useful to relieve the symptoms of indigestion by promoting the flow of digestive bile and reducing irritation in the intestines. Drinking yarrow tea also improves kidney flow and function.
Plant Description And Cultivation
Common yarrow is a hardy perennial plant with long and narrow feathery deep green leaves equally distributed along the plant’s sturdy stem. The plant is often described as “a bit hairy.” This aromatic Eurasian woody-stemmed perennial presents an extensive system of creeping, underground stems and spreads readily by both roots and seeds. An attractive plant, yarrow forms dense clumps that reach up to 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide at maturity.
Flourishing in the wild along streambeds, in meadows, pastures and roadside ditches, yarrow prefers a cool climate with generous rainfall. Adaptable to most any soil or climate condition except the southwestern deserts of the United States or elevations above 11,000 feet, common yarrow produces bold white, pink or deep violet flowers exhibited in umbrella-like terminal clusters of 3 to 8 tiny ovate flowers. The delicate blooms look like miniature daisies.
An attractive addition to perennial herb beds and rock gardens, yarrow is ideal filler in fresh and dried flower arrangements. While the majority of yarrow flowers found in the wild are white or pale pink in color, other vibrant shades of burgundy, purple, pink and yellow cultivars are available from specialty plant nurseries. Yarrow is in flower from late spring through autumn. The low-maintenance plant reblooms if spent flowers are deadheaded promptly.
For home garden cultivation, Pearl Yarrow (Achillea Ptarmica Pearl) is a popular favorite. Growing less than 2 feet tall the prolific plant present snowy white fragrant flower clumps.
Parker Yarrow (Achillea Filipendulina Parker) is easily establishes from seeds or purchased from home and garden centers. Achillea Parker is an upright, clump-forming perennial noted for its deeply dissected, feather-like, highly aromatic, grayish-green foliage. The variety presents generous clumps of tiny, long-lasting, bright golden-yellow flattened flower clusters. Held upright on sturdy stem, flower clusters measure up to 4 inches across.
Yarrow Achillea Cerise Queen (Achillea Millefolium Cerise Queen) is an easy to grow and abundantly blooming perennial for late summer and early fall. The variety quickly establishes from seed.
Cerise Queen Yarrow features flower heads in shades of brilliant fuchsia, magenta and pink. The stately plant presents a vivid profusion of fine dark green, highly aromatic foliage.
Although nursery cultivated varieties are many and prove very attractive in the garden, none hold the potent medicinal properties attributed to wild yarrow tended only by Mother Nature. If you wish to cultivate yarrow for its medicinal properties, dig up a couple of clumps in the wild and transplant to the home herb garden. Harvest wild yarrow responsibly, never taking any more than every third wild plant, allowing the remainder to grow naturally and multiply to ensure the survival of the species.
When cultivated in the home garden, common yarrow does best in poor sandy soil and prefers a full sun or partially shaded area with good drainage. Soil with a high lime concentration is perfect. Relegate yarrow to an area of the landscape that you do not plan to cultivate for anything else. Over time, the yarrow plant secrets a toxin into the soil that kills other competing vegetation; quite effective as a long-term solution to pesky weeds.
Yarrow is an ideal cover for a barren spot in the landscape. Once established, yarrow is carefree; resistant to disease, drought and insect infestation. The plants tenuous rhizome system helps stabilize soil making it useful for erosion control in hillside plantings. Yarrow is used to improve vigor, promote growth and enhance the flavor of vegetables and herbs planted in close proximity.
Drastically trim yarrow plants after flowering to encourage vigorous growth. Yarrow leaves added to the compost pile will accelerate decomposition of organic materials. A strong infusion of yarrow tea can be used to water the garden or houseplants in order to raise copper levels in the soil.
Harvesting And Drying
To dry yarrow for use at a later date, the flowers and delicate leaf stem should be gathered just as the plant begins to flower. The whole plant is harvested and hung upside down away from dust, moisture and sunlight. When dry, store in dark, moisture proof containers.
When gathering in the wild, avoid roadside ditches or private pastures that may have been sprayed with commercial pesticides or herbicides.
In the wild there are multiple plants with small white flowers that can be easily mistaken for yarrow. Western water hemlock (Cicuta douglasii), also known as poison hemlock, mayweed chamomile (Anthemis cotula), wild carrot (Daucus carota) and water parsnip (Sium suave) resemble yarrow.