All about Yarrow, from Traditional Plants Program Director, Elise Krohn
Here at the GRuB farm, we grow yarrow for our flower bouquets. Students on field trips enjoy learning about yarrow’s common name ‘Warrior Medicine” and marvel at its fragrant flowers and feathery leaves that look like a squirrel tail. Youth working on the farm mash it up as a poultice to heal wounds. We also make a cold and flu tea with yarrow flower. We think of yarrow as a medicine chest in itself. If you know how to use this one plant, you can help ease many ailments; it can be used to stop bleeding, fight infection, reduce fevers, cool inflammation, and promote better circulation!
Yarrow is a common perennial herb. Leaves are deeply divided. White, five-petaled flowers have yellow stamens and are clustered together in an umbellate-shape on a long straight stalk. They can reach a foot high. Yarrow tends to form deep-green soft mats with strong interconnected roots. The whole plant is aromatic and reminiscent of chamomile and pine. Yarrow is found all over the world in fields, yards, and sandy soils. It grows from rocky beaches to alpine mountain meadows. Native species, including Achillea lanulosa and the alpine species A. alpina, look identical to the European species, A. millefolia. The only way to tell them apart is by looking at their chromosomes!
How to Harvest
All parts of yarrow are medicinal, although the flowers are most commonly used. To harvest the flowers in late spring and summer, pinch or cut the stem just below the flowering heads when flowers are fully open and vibrant. Leaves are pinched at the base and can be used fresh or dried.
Yarrow has been revered as a healing herb since ancient times. Its use has been documented in Chinese Medicine for over 3,000 years, and in Europe since at least the Middle Ages. ‘Warrior Plant’ is a common name for yarrow among indigenous communities across Canada and the United States. When you get a wound, it helps cells in the blood called platelets stick together and form a scab. This, combined with yarrow’s anti-inflammatory, astringent, and antimicrobial properties, makes it a perfect first aid remedy for healing wounds and skin irritations. Yarrow can be used topically in many ways, including making a fresh plant poultice by chewing or mashing up the flowers or leaves, sprinkling the dried powder on a wound, applying a strong tea, or making a yarrow-infused oil. Yarrow is also used internally as a tea, tincture, or vinegar to stop bleeding and cool inflammation.
Yarrow is a favorite cold and flu remedy. It has cooling, anti-inflammatory, bitter, and antimicrobial properties. Drinking hot yarrow tea brings blood to the surface of the body, thereby inducing sweating and helping to break a fever. Through thinning the blood and increasing circulation, it may also help people with lung congestion to breathe better. The aromatics in yarrow open respiratory passages. A classic cold and flu tea that we use at GRuB includes equal parts of yarrow, peppermint, elderflower and elderberry. Use 1 tablespoon per cup, steep 15 minutes, and drink it hot. The flowers can also be used as a respiratory steam by placing a handful of dried yarrow flowers or finely chopped fresh yarrow in a medium-sized bowl and pouring boiling water into it. Hold your face at a comfortable distance and cover your head with a towel and inhale the steam.
Yarrow is a bitter herb that stimulates digestion. Drinking it as tea can be helpful when someone has poor appetite due to low digestive secretions and general inflammation. Yarrow is an ingredient in many classic apèritifs and bitters, which are alcoholic beverages that are taken with meals to stimulate digestion.
Many Native People in the Pacific Northwest used dried yarrow and yarrow tea to keep away flies and mosquitoes. If you are desperate for mosquito repellent, try rubbing fresh yarrow flowers on your skin or clothes!
Yarrow is easy to grow in gardens in a sunny spot. In some areas, it will spread quickly, so you may want to contain it with a border. It may cross with nursery varieties of yarrow and turn pink, but it still has good medicine as long as it has a strong smell and a bitter taste. Yarrow is pollinated by bees, butterflies, and other insects. It makes a great addition to pollinator gardens.
CAUTION: Yarrow is not recommended internally during pregnancy. It should be used carefully or avoided for those with coagulation disorders, and for those who are taking blood thinners.