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Yarrow (achillea millefolium) as a Medicinal Herb
I don’t know if I’ve met a person who doesn’t know of the humble plant Yarrow. Even more impressive, most people seem to know that it has medicinal applications. It seems most commonly known as either a remedy for bee stings, or as a digestive aid. Both common associations are on the right track!
Each year I harvest yarrow as enthusiastically as would be sustainable for the colony I take from. As the plant is vigorously supported and proliferated by its rhizomes, in combination with the plant’s tendency to produce more flowering heads, taking flowers from a colony is not something I hesitate with. Young, robust leaves from first-year plants are also on my radar when I’m out gathering.
In my medicine cabinet, yarrow is typically reserved for topical use on wounds and stings; especially wasp stings. Its internal applications are many, however I don’t often encounter a need for its properties in a medicinal dose. A hint of fragrant yarrow in a casual tea mix never goes amiss, though!
My knowledge stems strictly from personal research and application. While I enjoy sharing my own anecdotal experiences and journeys with using herbal medicine, I would also like to share some literary excerpts with you.
The following is from one of my favorite authors, Charles W. Kane, in his book Medicinal Plants of the Western Mountain States, which is one of a few books I would highly recommend to folks who are interested in earnestly learning about herbal medicine. It is by no means an exhaustive transcription of his full chapter on Yarrow, so if your interest is piqued, please do consider reading the book in full.
Partial list for Achillea millefolium: flavonoids: casticin, santin, apigenin, luteolin, rutin, quercetin; hydrocarbons: N-hexadecane, P-cymene; monoterpenes: camphor, tricyclene, A-thujene, A-pinene, B-pinene, camphene, myrcene, Y-terpinene, terpinolene, 1,8-cineole, linalool, B-terpineol, borneol, terpinen-4-ol, A-terpineol; monterpenyl esters: bornyl acetate, sabinyl acetate, A-terpinyl acetate; sesquiterpene hydrocarbons: A-copaene, B-caryophyllene, Y-cadinene; sesquiterpene lactones: guaianolides, eudesmanolides, longipinenes, germacrane derivitives; proazulene.
Effectively combining elements of an astringent, stimulant, and antiinflammatory, Yarrow serves as a multi-faceted applications for an array of problems. The plant’s best overall use is as a tonic in conditions where there is tissue laxity due to low regional vitality…
As an herb for the urinary tract, it best influences chronic conditions. Try the tincture if there’s a lingering bladder… infection that seems on the verge of resolving but only renews at the slightest stress or dietary relapse. Relatedly, yaro is specific for mucus tinged urine… and/or hematuria… with accompanying pain and irritation.
For women, if menorrhagia is atony, be it too lengthy periods or mid-cycle spotting, the plant usually lessen blood flow. …For chronic vaginitis, both as a sitz bath and internally, it’s a simple yet affective remedy.
…Yarrow makes a choice application when applied topically to poor healing wounds, or imbibed as a tea for chronic gastrointestinal inflammation.
For ulcerative colitis, it’s a better tea for the atonic phases rather than the acute flare-ups. However, taking into account Yarrow’s astringent and anti-spasmotic affects, small to moderate amounts of tea will too be of benefit even in acute episodes. Not only does Yarrow address the spasm, hemorrhage, and ulceration of this painful condition, it also lends a protective and healing influence to gastric mucosa. Additionally, if suffering from chronic gastritis and/or ulcer formation, consider the tea specific.
As an aromatic bitter tonic, taken before meals, the tea or diluted tincture dispels atonic indigestion and quiets gas pain. The plant is also a moderate choleretic. Its stimulating affect on the bile release assists in small intestine fat digestion and assimilation.
Thanks to the plant’s volatile oil content the tea helps to break a stubborn dry fever. Like other stimulating diaphoretics care should be taken if the temperature is dangerously high- Yarrow may cause a slight increase in temperature before promoting diaphoresis.
For toothache pain, a shredded fresh piece of root should be applied to the area and be kept along the offending tooth (like tobacco chew). A cottonball soaked with fresh plant tincture of the root can also be applied to the area, but be careful if there is exposed nerve tissue.
Indications [for use]:
- Vaginitis (external and internal)
- Wounds, poorly healing (external)
- Ulcerative colitis/Inflammation, gastrointestinal
- Indigestion with gas pains
- Fever, dry skin
- Toothache (external)
An occasional cup of tea or dose of tincture poses no issue during pregnancy, but Yarrow used consistently as a daily herb during this time may cause a problem due to its influence on reproductive tissue.
Proceed with caution when using the tea as a diaphoretic in children with high fever