Yarrow

Yarrow
 Achillea millefolium

Family  Asteraceae
Genus  Achillea
Species millefolium

Synonyms and Common names:  Milfoil, Millefoil, Nosebleed, Staunchgrass, Thousand-leaf, Soldier's woundwort, Sanguinary, Bloodwort, Noble yarrow, Old Man's Pepper, Knight's Milfoil, Herbe Militaris, Thousand Weed, Carpenter's Weed, Staunchweed, Devil's Nettle, Devil's Plaything, Bad Man's Plaything, Yarroway, Angel flower'

Description and Habitat:  A beautiful, aromatic plant bearing flat heads of white or pink flowers in late summer at the top of straight strong stems. The clusters of low growing feathery leaves are a familiar sight on lawns or pathways. In meadows it opens out and becomes magnificent.

Yarrow grows everywhere, in the grass, in meadows, pastures, and by the roadside. As it creeps and multiplies by its roots and by seeds it can become a troublesome weed in gardens, once established it is difficult to eliminate

In the garden, yarrow is a useful plant to grow because it will help improve the health of surrounding plants due to the phosphorus, calcium and silica the plant contains.  It attracts hoverflies, ladybirds and predatory wasps to help with aphid control.

Parts used:  All parts of the herb that are above the ground are used, flowers, leaves and stems.

Collection and preparation:  Harvest Yarrow in the morning, after the dew has dried but before the heat of the day. Yarrow is best dried upside down in a dark, airy, dry place

Constituents: up to 0.5% volatile oil, flavonoids, tannins, a bitter alkaloid.

Actions: Diaphoretic, hypotensive, astringent, diuretic, antiseptic, anticatarrhal, emmenagogue, hepatic, stimulant, tonic.

Indications: Fevers, common cold, essential hypertension, digestive complaints, loss of appetite, amenorrhoea, dysentery, diarrhoea. Specifically indicated in thrombotic conditions with hypertension, including cerebral and coronary thromboses. Used topically for slow-healing wounds and skin inflammations.

Therapeutics and Pharmacology: Yarrow is a valuable diaphoretic herb and is the central ingredient in any fever-management programme. It prevents the body temperature from rising too high but has a minimal suppressant effect on the course of the fever.

The flowers are rich in chemicals that are converted by steam distillation into anti-allergenic compounds, of use in the treatment of allergic catarrhal problems such as hay fever. The dark blue essential oil, azulene, is generally used as an anti-inflammatory, or in chest rubs for colds and influenza.

Yarrow lowers high blood pressure by dilating the peripheral vessels, and it also tones the blood vessels. It is considered to be a specific in thrombotic conditions associated with high blood pressure.

Used externally, its astringent properties will aid in the healing of wounds, and it has been used to treat haemorrhoids and varicose veins. The leaves encourage blood clotting, so can be used fresh for nosebleeds. However, inserting a leaf in the nostril may also start a nosebleed.  Yarrow has also been used in the treatment of heavy and painful periods, and the presence of steroidal constituents may help to explain this activity.

Warm some olive oil and add a few crushed yarrow flowers to it and leave it to 'steep' for a few minutes before putting it in the ear to alleviate earache, it’s very soothing and smells wonderful.
Combine equal parts of dried yarrow, peppermint, echinacea and elderflowers and infuse 1 teaspoon of it in a cup of hot water and drink it everyday to help stave off a cold.  Should you be unlucky enough to catch a cold, make up a cup of this three times a day to help ease the symptoms

A useful inhalant for catarrh
2 Teaspoons Dried Yarrow
1 Teaspoon Dried Peppermint
½ Teaspoon Dried Rosemary
½ Teaspoons Dried Lemon Thyme
2 Drops Yarrow Essential Oil
1 Drop Peppermint Essential Oil
2 Pints Boiling Water
Pour the boiling water over the herbs and add the essential oil. Use as required.

Contraindications: In rare cases yarrow can cause severe allergic skin rashes. Prolonged use can increase the skin's photosensitivity.  Large doses should be avoided in pregnancy because the herb is a uterine stimulant. Excessive doses may interfere with existing anticoagulant and hypo- or hypertensive therapies. Caution should be exercised by epileptic patients

Preparation and dosage:
Infusion: pour a cup of boiling water onto 1 to 2 teaspoonful of the dried herb and leave to infuse for 10 to 15 minutes, drink hot three times a day
Tincture: take 2 to 4ml of the tincture three times a day.

Folklore and additional comments: Yarrow stalks are traditionally thrown to read the I Ching, the ancient Chinese book of divination.

Yarrows botanical name Achillea refers to the ancient Greek hero Achilles, who, during the Trojan War, reputedly used it to treat his wounds. Its specific name means ‘a thousand leaves’ and refers to its feathery foliage. The folk name Nosebleed confirms its traditional use as an emergency styptic. The name ‘yarrow’ is a corruption of the Anglo-Saxon name for the plant, gearwe.

Yarrow was used for love divination in the past, one of the herbs dedicated to the Evil One, in earlier days being sometimes known as Devil's Nettle, Devil's Plaything, Bad Man's Plaything, and was used for divination in spells.

In Ireland young girls would cut a square sod in which grew a yarrow plant and place it beneath their pillow so that they would dream of their sweetheart.

In France and Ireland it is one of the herbs of St. John, and on St. John’s Eve the Irish hang it in their homes to avert illness.

It has been employed as a snuff and, in the seventeenth century, it was an ingredient of salads.

In Sweden it has been used in the manufacture of beer and the peppery leaves and the flowers are used to flavour liqueurs.

Folk tales tell of how yarrow can prevent but not cure baldness.  It is said to attract friends and distant relations to you and, if used in the bridal bouquet, it is believed to ensure that love will last for at least seven years.  It was also believed that the yarrow could help you find your true love, either by sleeping with yarrow under your pillow to bring dreams of your true love or by cutting the stems across the middle, which would reveal the initials of your future spouse

A popular remedy for treating fevers and feverish conditions, yarrow was once used as a substitute for quinine.

Native Americans burned yarrow to help drive away evil spirits, and it’s said that to understand the voice of yarrow, chew a little of the root and hold it in the mouth, a tea of leaf and flower will continue the story.

European women would throw yarrow onto the fire and look into the flames for a picture of their future husband.

Whilst yarrow will stop a nosebleed it may (see above in Therapeutics) also start one, this was used to relieve a headache.  It has been employed as snuff, and is also called Old Man's Pepper, on account of the pungency of its foliage. Both flowers and leaves have a bitter, astringent, and pungent taste. In the seventeenth century it was an ingredient of salads.

In the middle ages, yarrow was one of the ingredients in Gruit, a selection of herbs that were used to make beer, before the widespread use of hops.  Other Gruit ingredients included mugwort and juniper

Dried yarrow flowers can be used for decoration and in pot-pouri mixture. Leaves added to the compost bin help speed up the process.  An infusion of yarrow can also be made and added to the garden to boost copper levels.

Dried yarrow included in incense or smoked in a pipe is very calming and has a lovely scent, thoroughly recommended for lowering stress levels.

The weirdest suggestion found when researching folklore of Yarrow is that if the hands are smeared with yarrow juice and then plunged into a river they will act as magnets to fish. This one has yet to be confirmed!