Hello floral friends!
Today I’m diving into the plant profile of Achillea millefolium, more commonly known as Yarrow. This beautiful, helpful little plant has a multitude of uses, and has been improving humanity’s health since the time of the Greeks. It holds a special place in my heart as the first plant profile of my materia medica, and it was truly a joy to illustrate such a lovely, delicate flower. Yarrow is living proof that beauty doesn’t mean weakness; this herb was a favorite of soldiers and healers for thousands of years due to its ability to stop profuse bleeding and heal wounds, a graphic activity for such a pretty plant! I do this weird thing where I sometimes imagine plants as if they were people, and when I picture Yarrow, I see a pale young nurse hurrying from patient to patient on the battlefield, braving the cannonblasts and artillery fire to treat the injured soldiers, a first responder in the truest sense of the word. Yarrow has been on the front lines of healing for millennia, and she hasn’t let us down yet!
Yarrow’s Folklore + Traditional Uses
Perhaps the most well-known tale about Yarrow is that of its origin– Greek mythology tells us that the first yarrow plant sprouted from the rust scraped off the great hero Achilles’ spear when he was in Troy, and the centaur healer Chiron (or Charon) taught him how to use it to treat the wounds of his soldiers. This origin story is why Yarrow bears the Greek hero’s name in its Latin classification, Achillea millefolium, and shows us just how long Yarrow has been used as a battlefield healer! In the Hebrides, a string of islands off the northwest coast of Scotland, a leaf of Yarrow was thought to bestow upon the bearer the second sight when placed over their eyes. In Asia, Yarrow is said to grow around the burial site of Confucius, and that where Yarrow grows, no poisonous plants or creature can harm you. Dried stalks of Yarrow (64 to be exact) are used in the divination practice of I Ching by casting and reading the various hexagrams that are formed from them. Whatever you believe, it is plain to see that Yarrow has been a meaningful herb to people and cultures for thousands of years the world over!
Found in temperate regions across the world, Yarrow can be identified by her vertical posture, standing straight up to 3 feet high. She has long, feathery leaves that are distributed alternately along the stem, and are part of her namesake- millefolium means “a thousand leaves”, referring to the bipinnate and tripinnate nature of yarrow’s feathery leaves. She can be easily confused with Queen Anne’s Lace, but their visual difference lies in their leaves- Queen Anne’s Lace has leaves in an opposite arrangement (they grow in pairs along the stem) while Yarrow’s leaves are in an alternate arrangement (which means they grow in a spiral along the stem). Yarrow has delicate cream blossoms at the top of the plant that bloom in clusters from May to June, which in the pagan tradition associated Yarrow with Beltane and Midsummer.
Yarrow’s Healing Attributes
As I mentioned before, Yarrow is a multi-purpose healer but is best known for her ability to stem the flow of blood from a wound and kickstart the healing process. Other key actions of Yarrow include being astringent, a digestive tonic, stimulating sweating, reducing fever, and strengthening blood vessels. Her impressive list of uses are reflected in her many names; in the past, Yarrow has gone by Allheal, Bloodwort, Knight’s Milfoil, Soldier’s Woundwort, and Staunchgrass, along with the sweet nickname of Squirrel’s Tail, my personal favorite!
Best taken as a tea or tincture, the healing aspects of Yarrow lie in her aerial parts, aka her blossoms, stem and leaves. If you’d like to learn how to make your own herbal teas or tinctures, or learn what the differences between them are, click here! Listed below are some common ailments and hurts that Yarrow can help you with!
- Gum problems: Local application of tea or tincture
- Nosebleed: Tea or tincture of yarrow
- Cold, flu cold: Tea or tincture of yarrow
- High blood pressure: Tea or tincture of yarrow
- Poor healing: Tea or tincture of yarrow
- Cuts, grazes, minor wounds: Local application of yarrow poultice (wound must be cleaned before yarrow is applied as it is a fast-acting herb)
- Heavy menstrual bleeding: Tea or tincture of yarrow
Yarrow is most effective when taken at 3-7.5 grams a day, or maximum 50 grams a week, and shouldn’t be taken by pregnant or nursing mothers, or children under 5. In some rare cases, Yarrow has caused allergic reactions that manifest in sun sensitivity or rashes, so consult an herbalist or medical practitioner if you plan on using it regularly! Yarrow is also poisonous to cats, dogs and horses, so please store it in a safe place or secure container.
When used medicinally, Yarrow is often paired with Elderflower, or Sambucus nigra, for increased effectiveness!
And with that, I conclude my plant profile on Yarrow, and my first digital entry for my materia medica! Thank you so much for reading, and I hope to see you back here again soon.
Blessings + Betony,