Family: Asteraceae, the Aster Family
Description: Non-native perennial herb 0.2-1m tall. White flower-heads are flat (not an umbel like Queen Anne’s Lace). Leaves alternately arranged, finely dissected, lacy, and aromatic.
Habitat: Fields, roadsides, lawns, shorelines, waste areas
Plant Parts Used: Leaves, flowers
Medicine: Stops bleeding, antiseptic, reduces fever, hypoglycemia, menstrual cycles, hemorrhoids, mastitis, bruises
Yarrow is the plant whose latin name I will never forget. First, the species name, millefolium, describes yarrow’s lacy leaves, which can look like thousands (mille) of leaves (folium). I remember learning Achillea millefolium alongside the story of Achilles, whose men survived countless battles. The story goes that Achilles would only bleed out of the back of his heel (the Achilles tendon region) where his mother dipped him into a magical river. Achilles finally died only when he was shot in the heel with an arrow and he bled to death. Some people think that Achilles’ mother actually dipped him into a yarrow bath, due to yarrow’s ability to stop bleeding.
Ray told me that the summer flowers are best, but the dried leaves can also be used. The pulverized dried leaves can close wounds. He told me that yarrow is a natural blood cleanser that also stops bleeding and acts as an antiseptic. Ray was working with someone who clipped a flap of skin off her finger with an axe and the skin was still hanging on. They washed the wound, put the flap of skin back into place, packed it with yarrow leaves and one week later her finger was as good as new without a scar. Deb had an almost identical situation happen to her and she also healed herself using yarrow. She said that for treating similar wounds, first clean the wound, then apply a yarrow salve and then drink yarrow tea. One can also use a tea of yarrow and calendula to soak and heal the wound. The Cheyenne and Aleut would put the crushed leaves in the nose to stop nosebleeds. Terry-Anya said that while yarrow is one of the best herbs for internal or external bleeding problems, taking the tincture over a long period of time can stress or harm the liver. She learned from herbalist Ryan Drum that a hemorrhoid salve can be made with half yarrow infused oil and half butter and eggs (Linaria vulgaris) infused oil combined with beeswax. Deb said a yarrow and calendula salve can be applied to relieve sore nipples. She also said that yarrow can also help with bruising—the black and blue color that a bruise is generally composed of is congealed blood, which yarrow helps move.
Ray suggested one cup of tea before bed for people with hypoglycemia who wake up confused and tired in the morning Ray also told me that the tea is bitter and induces sweat to reduce fevers as well as balance women’s menstrual cycles. Deb suggests drinking a hot tea of yarrow, elder flowers, and peppermint to bring on a sweat early in a fever. She also said that taking yarrow can help with heavy menstrual bleeding and rectal bleeding. She recommends using yarrow tea or tincture for acute heavy menstrual bleeding every 1-2 hours until symptoms subside. However, Sue said that yarrow can bring on early menses in the month and too strong a dosage can dry up menses and milk during breastfeeding. Sue also commended yarrow flower tea’s ability to break a sweat for treating colds and flu to make these illnesses pass quickly. She also mentioned that the flower and leaf can be very beneficial when used as a compress for mastitis.
The Abnaki used yarrow for children’s colds and fevers. The Algonquin also used yarrow for colds, headaches and respiratory problems. The Meskwaki, Navajo, Paiute, Cherokee, Cheyenne, Cree, Iroquois, Menominee, Montagnais, and Ojibwa all used yarrow to lower fevers, primarily taken as a tea.
Caution: Yarrow should not be used during pregnancy. The plant may be phototoxic.
Note: This post is part of my Plants and People series. See my Plants and People page for more information about the project and the people referenced in this post.
- Hayes, Terry-Anya. Personal interview. 27 Oct. 2010.
- Michener, Martin C. Botany Everywhere: Woods, Field, Home, and Garden Plants of NE USA, Third Edition. Hollis, NH: MIST Software Associates, Inc., 2009. PDF.
- Mittelhauser, Glen H., Linda L. Gregory, Sally C. Rooney, and Jill E. Weber. The Plants of Acadia National Park. Orono, Me.: University of Maine, 2010. Print.
- Moerman, Daniel. “Native American Ethnobotany: A Database of Foods, Drugs, Dyes and Fibers of Native American Peoples, Derived from Plants.” UM-Dearborn College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters. Web. 14 Dec. 2010. <http://herb.umd.umich.edu/>.
- Reitze, Raymond and Nancy. Personal interview. 8, 15 Oct. 2010.
- Soule, Deb. Personal interview. 4 Feb. 2011.
- Szwed, Sue. Personal interview. 12 Nov. 2010.
- Turner, Nancy J., and Patrick Von Aderkas. The North American Guide to Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms. Portland: Timber, 2009. Print.