This one small plant can be easily missed in a meadow if you don’t know what you are looking for, but it is unmistakable once you know its characteristics. The leaves are very distinguishable; as well as, the flower head. It is named Achillea millefolium. Millefolium means, “thousand-leaved” which describes the dissected leaves perfectly. Achillea refers to the legend of Achilles during the Trojan War. It is said that he saved many of his warriors by applying the leaves of Yarrow to their bleeding wounds. He wasn’t the only one to use Yarrow in that precise manner. The Native Americans revered this plant and it made the number one spot of the top ten herbs used medicinally by Native American tribes. (Moerman, Daniel E, Native American Medicinal Plants)
Yarrow can grow in many different soils, and in many different conditions. However, it does prefer somewhat dry, sandy soil in the full sun. It can tolerate hot, humid, and dry conditions as well. This perennial was introduced to America by the colonists, and has spread throughout North America. It has a tendency to spread aggressively by rhizome and easily naturalizes an area. You can avoid this by growing this plant in a pot, or a raised bed and divide occasionally. I keep mine in a raised bed and I divide it once every two years in the spring to avoid it “jumping ship” so to speak, and spreading in my yard. The stem of this plant grows to about 3 feet and stands erect, except in the high heat/ humidity where it will usually flop over. You can cut back the stems prior to flowering to keep the plant on the smaller side; however, you get more flowers if you wait until the plant blooms and then cut the flowering stems for drying. The leaves are finely-dissected into many leaflets measuring about 3 – 4 inches long. They are located on the stem alternately, and are usually a medium to dark green shade of color. The flowers are white to grayish/white on the native plant, but there are many hybrids available in many colors. I choose to stick with the white variety for medicinal uses. There are many florets situated in a flat-topped cluster (called a cyme). These florets will bloom between June and September. You can begin harvesting the whole herb (anything above the soil) once the plant is in bloom.
Yarrow can have many medicinal properties depending on how you prepare it. It is considered to be an antiseptic, diaphoretic, diuretic, stimulant (of the circulatory system), an astringent, anti-inflammatory, alterative (blood purifier), hemostatic (staunches bleeding or hemorrhaging), anodyne (for external pain), and an emmenagogue (promotes menstrual flow and corrects female reproductive organ function). You can drink the warm infusion for fevers, colds, flu, jaundice, uterine problems, ulcers, incontinence, menstrual cramping, hepatitis, or any liver problems. Yarrow helps to stop any excessive bleeding when taken in the tea or tincture form, or used externally with an ointment or poultice (crushed leaves or paste). You can also make a warm infusion of the herb as a preventative for loss of hair. Simply rinse your hair daily or every other day with the tea. Massage it into your scalp as much as you can. A sitz bath with the herb can help with post-partum healing, hemorrhoids, or vaginal infections due to the astringent and antiseptic properties. As I stated earlier, Native American tribes used this herb extensively as part of their healing practices. If they had a toothache, internal pain, bleeding, or cough they would chew the leaves. They also used a poultice of the leaves for boils, sores, wounds, or swellings. It was also well used as blood medicine, a gynecological aid, for fevers, worms, liver and urinary problems, or any kind of sickness. With all the many different uses, there’s no wonder that this herb was considered the number one herb used between the many different tribes. I will grab some dried yarrow as soon as the first symptom of sickness arrives, or my children develop a fever. The infusion tastes great and my children love it, which makes it easier to administer for their healing. This herb works for this purpose because it is a diaphoretic. It will induce perspiration, and stimulate elimination of the virus or bacteria causing the symptoms. It stimulates elimination through the skin, urinary system, liver, and bowels. Used along with a raspberry leaf infusion, I can usually help to shorten the duration of the sickness affecting one of us. I will also combine Yarrow with other alteratives to cleanse the body.
Yarrow is easy to harvest and dry. I just hang mine, or I let it dry on a screen out of direct sunlight. You can also use it fresh in an infusion or tincture. You can drink one cup of the infusion up to 4 times a day when needed, or ½ cup of the decoction 3 times a day. A decoction in this case refers to the herb being placed in cold water, bringing it to a boil, and then simmering the amount of liquid down to ½ the volume. This is a stronger preparation. An infusion consists of boiling water, pouring it over the herb, covering it, and letting it steep for about 15 minutes. If you prefer to take the tincture instead, you would take up to 30 drops 3 times a day. Use the ointment whenever needed throughout the day. Because this herb stimulates menstrual flow, it should not be used during pregnancy. It is also possible to cause allergic reactions in those that are highly sensitive. Discontinue use if this happens.
There is still so much to do this growing season. We had a late beginning with our late frost, but my garden is growing, and my herbs are being harvested. I just finished my Nutritional Therapy Courses, and I am getting back to writing my book, “Recipes from a Modern Day Herbalist”! Enjoy your summer!
Until next month,
Mary Colvin, M.H.