Do you have Yarrow growing in your garden and you’re curious about its medicinal properties? Read on to learn all about this lovely perennial herb.
The Basics of Yarrow
Yarrow’s botanical name is Achillea millefolium. She is a member of the Asteraceae family, the Aster subfamily, and the Chamomile, or Anthemideae tribe. Yarrow is found in Europe and Asia. Sources vary on whether Yarrow is native or naturalized in America. According to one source, there are 10 varieties of A. millefolium that are native to the United States. In all, there are about 500 varieties of Yarrow worldwide.
Yarrow is a spreading, clumping perennial that grows from rhizome root that is covered in fibrous roots. Growth starts out as a basal rosette, with leaves spiraling around.
Feathery leaves grow 2-8 inches (5-20 cm) in length, can be bipinnate or tripinnate, a deep green, often with pale petioles that can be red tinged near the base. Leaves are pubescent, another word for hairy.
In mid to late spring, alternate leafed stalks grow from the base with inflorescences at the end, growing to a height of 6-36 inches (0.2-1 m). Each inflorescence has 4-9 translucent bracts with clusters of 15-40 disk flowers and 3-8 ray flowers. Ray flowers vary from white to pale pink, with cultivars ranging in “hot” colors of red, pink, orange, and yellow.
Fruits are achene-like cypselae, are dry, one-seeded and surrounded by a calyx sheath.
The Native Americans rated Yarrow as one of their most important herbs and with good reason, Yarrow has many uses, which we’ll talk about in a little bit.
Energetics, Nutrition, and Constituents (oh My!)
Let’s start off with an experiment. Do you have Yarrow growing in your garden? If so, break off a piece of the leaf and flower and chew them one at a time. What tastes come to mind when you chew them? Bitter? Pungent? A hint of sweetness? How does your mouth feel? Does it cool down? Dry up? Yarrow is generally described as bitter, pungent (or acrid), sometimes sweet, cooling and drying. The aerial parts of Yarrow are used for medicine, including the flowers, stems, and leaves.
Nutritionally, it might surprise to learn that Yarrow has quite a bit to offer. She contains average amounts of dietary fiber, carbohydrates and protein, and low amounts of fat. She also contains vitamins A, C, E, thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), inositol (B8), calcium, choline. chromium, cobalt, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, silicon, sodium, tin, and zinc.
Yarrow contains many constituents including amino acids: asparagen; coumarins, essential oils: proazulene, azulene, borneol, camphor, cineole, eugenol, linalool, pinene, sabinene, and thujone; flavonoids: achillein, apigenin, luteolin, quercitin; acids: formic acid, isovalerianic acid, salicylic acid; polyacteylenes, sterols, and tannins.
The Medicinal Actions of Yarrow
Medicinally, Yarrow is analgesic, anodyne, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antispasmodic, aromatic, astringent, carminative, cholagogue, circulatory stimulant, diaphoretic, digestive, diuretic, emmenagogue, expectorant, febrifuge, hemostatic, hepatic, hypotensive, nerve relaxant, odontalgic, parturient, stimulant, stomachic, styptic, sudorific, tonic, urinary antiseptic, urinary decongestant, uterine stimulant, vasodilator and vulnerary. Is there anything Yarrow can’t do?!
Let’s take a look at what all this means…
Diaphoretic means she helps the body to sweat, which is helpful when trying to break a fever. Yarrow is great for helping to reduce fevers through sweating. Yarrow is also considered to be a febrifuge, another word for fever lowering. A tea of Yarrow flowers and leaves is usually taken to reduce fevers. See the recipe section for a herbal blend that is great for fevers.
Hypotensive refers to lowering the blood pressure indicating she is good for helping people who have high blood pressure. Yarrow is also considered a vasodilator, helping to open blood vessels which can also help to lower blood pressure and increase circulation.Yarrow is best combined with some other herbs such as hawthorn and linden flowers.
Previously, we learned that an astringent herb is drying in nature and generally contains tannins, causing a local contraction of the skin, blood vessels and other tissues, thereby stopping the discharge of blood, mucus, etc. This makes Yarrow useful in toning blood vessels. Yarrow makes an effective skin cleanser and toner because of the astringency. Yarrow tea made with flowering stems is said to be beneficial to oily skin.
Because Yarrow is a styptic and vulnerary, she is useful for stopping bleeding, just like other herbs such as Plantain and Shepherd’s Purse! During the United States’ Civil War, Yarrow was used to treat wounds and was referred to as Soldier’s Woundwort. Hemostatic is another word used to describe Yarrow’s wound staunching abilities.
An antimicrobial is a fancy word meaning Yarrow kills germs! This makes it perfect for cleansing wounds. Making a tea and washing a wound using Yarrow will help to wash out all the germs and keep the wound from getting infected. This was undoubtably important during the Civil War when Yarrow was used to stop bleeding and cleanse wounds.
Also, we know that an anti-inflammatory reduces heat, redness and swelling associated with inflammation. The next time a cat scratches you, try making a poultice and applying it to the wound. The Yarrow poultice will help the scratch to not swell and become painful.
Diuretics help the body to rid itself of excess fluids by increasing the rate of urine production by the kidneys are diuretics. Yarrow is great to take for cystitis (inflammation of the bladder) and other bladder ailments. She helps to flush everything out of the bladder. As a urinary antiseptic and urinary decongestant, Yarrow helps to reduce bladder infections and clear out stagnant urine.
You probably have an idea what bitter means: something that doesn’t taste all that good. In the herb world, a bitter refers to an herb that gets the digestive juices flowing. The tannins that are drying make you think ‘yuck!’ when you drink it and cause your mouth to water. This stimulates the stomach to start digesting.
And finally, the word hepatic. Hepa– refers to the liver. Therefore, Yarrow is good for liver support! Yarrow is great at cleansing and toning the liver!
Yarrow is stimulating to the uterus and should be avoided by pregnant women. Some people do find that Yarrow can cause photosensitivity, dermatitis, headaches, and dizziness. If you are using Yarrow and experience any of these effects, discontinue use.
When choosing Yarrow at a plant nursery, skip the hot pinks, yellows, and other brightly colored flowers as the white flowered plants contain more medicinal value.
Want more ways to incorporate Yarrow into your child’s learning? Check out The Next Step, my year long course that teaches kids how to use herbs medicinally in a fun and engaging way.
Does Yarrow grow in your garden? What is your favorite use for this wonderful plant?