Yarrow: A Staunch Plant

I said I was going to take a walk around my garden last weekend, and I did. I also walked around what passes for a yard in these parts and noticed some plants starting to green up. I hope they don’t get too eager: we’ll probably still have a cold snap or two before Spring is finally sprung!

One of the plants that’s starting to wake up is Yarrow. A few years ago, I was at the garden center and chuckled when I saw Yarrow plants for $6. I want to know how I can get in on that racket. It grows wild here and I’ve resigned myself to having a hillside of Thyme and Yarrow, instead of just Thyme.

Yarrow Achillea millefolium will grow wild just about anywhere. It’s a perennial that will very easily re-seed itself and spread via its root system. The flowers can be seen from June to September and are anywhere from white to pink to a pale lilac. (Mine are white. I’d love to see the colored ones.) The flowering tops are what are normally used in a medicinal context, although the entire above-ground portion of the plant is medicinally-sound. It’s a rather tall plant (mine get to 12-18″) and the dried stalks are used for I-Ching (a Chinese form of divination). Because the stalks are hard, even when green, I generally just take the flowering tops.

Yarrow has many common names such as Milfoil, Soldier’s Woundwort, Knight’s Milfoil, Bloodwort and others. The Latin binomial is derived from the story that Achilles carried it to staunch the bleeding of his soldiers (Achillea). Its specific name (millefolium) comes from the many segments of its foliage – the leaves are very feathery-looking.

It’s not known as Woundwort or Bloodwort for naught. Yarrow is one of the best styptics around. Fresh or dried, it will stop bleeding very quickly. I read a story a few years ago that someone who was hiking had cut themselves badly, grabbed some Yarrow that was growing nearby and packed the cut with it. When they got to the hospital, the doctor was more than a little upset about the ‘dirty plant material’ packed into the wound until he saw how deep the cut and how little blood there was. I always keep some ground Yarrow in a jar for all the scrapes & cuts I get – or when I cut my legs shaving. It’s one of my Top Ten Herbs.

It’s also wonderful for other things. Since it is antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antiseptic, antiviral, and diaphoretic (induces sweating), a cup of Yarrow tea a couple of times a day is good for bronchitis, colds, chickenpox, fever, and measles (you can drink it hourly if you’re really feverish). Because it’s astringent and diuretic, it helps with urinary tract infections, too.

Maud Grieve says it had the reputation of being a preventative for baldness, “if the head be washed with it”; and it’s been used in Sweden instead of hops when making beer (also said to be more intoxicating than beer with hops).

Do not use Yarrow in conjunction with other herbs containing thujone (such as Thyme or Sage) since it could induce thujone toxicity. Because it coagulates blood, it could interfere with anticoagulant, hypotensive and hypertensive therapies. You should also not use Yarrow if you are pregnant or nursing.

Yarrow is widely used in love charms. In the Highlands of Scotland, young ladies cut it before sunrise, place it under their pillow at night and dream of their sweetheart. If the sweetie’s back is turned, they won’t marry; but if he’s facing them, marriage will shortly follow. It’s said that if you use it in wedding decorations, it will ensure a love lasting at least 7 years (although I really want mine to last longer than that!). It will draw not only lovers but friends to you (after all, friendship is just another form of love). I believe it’s still used in the Orkney Islands to dispel melancholy. You can also use it in spells for courage and to enhance psychic powers.

It’s so useful, I’m not going to try to eradicate it. Yarrow (as well as Stinging Nettle) is said to increase the volatile oil of any plant it grows near. The Thyme does smell wonderful!


  • Sarah Head Posted February 26, 2011 8:29 am

    Always good to find a fellow yarrow lover and an international member of the Herb Society (I help moderate their online forum!). Thanks to Matthew Wood, I also use yarrow flower essence energetically for deliniating boundaries, when those I care about merge with my sense of self and I’m absorbing too much of their pain and distress. This almost feels like the converse of yarrow’s “normal” energetic property of helping the individual to connect with the universe, but like so many herbal properties, they can work in ways which seems opposed and yet are not. I like the look of your book, too! Bright blessings!

  • Selena Wolff Posted February 27, 2011 8:58 am

    Yarrow has taken over my garden, along with mugwort, and I’m thrilled! Wonderful and informative, it reminds me that although we have another month before we see either of them stretching for the light, it is coming!

    The Chinese loved it too. They used dried Yarrow stalks for divination!

    Many Blessings!

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