Yarrow is a familiar flowering plant from the daisy family. Named Achillea millifolia––Achillea after the Greek warrior Achilles and millifolia for the finely divided leaves––it has a long history as a medicinal herb. It is commonly known as nosebleed plant for its ability to stop bleeding, but that is just one of its many uses. Although originating in Europe, the plant is naturalized in many temperate regions in North America and Asia.
The delicate, fern-like leaves and the abundant, long-lasting flower heads should make this easy-care plant a favorite with gardeners, not to mention its medicinal value. However, it is often considered a weed by gardeners because of its invasive nature. It self seeds freely and spreads through underground rhizomes, making it extremely difficult to control once it gets established.
History of Use
All kinds of myth and magic are associated with yarrow, including its purported ability to ward off the devil. It is not surprising given the fact that most ailments from indigestion to fever and hemorrhoids were once attributed to the devil and witchery, and this healing herb managed to remedy most of them. According to the Achilles myth, the yarrow extract made him impervious to arrows and he used it to heal the wounds of his fellow soldiers.
Anglo Saxons used a poultice of yarrow on burns, wounds and insect bites. Because of this, it was known as Knight’s milfoil. The herb was thought to be effective against snake bites too. Yarrow is part of many traditional Chinese herbal remedies.
Several Native American tribes had their own herbal remedies involving yarrow. The Micmac made a poultice with the stems to treat bruises and inflammations and chewed on the stalks to break fevers by inducing sweating. The Iroquois and the Cherokees used an herbal tea of yarrow to increase appetite and improve digestion. The Chippewa used yarrow for steam inhalation to cure headaches and the Zuni applied a poultice of the plant over burns.
Yarrow was used to cure various other problems like toothaches and earaches. Since it was widely used to treat menstrual problems such as amenorrhea and dysmenorrhea, it was held in great regard by women as one of the 9 divine herbs.
A lot of research has been done to unravel the biochemistry of yarrow to determine the compounds responsible for its wide-ranging and seemingly magical medicinal property. Azulene and apigenin are credited with the anti-inflammatory properties of yarrow and another compound called achilleine is thought to be responsible for its hemostatic effect.
Apart from apigenin, yarrow contains other flavonoids such as, luteolin, casticin, artemetin, and rutin. Plant sterols such as beta-sitosterol, campesterol, stigmasterol, taraxasterol, and pseudo taraxasterol have been identified in yarrow extract. Salicylic acid explains the analgesic effect of yarrow. It is rich in amino acids lysine, alanine, glutamic acid aspartic acid and histidine, and in fatty acids like oleic, linoleic, myristic and palmitic acids. Vitamin C and folic acid are also present.
How They Work:
Anti-inflammatory- Several active compounds in yarrow have been shown to have anti-inflammatory action, particularly azulene and apigenin.
Astringent – The tannins in yarrow give astringency to the extract. They have a cleansing effect on the digestive system.
Cholagogue – The bitter compounds in yarrow increase the production and flow of bile, which in turn helps increase appetite and digestion.
Antispasmodic – Yarrow controls muscular, gastrointestinal and uterine spasms that cause pain.
Relaxant – Yarrow extract has a relaxing impact on the muscles and nerves.
Vasodilator – Yarrow enlarges the capillaries, improving blood circulation.
Antibacterial – Antimicrobial agents in yarrow prevent infections in wounds as well as in the gastrointestinal and urinary tracts.
15 Wonderful Health Benefits of Yarrow:
Cold and sore throat – Yarrow has a drying effect and helps reduce nasal and sinus congestion due to cold. When yarrow tea is used as a throat gargle, it reduces throat pain and inflammation.
Sprains and strains – Its anti-inflammatory and analgesic action reduces swelling and pain on topical application.
Cuts and wounds – The antibacterial anti-inflammatory actions work together to heal inflamed and infected cuts or wounds.
Toothaches – The analgesic effect provided by the salicylic acid in yarrow helps relieve toothaches when the leaves and stems are chewed.
Diarrhea – The antibacterial action of yarrow purges the gastrointestinal tract of bacteria and yeast that causes diarrhea and dysentery.
Amenorrhea – When yarrow is taken for delayed periods, the plant sterols in yarrow helps regulate hormonal imbalances and initiates menstrual flow.
Dysmenorrhea – Yarrow acts as a muscle relaxant and reduces cramping and heavy menstrual flow due to severe uterine contraction.
Bleeding – The hemostatic effect of yarrow can be useful in stopping bleeding from cuts and wounds. Nosebleeds can be quickly stemmed by applying the juice of crushed leaves to the nostrils. Bathing hemorrhoids and varicose veins with an infusion of yarrow can stop bleeding. Gastrointestinal bleeding can also be controlled with yarrow herbal tea.
Indigestion – Yarrow promotes the flow of digestive fluids, especially bile. It is an age-old remedy for indigestion.
Flatulence – Yarrow is used on its own and with other carminative herbs to combat gas formation and accumulation in the gastrointestinal tract.
Rheumatism – People with rheumatism find it beneficial to use yarrow extract orally and the essential oil of yarrow topically. It promotes the drainage of fluids and reduces pain and inflammation.
Hypertension – Yarrow can help reduce high blood pressure by relaxing and dilating the blood vessels. It can even relieve angina pain by increasing blood flow to the heart muscle. However, such treatments should not be carried out except under the supervision of a qualified herbalist or a physician with thorough understanding of alternative medicine.
Detoxification – Yarrow extract has a detoxifying effect on the gastrointestinal system. It can be used as preparation before starting slimming diets.
General tonic – The restorative and balancing effect of yarrow tea make it a good general tonic to promote health and well-being.
How To Grow Yarrow
People rarely need to cultivate yarrow since it can be easily gathered from wastelands and the wayside. However, if you are seriously interested in homemade herbal remedies, it pays to grow it in your apothecary garden. They are, in fact, delightful garden plants, especially when young and covered in soft, lacy, ferny leaves.
Although several new cultivars in beautiful shades of pink and yellows have been developed, it is the common yarrow with its flattened flower heads of small, white, daisy-like flowers that go into herbal preparations. Sow the seeds or plant the rhizome in spring. The plant likes a sunny location and well-drained soil, but is not too particular about feeding or regular watering. They are drought tolerant and very forgiving, often rewarding your neglect by overstepping their allowed space.
The leaves of yarrow have medicinal value too, but it is the flowers that are mostly used for preparing infusions. You may have to wait until summer for the first flowers to appear, but the tender leaves can be used in salads and chewed to relieve a toothache. The freshly extracted juice of the leaves, or a tea made by steeping crushed leaves in boiling water, can be used as a general tonic to improve performance.
As the mercury rises, yarrow goes all out, growing flat bunches of dull white flowers at the tip of every branch. Often, a slight tinge of pink or purple may be seen. Once half of the flowers in most flower heads open, the whole plant can be harvested by cutting it close to the ground. All aerial parts can go into herbal preparations, but flowers and leaves are richer in the beneficial biochemicals.
After harvesting, you can dry the whole stems in the shade or just the flower heads and leaves separately for easy storage. Keep the dried yarrow in airtight glass jars to retain the active compounds.
How to Use Yarrow
Make yarrow herbal tea:
Fresh or dried yarrow can be used to brew a restorative tea. Take a handful of dried yarrow or 2 tablespoons of powdered yarrow in a glass jar and add a cup of boiling water to it. Let it sit for 10 minutes. Strain the tea and drink it warm or cold. Yarrow tea can be used to relieve indigestion and bloating and to control stomach cramps. A lighter tea in the evening can bring on restorative sleep.
The dried yarrow may deteriorate with age, but making infusions and extracts can extend shelf life.
Make oil infusion of yarrow:
Put a cup of dry yarrow in a Mason jar and mix in two cups of olive oil or almond oil. Screw on the cap and keep the jar in the sun for 2-4 weeks. The oil can be used for all topical applications. Being much lighter than the essential oil of yarrow, it can be safely used on children too. A few drops of the infused oil can be added to herbal teas.
Make a yarrow salve for emergencies:
It is quite useful to have a yarrow salve handy to treat emergencies like small accidents and rashes that breakout unexpectedly. You should ideally have natural beeswax for this, even though substitutes are available. Melt one ounce of beeswax in a double boiler, stirring occasionally. When all the wax is melted, take it off the heat and keep it aside to cool down a bit. Stir in one cup of the prepared oil infusion and mix well.
Pour the mixture into small tubs that you can carry around in your bag so that your homemade salve will be at hand when you need it the most. Use it on rashes, insect bites, minor cuts and scrapes. It is an effective headache remedy and a great item for gifting.
Make a yarrow lotion:
Making a lotion is another way to use the herb for relieving arthritic and rheumatic pain and stiffness in the joints. Melt an ounce of beeswax in a double boiler and mix in half a cup of coconut oil. Take the mixture off the heat and allow it to cool down. Add one cup of yarrow infused oil and beat it in. This lotion is easy to use on large areas and has the additional benefit of coconut oil.
Make a tincture of yarrow:
You need the best quality drinking alcohol for the tincture. Take equal amounts of dried yarrow and alcohol by volume in a glass jar. Shake well and put on an airtight lid. Keeping it in a cool place for a month or two. It will give you fast acting, highly potent tincture. Remember to shake the bottle once or twice every day. Strain the mixture and store it in colored glass bottles with airtight lids.
To use the tincture, add one part of tincture to 10 parts of water. The diluted tincture can be used for oral medication and topical application. Put it in a spritz bottle to spray it on cuts and scrapes. If you want to reduce the alcohol content for children, allow the diluted tincture to sit for some time. The alcohol will evaporate, leaving the active ingredients of yarrow in the water.
If you can’t get good quality alcohol, or don’t want to use it, you can make the tincture with vinegar. Use equal amounts of dried yarrow and apple cider vinegar by volume and repeat the above process. Tinctures in vinegar remain good for up to two months, but they have to be refrigerated.
Yarrow essential oil
The essential oil of yarrow is extracted through by distillation of the leaves as well as flowers. The slightly spicy and sweet-smelling oil has a very light consistency and bright blue color, the latter owing to chamazulene, which lends a similar blue color to the essential oil of German Chamomile as well. This bioactive compound is responsible for the excellent anti-inflammatory property of yarrow oil. Camphene, limonene, alpha pinene, beta pinene, B-myrcene, sabinene, borneol and camphor are some of the other active ingredients in yarrow oil.
Yarrow essential oil can be used topically to get relief from hemorrhoids, varicose veins and migraine. It can be used for faster healing of wounds and burns and for reducing stretch marks and scars too. However, being highly concentrated, essential oils should never be used at full strength. Mix a few drops of yarrow essential oil with a tablespoon of carrier oils such as olive oil or coconut oil for topical application. Yarrow essential oil is available to buy from this page.
Want to learn more about essential oils? Explore our “Herbs & Essential Oils” category here.
People who have known ragweed allergy should test small quantities before taking therapeutic preparations. They may have allergic reaction to other daisy-family of plants, including yarrow. Those taking antihypertensive medication may run the risk of developing hypotension with the concurrent use of oral preparations of yarrow. Their use should be avoided during pregnancy and in babies too.