Materia Medica: Yarrow

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is a well-known plant ally throughout the United States and Europe.

Yarrow is a flowering perennial, common in North America but also native to Europe and Asia. Its leaves are soft and highly segmented with a characteristic appearance that is almost feather-like. Yarrow grows stalks during the summer months, with a height that is dependent upon the seasonal rainfall. During dry years, these stalks may only grow a foot or two, preserving energy in its roots. Clusters of tiny white flowers grow atop the stalks, emitting a distinctive and characteristic aroma.

Yarrow received its Latin name Achillea from the legendary Greek hero Achilles. According to the common legend, Achilles’s mother dipped him into the river Styx by the ankle in an effort to make him invulnerable. Fighting many battles as a seemingly invincible warrior, Achilles used yarrow to treat the wounds of his fellow soldiers. He later died from a wound to his heel, as it was the one unprotected part of his anatomy. – Mountain Rose Herbs

The historical uses for yarrow, both for physical and spiritual health, are as plentiful as its common names (which include milfoil, plumajillo, Soldier’s herb, herba militaris, Knight’s milfoil, carpenter’s grass and nosebleed.)

This plant is most well known as a vulnerary, and deservingly so. It truly excels at preventing infection, promoting healing and slowing bleeding. While I had used yarrow in a variety ways with good success since childhood, the first time I experienced the nearly miraculous healing qualities of Yarrow was when I cut my finger nearly to the bone with sharp jar lid. I just happened to have a handful of fresh young Yarrow leaves in my bag so I chewed a wad of them up thoroughly before spitting the poultice onto my profusely bleeding finger and tied it in place with a strip of cloth. It was a nasty jagged and very deep wound down the center of the sensitive fingertip and I expected it to have trouble with healing up without nerve damage or possible infection. I changed the poultice once that day and I was nothing short of shocked when I removed the bandage the next morning to find the wound nearly closed up without even a hint of redness and very little discomfort in the area, and certainly no nerve damage. After a few days it healed without even so much as a scar. The only other herb I have seen such remarkable wound healing results with is Larrea (it works less well as a fresh plant poultice but holds onto its healing properties much better as an oil/salve than Yarrow does). Since then I’ve used fresh Yarrow in many deep wounds and have seen the miraculous effects over and over. I don’t find it to be as effective as an infused oil or in dried plant preparations for external use, though they are certainly still worth using. – Kiva Rose

Check out Matthew Wood’s amazing monograph on the indispensable yarrow. While yarrow is not native this far south, it does grow beautifully in Florida.