Millefoil. Carpenter’s weed. Soldier’s woundwort. Bloodwort. Seemingly non-related utterances, yet these names all refer to the same plant capable of stopping a nosebleed or preventing a sneeze.
Yarrow, botanical name Achillea millefolium, is a flowering perennial roadside weed that also thrives in wasteland and meadows. Common in North America, yarrow is also native to Europe and Asia growing one to three feet dependent upon the seasonal rainfall. The aromatic yarrow flowers bloom in summer months, often white, pink or yellow with feathery fern-like leaves. Yarrow flowers and leaves contain astringent, anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties utilized historically by ancient Chinese foretellers, druids, Socrates, Plato and mythical Greek warrior Achilles.
Tip #1: Holding your face over a yarrow flower steam bath is said to improve your complexion and skin tone.
An astringent plant, the constricting and binding characteristics of yarrow lend to its effectiveness as a blood coagulator. Internal use of yarrow is said to reduce heavy menstruation and decrease bleeding from kidney stones, while external application reportedly shrinks hemorrhoids and reduces the appearance of varicose veins. A pinch of yarrow powder purportedly stops nosebleed, while dried, powdered leaves applied to cuts and wounds will disinfect and stop bleeding from small wounds. The plant was named after Achilles who applied yarrow to mitigate the wounds of his soldiers during the Trojan War. Yarrow coagulates blood so effectively that dirt can become trapped in wounds that are improperly cleaned before its use.
Tip #2: Yarrow infusions are added to shampoos to treat oily hair.
The health benefits of yarrow extend widely. Historically used as medicine, yarrow is consumed at the first sign of cold or flu. Yarrow acts as a diaphoretic to warm the body internally, killing bacteria and increasing white blood cells. This diaphoretic action relieves pressure on the heart, which imparts tone to this organ over time. Also slightly stimulating to the uterus, yarrow can induce suppressed, delayed or absent menses, or relieve menstrual cramps. The congestion and sneezing associated with hay fever, skin rashes, blurred vision, diarrhea, bruising and pain are all said to respond to external and/or internal use of this powerhouse of a plant. Chewing on yarrow root reportedly improves gum problems and toothache.
Application and Safety
Yarrow can be consumed as tea or tincture, and is readily available in capsule form. A common weed, yarrow adapts quickly to its surroundings and should be used from the same source. The FDA expressed concern about the toxic yarrow constituent thujone, however the common spice sage contains more thujone than yarrow. Topical application or long term use of yarrow may cause skin irritation or allergic reactions.
Yarrow is a uterine stimulant, and should not be consumed by women who menstruate heavily or have pelvic inflammatory disease. Reportedly safe to apply topically during pregnancy, yarrow should not be used internally, especially by women with history of miscarriage.
- Those allergic to ragweed are cautioned against the use of yarrow.
- Yarrow stopped sperm production in mice, and is not recommended internally by men desiring to become fathers.
- Yarrow may increase sensitivity to light.
- Yarrow increases production of bile, and may increase the pain associated with gallstones.
- Topical use of yarrow is not designed for large, deep or infected wounds.
A Pocket Guide to Herbs – Jenny Linford
Collins Alternative Health Guide – Steven Bratman, M.D.
Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health – Rosemary Gladstar
Herbs for Health and Healing – Kathi Keville
Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West – Michael Moore
Prescription for Herbal Healing – Phyllis A. Balch, CNC
The Healing Herbs – Michael Castleman
The Way of Herbs – Michael Tierra