In June of last year I hiked up a small mountain along the Columbia River Gorge to take in the view with my wife. I pulled out a knife to cut back a blackberry vine and inadvertently sliced myself along my hand. It was a deep cut and I knew it was going to be a problem that needed emergency care and stitches. We were a good hour from the base and then another half hour to Hood River- the nearest town. I was worried about severe bleeding and I looked around and found some yarrow growing near me. I cut off a stalk and quickly chewed up some of it while my wife ripped some cloth from an old t-shirt in her backpack. I wrapped my wound with the yarrow and the bandage as a poultice and we started quickly walking down the trail. I kept looking for signs that the copious blood flow was seeping out through the cloth and to change the poultice if need be- but I was surprised to see there was no need for changing dressing.
Finally at the base of the mountain we drove to the nearest grocery store in Hood River and I went to the bathroom so I could look at the wound better before going to the ER. I peeled back the dressing and saw that the blood flow had been completely stopped and in fact there was almost no blood on the poultice or even in the yarrow leaves and flowers themselves. Furthermore the wound looked like it was already starting to kinit itself back together. A simple short scar remained. There would be no need for an emergency room visit and I simply bought a big bandaid and went on my way.
This is one of many stories I could tell you about yarrow- this wondrous multifaceted herb that is definitely on my top 10 list of herbs top take to a desert island. Yarrow’s latin name is Achillea millefolium. Millefolium refers to its multiply bisected leaves and achillea refers to Achilles, the famous Greek war hero from Homer’s Illiad. The story goes that his mother dipped him in to the river Styx to make him invulnerable- but the portion of his foot where she held him was weak and unprotected. In the battle to secure the city of Troy, Achilles was killed by Paris when he shot him in the unprotected heel with an arrow. Today we use the term “achilles’ heel” to refer to the parts of ourselves that are weak or where we give into temptation- “Chocolate cake is my achilles heel”.
War and battle have long been associated with this plant for good reason. Yarrow is one of our most important plants when it comes to blood flow and wound healing. For thousands of years it has been used as an external “styptic”, meaning a plant that coagulates external wounds that are bleeding. It also works internally to help stop hemorrhage and excessive menstrual flow. Herbalist Matthew Wood calls this plant the “master of blood”.
Yarrow is a native to much of the temperate areas of the Northern hemisphere and has now found its way to much of the southern hemisphere as well as it easily finds a foothold as a weed in disturbed areas, meadows and lawns. This is an extremely hardy plant that can handle drought and grows just as easily in moist garden beds as high up in some windswept crag in the hills. Easily recognizable with its spray of small white flowers and its minutely bisected fan like feathery leaves, yarrow flowers here in Oregon by May.
I’ll share one more personal story that is a little gross. A number of years back I had a vasectomy and made the mistake of driving to the coast the next day. Apparently I sat in a way that disturbed the wound and the clotting burst and blood pooled and that region became internally swollen and in a lot of pain. Over the oohing my doctor offered pain killers but had no advice except to wait until it naturally reclotted and the blood was reabsorbed. Needless to say I didn’t want to wait. Outside the house where we were staying was an entire field of yarrow. I went outside and gathered a few handfuls and then made copious amounts of yarrow tea. For hours I drank the tea. Within a very short space of time, the wound clotted and pain diminished considerably. By the end of the day the blood had mostly reabsorbed and I never experienced further distress. Yarrow to the rescue!
Latin name: Achillea millefolium
Family name: Asteraceae
Parts used: Whole aerial plant- flower is most medicinally active while leaves are higher in astringent tannins. Roots can be used as analgesic for tooth aches
Taste/Energetics: Cooling, drying, bitter, pungent
Properties: Vulnerary, anti-inflammatory, anti-hemorrhagic, analgesic, antimicrobial, astringent. diaphoretic, digestive aid, antispasmodic, diuretic, divinatory
Wound Healer As stated above, yarrow is a premier styptic. The direct application of crushed and masticated yarrow flowers and leaves works best as a poultice but cloth soaked in a strong infusion can work as well. Internally infusions of yarrow work best to help staunch internal bleeding or excessive menstrual flow.
Fevers We run pretty quickly to take tylenol if we are running a fever but most of the time we should let the fever run its course. That internal heat is useful for helping fight off the infection. However, a good dose of yarrow tea can be quite helpful if a fever stays really high or is prolonged. Along with mint and elder flower, yarrow is one of our classic cooling diaphoretic. That means that it helps induce a sweat and releases heat through opening the skin pores.
Infections Yarrow its helpful for fighting off infections and can be useful in a formula for a nasty case of bronchitis, for UTIs and at the onset of a cold to fight off infection.
Circulatory Yarrow has an astringent quality that is useful for toning up the circulatory blood vessels. It also has a hypotensive quality that is useful for those with high blood pressure.
UTIs Yarrow has both a diuretic and an antibacterial quality that make it helpful for fighting off urinary infection. Yarrow would go well with Oregon Grape, dandelion, Uva ursi, nettles and calendula for fighting off a UTI.
Hepatic/Digestive aid Yarrow is bitter and its bitter quality is helpful for promoting gastric digestive secretions and to encourage the liver to produce fat emulsifying bile. In this way, yarrow can help promote better digestion and absorption of nutrients and to calm a spasming, tight belly.
Stagnation/Excessive menstrual bleeding/cramps/PMS Yarrow has an interesting bidirectional effect where it can both promote menstrual flow as well as reduce excessive bleeding. In this way it can be really useful for women who experience either tendency. It also has a noticeable relaxant , analgesic and antispasmodic effect for cramps.
Contraindications Avoid during pregnancy due to the potential for inducing contractions. Yarrow should be consumed for short periods for more acute concerns and is not a great herb to consume for lengthy periods.
Yarrow for protection and wound work
For those working at a more subtle energetic level, yarrow has long been offered for protection from negative people and forces. If we think of yarrow, one of its most important actions is that it is astringent- binding, healing and toning tissue. We can think of yarrow working in the same way energetically. Instead of the thorny protectors like hawthorn, rose and devil’s club, yarrow works to draw in our energies so that we are not giving away our life force to people who are negative, unkind and malicious. For people who are constantly giving away their power, or who are confused, psychically damaged or high a lot, yarrow acts as a filter, reducing the load of information and potential negativity that can be absorbed in day to day life.
On a deeper level, yarrow works with those places that we are vulnerable, scared and where we can get hurt. Often times in my practice people come to me hoping to eradicate those places and overcome these old wounds. But really it is impossible to erase and eradicate wounds and shadows. Instead these vulnerable places can be the source of our greatest power and healing.
We are all Broken. That’s How the light gets in- Leonard Cohen
In my path, I have experienced some extremely distressing mental; states in my mid 20’s. Though those experiences were harrowing, they also helped me find deep compassion and empathy for those going through mental/emotional distress and extreme states. This is at the core of the mental health peer movement- which emphasizes the role of people with lived experience in helping others through their challenges. For others who have conquered addiction, the process of working deeply through wounds and overcoming self-destruction can lead to helping others work through their own addictions- such as becoming a mentor to others in a 12 step program.
On another more spiritual level, yarrow stalks have long been used for asian systems of divination such as working with the I Ching. The stalks can be thrown and the patterns of their fall can be translated to divinatory passages in the I Ching. The I ching (Book of Changes) is an ancient Chinese divination system series of 64 different aphorisms that can appear vague but contain a depth of meaning poetically:
Iching Hexagram 33: “Content in your power, you have no need to engage the obstacle.”
The flower essence of yarrow has been commonly offered to people who feel like psychic sponges- those taking in too much information, toxicity and negativity from the people around them. Instead of being directly protective, this preparation helps “astringe” one’s essence, to guard against giving away too much power to others. one to two drops a couple times a day. To make, lay yarrow flowers in a clean glass bowl of filtered or spring water. Allow to soak in the sun for several hours and then remove the yarrow flowers. Add 1/3 the volume of brandy to the “mother” to preserve it. Then take 5 drops and add it to a stock bottle with equal parts brandy and pure water. Then from the stock bottle add 5 drops to a dosage bottle with half brandy and half pure water. Use the dosage bottle for regular usage.
Yarrow tincture can be made with 50 % alcohol at a ratio of one part dried herb by weight to 5 parts alcohol. I don’t use the tincture a lot but will work with it energetically as part of a formula for those needing support with feeling internally stronger, more resilient, and to reduce giving away too much power to others. For feelings of heart sadness, grief with palpitations, tachycardia:
1 part reishi
1 part rose
1 part motherwort
1 part hawthorn leaf and berry
1 part yarrow
Making tea with yarrow is one of the best ways to work with this plant. If someone is experiencing an ongoing high fever that is not abating, yarrow can be helpful for breaking the fever, opening the pores and allowing the body to cool down by sweating. The tea is also useful for reducing the pain and spasming of mensstura cramps and can help either reduce blood flow or improve flow if it is scanty. The tea can also be helpful for “stuck” digestion with bloating and cramps. Yarrow tea is astringent and helpful for varicose veins and hemorrhoids and also acts as a gentle cardiovascular support, reducing high blood pressure and toning the vessel walls. Yarrow tea can also help as an antibacterial diuretic to reduce UTIs. One tablespoon to a pint of hot water infused for 10 minutes- then strain.
A yarrow compares is the masticated or hot infused yarrow pressed into some fabric and then pressed and wrapped against an area of the body that needs attention. Generally yarrow compresses are great for wounds, cuts, sores and sunburns.
Yarrow oil and salve is quite useful for warding off bugs, healing bug bites and bee stings, healing sunburns, rashes and stopping minor bleeding. Simply fill up a mason jar loosely with dried (must be dry!) yarrow leaves and flowers. Then add enough oil to cover by a half inch. Infuse for several weeks by a warm stove or in the warm sunlight. Then strain and use. The salve can be made by adding the oil to a double boiler with 8 parts oil to one part beeswax. Dissolve the beeswax in the oil and then pour the oil into tins and allow to cool.
Yarrow hydrosol/Essential Oil
One of the coolest things to understand about yarrow distillation is that yarrow contains an aromatic compound known as chamazulene. This is also found in other plants such as chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) and wormwood (Artemisia absinthe). This gives the oil and some of the hydrosol a delightful deep rich blue appearance you can see in picture above. Though the chamazulene is found in the flowers, the essential oil is found in all the aerial parts. It can be helpful to let yarrow dry overnight to gain a higher yield from distilling. The plant yields about .1 % essential oil but even a small amount can make a lot of wonderful hydrosol. My small still can handle about 5 kg of plant material which yields about 5 ml of yarrow essential oil and several quarts of the precious hydrosol. It is pretty challenging to capture all the essential oil so a fair amount leaches into the hydrosol- making it effectively stronger and also last longer (usually a couple years) as yarrow is highly antibacterial.
The yarrow essential oil can be added to soaps, perfumes candles, incense or to diffusers in minute amounts. It has a very intense and strong scent that only some people enjoy (me!). The hydrosol can be diffused directly by spray, added to cocktails and beverages in small amounts, in skin creams, for cleaning supplies and taken in tiny amounts for medicinal and energetic effect.
For those purchasing the oil and hydrosol please make sure to purchase from sustainably ethical artisan distillers (and not some other gigantic companies that shall not be named.)
Yarrow is one of the most important herbs that herbalists turn to again and again. This is the warrior’s herb- one for healing wounds both physical and energetic. Yarrow finds its ways into lawns, disturbed areas, alleyways and cracks in the sidewalk as well as in gardens and meadows. It loves to live in full sunlight and can handle dry droughty conditions as well as thrive in moist garden beds. For internal and external wounds, fevers, infections, digestive help and cardiac support, yarrow is unparalleled. And its potent inimitable scent wakes up up, helps us to feel more alive, vibrant, strong in ourselves. A good friend.
This article written by Jon Keyes, Licensed Professional Counselor and herbalist. For more articles like this, please go to www.Hearthsidehealing.com. You can also find me at the Facebook group Herbs for Mental Health.
Antispasmodic effects of yarrow (Achillea millefolium L.) extract in the isolated ileum of rat. Morandi, Rafieian-Koupaei, Imani-Rastabi et al
A review on phytochemistry and medicinal properties of the genus Achillea Saeidnia, Gohari, Kiuchi et al
Yarrow Monograph Krystal Thompson, Herb Rally
Yarrow Plant Rosalee de la Foret
Achillea millefolium. Yarrow. Matthew WoodFollow me on Instagram