By: Marlene Affeld
If you spend time in the back country, prospecting, hunting, hiking or camping, accidents can happen. While there are many native plants that can be used for food or medicine, it is prudent to be able to identify and know this amazing, healing herb. In the case of a bleeding injury, Yarrow could save a life!
Achillea millefolium or Yarrow (also called Soldier’s Woundwort, Old Man’s Pepper, Common Yarrow, Gordaldo, Nosebleed plant, Sanguinary, Milfoil or Thousand-leaf is a flowering erect herbaceous perennial in the plant family Asteraceae.
Considered by many people to be an invasive weed, Yarrow is actually a healing and helpful plant native to the Northern Hemisphere. In Spanish-speaking New Mexico, California and southern Colorado, it is called plumajillo, or "little feather," for the shape of the leaves.
Yarrow was historically known as herbal militaris, for its use in staunching the flow of blood from wounds. The plant also has a long history as a powerful 'healing herb' used topically for wounds, cuts and abrasions.
A beautiful flowering plant with flat flowerheads and airy, lacy leaves, Yarrow can be found in many parts of the world, it is most common in the United States in mountain and forested areas.
The entire plant is useful, stems, leaves and flowers which are best collected in the wild in late summer when Yarrow is in full bloom.
Thoughout history, Yarrow has been been used as a food. Yarrow was a very popular vegetable in the 17th century; it is sweet and savory, with a slightly bitter taste. The young leaves are used as a leaf vegtable, raw, chopped in a salad or cooked like spinach or added to soups and stews.
In the Middle Ages, Yarrow was part of a traditional herbal mixture known as gruit used in the flavouring of beer prior to the now common use of hops. In Sweden, Yarrow is called 'Field Hop' and has been used in the manufacture of beer. Beer brewed with Yarrow is considered more intoxicating than when hops are used.
Traditional Yarrow has also been used as an herbal medicine, mainly because of its astringent effects. Decoctions or tintures have been used to treat inflammations from hemorrhoids to headaches. Confusingly, Yarrow has been said to both stop bleeding and promote it. The leaves encourage clotting, so Yarrow can be used fresh to stop nosebleeds. However, inserting a leaf in the nostril may also start a nosebleed; this was once done to relieve severe migraines. Infusions of Yarrow, taken either internally as a tea or externally as a poltice, are known to acelerate recovery from severe bruising. A compress soaked in an infusion or dilute tincture of Yarrow will soothe varicose veins.
The most medicinally active part of the plant are the prolific flowering tops. Although Yarrow is sometimes yellow or red, the native white tops are preferred by herbal practicioners. The tops also have a mild stimulant effect, and have been used as a salisfying snuff. Today, yarrow is valued mainly in treating colds and influenza. Yarrow is also known for its stimulating effect on the digestive, excretory, circulatory and urinary systems.
When the flowers are steamed, a dark blue essential oil is extracted. This oil, rich in anti-imflammatory properties was generally used as a chest rub to treat colds and pneumonia. Native Americans mixed the potent oil with bear grease to make a healing balm for bruises and sprains and arthritis type conditions. In Sweden the essential oil of Yarrow is used to repel mosquitos. It is employed in Norway as a remedy for rheumatism and the fresh leaves chewed are said to cure toothache.
Modern day herbalist prepare a very effective massage oil from 15-20 drops of Yarrow oil and an equal amount of St. John’s Wort oil in combination with 10 drops each of hyssop, eucalyptus and permermint oil. The mixture is diluted with 20-30 drops of almond or sunflower oil. This mixture is found to be very benefical for inflamed joints and injured muscles.
The delicate leaves are stepped into a tea and the liquid is ingested for relief of coughs and respitory ailments. The cooled tea is also used externally as a soothing and healing application for acne, boils, skin irritations and eczema. Yarrow has the reputation of preventing baldness, if the scalp is regualarly rinsed with Yarrow tea. Breathing the steamed air made when boiling the tea is reported to be helpful to those with mild asthma or hayfever.
Yarrow tea is made with 1 oz. of dried herb to 1 pint of boiling water and consumed warm. The tea may be sweetened with sugar or honey. Yarrow tea is said to open the pores, de-toxify the system and purify the blood.