During the past week, we’ve been noticing the yarrow popping up and blooming. It isn’t quite in full swing yet, so in preparation, I thought I’d post a past article on this deceptively diminutive flower. We gather it throughout the summer to dry for use in teas, salves, tub teas and tincture. Don’t pass up this sweet weed.
Yarrow - Useful, Beautiful and Easy
The Essential Herbal May/June 2010
With a lot of gardeners, yarrow, Achillea millefolium, is a love it or hate it plant. Sure, it has Napoleonic tendencies, marauding through the garden, but its many admirable qualities override this small flaw. I find it to be a beautiful, durable garden plant that blooms happily away in neglected areas of the yard in full sun, poor soil and limited water.
We first heard of yarrow from Achilles,
Homer’s warrior from the Illiad, who learned of its healing qualities from the centaur Charon. Constantly fighting over one thing, or another he used it to heal the battle wounds of his warriors. Some of its common names include Soldier’s Woundwort, Knights Milfoil, Bloodwort, Staunchweed and Nosebleed.
The first time I witnessed the curative powers of yarrow was when I ran a landscaping company. One of the boys on my crew was prone to profuse nosebleeds, occasionally sending him to the emergency room. While we were working away one afternoon I heard the familiar exclamation as Cameron started spurting blood all over the shrubbery he was pruning at the time. Having recently read about yarrow’s styptic qualities, I instructed him to chew up some nearby leaves and stick them up his nose. The rest of the crew jeered and laughed but he did it. We were all amazed and repulsed when Cameron pulled out the bloody bolus and the bleeding did not resume. Since then I have used the chewed leaves of yarrow as one of my favorite trail medicines to stop bleeding and temporarily disinfect cuts and abrasions.
Yarrow has a surplus of healing qualities. It is used for the internal bleeding of heavy menses, bleeding ulcers and hemorrhoids. Native Americans used it for everything from bleeding to urinary disorders and digestive ailments. Yarrow has been used to reduce fevers, relieve chest colds and as a digestive and general tonic. The roots have been chewed for sore gums and teeth. I have used yarrow as a disinfectant tea to wash injuries and skin rashes. Yarrow contains salicylic acid, which is a pain reliever used in aspirin and has anti-inflammatory properties. I’ve also heard it makes a good hair rinse. I find a lot of herbals recommending yarrow as a tea. I guess, if you like bitter. I prefer to make a tincture or capsule of the dried plant, thereby missing out on the tongue curdling taste.
Yarrow seems to have a split personality when it comes to magical properties. On one hand it was thought to be a favorite of the devil, used in evil spells. Two of its numerous common names are Devils Plaything and Devils Nettle. On the other hand it was often used to protect against evil. Sprigs were tied to cradles to prevent witches from stealing a baby’s soul. It was also worn and strewn over thresholds to protect against evil. Try it the next time the in-laws visit. Yarrow was used in love spells and divination, the stalks are used in readings of the I Ching.
For a durable garden plant yarrow is hard to beat. A hardy perennial, it grows from 1-3 ft high, depending on the variety. It blooms from late spring through fall if you remove faded blooms. Flowers come in pink, red, yellow and the wild form, white. It has ferny leaves and straight stems. I often read that it makes a good companion plant, enhancing the health of plants around it. I don’t know where these authors live, but in my Colorado garden, I have to keep a close eye on yarrow as it likes to overrun my less assertive perennials, which hardly consider it a good companion, more like the neighborhood bully. I consider this it’s only drawback.
Cut and hang yarrow flowers upside down to preserve for beautiful dried flower arrangements.
Useful for so many things, easy to grow and beautiful to boot, what’s not to love about this plant?
Susan Evans is a Certified Clinical Herbalist and owner of Chrysalis Herbs.