Astringent, anti-inflammatory, and pain-relieving yarrow is also known as soldier's woundwort. Yarrow's reputation as a medicinal herb is legendary. Fossils of the plant have been found in 60,000-year-old Neanderthal burial sites. It was one of the flowers used to bury their dead.
The Greeks used yarrow to mend battle wounds, as did many First Nations including Blackfoot, Micmac and Miami.
Science verifies yarrow's abilities. Achilletin and achilleine, alkaloids discovered in yarrow during the 1950s, speed blood-clotting time. Constituents such as azulene, camphor, eugenol, menthol, quartering, rutin and salicylic acid are anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving. Others, such as tannins, terpineol and cineol, are antiseptic.
Antispasmodic yarrow helps relax the smooth muscles of the digestive tract. I sip a cup of hot infusion to soothe digestive woes. (A bit of honey or a dropper of rose elixir makes it delicious and enhances its soothing qualities.) My brother, Joe, loves the bitter taste of yarrow.
Yarrow is especially effective at helping the body produce progesterone. Its antispasmodic and pain-relieving properties help ease menstrual cramps. Its astringent qualities slow excessive menstrual bleeding. I sip yarrow infusion throughout the day when necessary or take 10 drops of tincture every two hours. To help shrink fibroids I use 20 drops of tincture or a cup of infusion, twice daily.
Yarrow's astringent and anodyne properties make it useful for shrinking hemorrhoids. Infused oil of fresh yarrow leaves and flowers is soothing and healing. A warm yarrow sitz bath alleviates the discomfort.
Yarrow contains a small amount of a hypnotic chemical called thujone, the effects of which have been compared to cannabis: mildly psychoactive, tranquilizing and sedative. It may be toxic in large doses.
Yarrow is diaphoretic. A hot infusion stimulates circulation, promotes perspiration and opens pores. Our grandmothers' grandmothers drank yarrow to relieve colds and flu and to reduce fevers. The Romani, too, have an ages-old yarrow remedy, combining it with peppermint and elder flowers to counter these ailments. It’s traditional to drink yarrow tea before taking a sauna or going into a sweat lodge.
First Nations people revere yarrow. Chippewa inhale the steam from the boiling herb to relieve headache. Ojibwa inhale smoke from burning yarrow to bring down fever. Potawatomi use it as a smudge. The Thompson use yarrow against all skin ailments, the Mohawk to relieve nausea and cramps, the Delaware to treat kidney problems and the Creek to stop toothache pain. Zuni use powdered yarrow to heal burns.
The Chinese also hold yarrow in high regard. They use it to stop inflammation, bleeding and heavy menstrual flows. They cast the I Ching, a divinatory oracle, with yarrow's dried stalks.
Yarrow is a also a beloved herb among my Southern Italia neighbors. They call it erba dei tagli, stagnasangue and millefoglio. We find it growing abundantly on slopes, along country paths and in uncultivated areas. A yarrow infusion is well used for its antispasmodic and sedative action in the gastrointestinal tract and for its diffusive action in bile secretion. Its sedative properties make it a useful remedy for the pain of toothache and also to alleviate painful menses. It is used as an emmenagogue for regularizing menses and menstrual flow. Its flowers, used in infusion, have beneficial effects on the elasticity and tonicity of blood vessels. The entire plant is used as a poultice on contusions and bruises, and for its antiseptic and wound healing properties. Preparations of yarrow are often used in combination with other herbs that have similar properties, to improve the general condition of blood circulation and to affect digestive and hepatic functions.
Flower Essence Yarrow flower essence helps build psychic shields, strengthens the aura and protects against disharmony and unwanted environmental influences.
Magical Lore Ancient folk tales tell us to keep an eye on the yarrow patch and make a wish on the first one to bloom. The flowers have long been used at handfastings and have an ancient association with funerary rites.
Culture Yarrow grows wild all around the world, most abundantly in fields, woods edges, hedgerows and roadsides. The seeds are easy to start. Yarrow grows two to three feet tall, has stiff straight stems and lacy, fern-like leaves. If you look closely at the flower, you'll find that it is actually made up of many tiny white flowers, each with a pinch of gold in the center. These gold centers shimmer and shine in the moonlight, making yarrow a magical plant to gather on a full moon night. Yarrow blooms all summer and smells very aromatic, with a slight bitterness. Many pollinators love yarrow, most specifically, the silver-spotted skipper butterfly. I gather the flowers at their peak, when they look most beautiful, cutting the entire stem about halfway down with its leaves and flowers. I tie them in small bunches and hang them to dry. I tincture fresh yarrow leaves and flowers in alcohol, or infuse them in oil.
I’ve enjoyed distilling yarrow leaves and flowers in my copper alembic still to make a hydrosol. The sesquiterpene chamazulene is released during the process of distillation. It is a gorgeous vibrant blue color!
Yarrow hydrosol is an amazing remedy for the skin and is recommended to be added to a sitz bath to soothe hemorrhoids.
Traditional Romani Cold and Flu Remedy Combine equal parts dried yarrow, elder flowers and peppermint. Pour boiling water over the herbs, cover and let steep two to four hours. Strain and drink hot.