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Updated 18 February 2013

Yarrow

Yarrow has multiple medicinal uses, and an equal many names to correspond with its application.

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Yarrow, or as it is biologically called, Achillea millefolium, is a perennial native to Europe, North America and Asia, where it prefers a warm habitat and thrives in meadows and along roadsides.

Yarrow has a rough angular stem and fine feathered leaves that are grey-green in appearance, the entire plant is covered in white silky hair and from June to September it blooms into white and pale lilac flowers.

Yarrow is a member of the Asteraceae family, making it a relative of the chamomiles. The roots of this herb creep widely underground and its seeds multiply quickly, which has earned it a reputation as a troublesome weed.


But to those in the know, yarrow has multiple medicinal uses, and an equal many names to correspond with its application. Centuries ago yarrow was also called Herba Militaris, the military herb and was used by soldiers for wound healing, while legend has it that its biological name Achillea was named after Achilles, the Greek mythical figure who used it to stop the bleeding wounds of his soldiers.

The name Millefolium is a descriptive one owing to the plant’s multiple segmented leaves and also justifies other of its nicknames like Milfoil and Thousand Weed. Yarrow has also been called Nosebleed since the leaves were once rolled and inserted into the nose to induce a bleed, which was believed to ease headache.

But that is not where the nicknames end. Yarrow has been popularly referred to as Devil's Nettle or Devil's Plaything due to its use in divination and in the casting of spells and more soberly, the herb has also been used as a snuff, thanks to its pungent aroma and taste and in these cases, it is referred to as Old Man’s Pepper.

Historically, traditional herbalists in Europe, China and India used yarrow in three categories; to abate minor bleeding and treat wounds, to treat inflammation and as a mild sedative. The herb has also been prescribed for treating haemorrhoids, fevers and colds and to relieve stomach and intestinal upsets.

Parts used

The aerial parts including flowers, leaves, and stems, which are collected for medicinal use when in bloom in the northern hemisphere’s summer.

Active compounds

Volatile oil: This dark green oil is rich in sesquiterpene lactones and responsible for yarrow’s anti-inflammatory activity, along with alkamides.
Achillein and achilleic acid
Resin: Astringents curb diarrhoea and dysentery, antiseptics and anti-inflammatory properties treat infections and inflammation and antispasmodics relax tension cramping, wind and colic.
Salicylic acid: Promotes tissue repair and the healing of cuts, burns and ulcers
Tannins
Gum
Flavonoids

Medical actions

  • Aromatic
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antipyretic
  • Astringent
  • Antispasmodic
  • Diaphoretic
  • Digestive stimulant
  • Diuretic
  • Restorative
  • Stimulant
  • Tonic
  • Vasodilator
  • Urinary antiseptic

What is the herb used for?

  • Colds
  • Fevers
  • Measles
  • Piles
  • Kidney disorders
  • Sore throat
  • Inflammation
  • Heartburn
  • Menstrual difficulties
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Cuts and wounds
  • Muscle spasms
  • Oedema
  • Varicose veins
  • Hypertension
  • Colic
  • Hay fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Digestive complaints
  • To increase urine flow
  • Liver and gallbladder conditions
  • General infection

Dosage

Infusion: Stir 1 to 2 teaspoons of the dried herb into a cup of boiling water and leave to infuse for l0-l5 minutes. Drink three times a day and in the case of fever, the tea can be drunk hourly.

Tincture: Take 2-4ml of the tincture three times a day.

Safety

Yarrow is considered safe to take medicinally as advised by a health professional but caution should be taken by pregnant women since the herb has the ability to induce uterine bleeding and, possibly, miscarriage. The herb has also been known to cause a skin rash and may increase sensitivity to light.

Possible interactions

There are no reports in the scientific literature to suggest that yarrow interacts with any conventional medications.

(Zaakirah Rossier, Health24, October 2010)

 
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