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Home Plant Lore Yarrow


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AUGUST: YARROW - Achillea Millefolium

Yarrow Description and Habitat: A beautiful, aromatic plant that flowers from June to September, Yarrow is a hardy perennial growing to about 3 ft (92 cm) in height with feathery leaves and large panicles of tiny white flowers. Plants with only white flowers grow on calcium-rich soils, but pink-flowered yarrow may grow on acid soils. As it creeps and multiplies by its roots and by seeds, Yarrow grows everywhere; in the grass, in meadows, pastures, and by the roadside. In the garden Yarrow is a useful plant to grow because it will help improve the health of surrounding plants due to the phosphorus, calcium and silica the plant contains. It attracts butterflies and also hoverflies, ladybirds and predatory wasps that feed on aphids. It is the food plant of the Essex Emerald, Lime Speck Pug and Straw Belle, Ruby Tiger, Yarrow Pug, V Pug, Grey Pug, Tawny Speckled Pug, Common Pug, Mullein Wave, Wormwood Pug, Sussex Emerald and several Tortricord moths.

A plant that doesn't mind drought conditions, Yarrow has been around for about 6000 years. The ancient Greeks called it herba militaris, the military herb. The Botanical name for the plant (Achillea) is thought to be derived from Achilles who applied Yarrow to the wounds of his bleeding soldiers. Achilles was aware of the healing properties of Yarrow from when he appealed to the Gods for protection before going into battle. They picked him up by the ankle and immersed him in a vat of Yarrow tea and this made him invulnerable. Except of course for his ankle which remained unprotected - hence the term Achilles heel. The botanical name "Millefolium" comes from the Latin meaning thousand cuts, referring to the many cuts in its leaves. The word Yarrow comes from the Anglo-Saxon "yearwe".

Common names: Milfoil, Millefoil, Nosebleed, Staunchgrass, Thousand-leaf, Soldier's woundwort, Sanguinary, Bloodwort, Noble yarrow, Old Man's Pepper, Knight's Milfoil, Herbe Militaris, Thousand Weed, Carpenter's Weed, Staunchweed, Devil's Nettle, Devil's Plaything, Bad Man's Plaything, Yarroway, Angel flower.


Therapeutics and Pharmacology: All parts of the herb that are above the ground are used, namely the flowers, leaves and stems. Yarrow should be harvested in the morning, after the dew has dried but before the heat of the day. Yarrow is best dried upside down in a dark, airy, dry place.

Yarrow has been used to cure fevers, common cold, hypertension, digestive complaints, loss of appetite, period problems, dysentery and diarrhoea. It has also been used for thrombotic conditions with hypertension including cerebral and coronary thromboses and for slow-healing wounds and skin inflammations as well as a stimulant and tonic.

Yarrow is the central ingredient in any fever-management programme. It prevents the body temperature from rising too high but has a minimal suppressant effect on the course of the fever. The flowers are rich in anti-allergenic chemicals that are used in the treatment of allergic problems such as hay fever. The dark blue essential oil, azulene, is generally used as an anti-inflammatory or in chest rubs for colds and influenza. Yarrow lowers high blood pressure by dilating the peripheral vessels, and it also tones the blood vessels. It is considered to be a specific in thrombotic conditions associated with high blood pressure. Used externally, its astringent properties will aid in the healing of wounds and it has been used to treat haemorrhoids and varicose veins. As the leaves encourage blood clotting, they can be used fresh for nosebleeds or chewed as a remedy for toothache. However, inserting a leaf in the nostril may also start a nosebleed and this action has been used to cure headaches.

The plant has been used to treat measles and poxes and as a substitute for quinine and was used by the early American settlers for diarrhoea, haemorrhage and indigestion. In France and Ireland it is one of the herbs of St. John, and on St. John’s Eve the Irish hang it in their homes to avert illness. The Winnebago people used a Yarrow infusion to treat ear-ache and Yarrow tea is still drunk in the Orkneys for melancholy. In China today, Yarrow is used fresh as a poultice for healing wounds and a decoction of the whole plant is prescribed for stomach ulcers, period problems and abscesses.

Both flowers and leaves have a bitter, astringent, pungent taste. For this reason it has been called Old Man’s Pepper and was used as snuff and in the seventeenth century as an ingredient of salads. In the Middle Ages, Yarrow was one of the ingredients in Gruit, a selection of herbs that were used to make beer before the widespread use of hops. Other Gruit ingredients included sweet gale, mugwort and juniper. It is still used in Sweden to make beer and to flavour liqueurs.

Dried Yarrow flowers can be used for decoration and in pot-pourri mixture. Leaves added to the compost bin will help speed up the process and an infusion of yarrow can also be made and added to the garden to boost copper levels. Dried Yarrow included in incense or smoked in a pipe is very calming with a lovely scent and is used to lower stress levels.

Folklore: Yarrow was one of the herbs dedicated to the Evil One and this is the origin of its local names of Devil's Nettle, Devil's Plaything and Bad Man's Plaything. Witches believed that placing sprigs of Yarrow in their caps would give them the ability to fly and Native Americans burned Yarrow to help drive away evil spirits. Yarrow was often used for divination in spells and for charms and Druids are believed to have used the plant's stalks to divine the weather. Yarrow stalks are traditionally thrown to read the I Ching, the ancient Chinese book of divination. In fact the I Ching or Book of Changes is also known as the Yarrow Stalk Oracle.

If you pull off a Yarrow leaf with the left hand while saying the name of a sick person you wish to cure and then eat the leaf, the fever in the patient will fall. The Fifteenth-Century Book of Secrets by Magnus claims that if Yarrow juice is smeared on the hands and then the hands plunged into water, then fish will be drawn to you. You should keep a bunch of Yarrow hanging in the tool shed and bind it round the handles of tools in case you cut yourself - you can staunch the blood with it. Yarrow hanging in the house will protect you from thieves. However, if you lived in Wales you wouldn't bring Yarrow indoors for fear of incurring a death in the family. Yarrow is a potent ward against fairies and in the Hebrides, a leaf held against the eyes will endow you with second sight. Folk tales also tell of how Yarrow can prevent but not cure baldness.

In Ireland, young girls would cut a square sod in which grew a Yarrow plant and place it beneath their pillow so that they would dream of their sweetheart. It is said to attract friends and distant relations to you and if eaten at a wedding feast, the bride and groom would be in love for seven years. Similarly bridesmaids would bring Yarrow to weddings for seven years of love for the married couple. It was also believed that the Yarrow could help you find your true love by cutting the stems across the middle which would reveal the initials of your future spouse. European women would throw Yarrow onto the fire and look into the flames for a picture of their future husband.


Last Updated on Sunday, 08 August 2010 19:23  


#1 Catherine 2010-09-23 13:53
It's everywhere in the meadows here. I never knew so much of this Malcolm... I must collect some for any number of purposes. Yesterday the Mastiff pup ate all the rubber off every pair of clippers and my trowels with a maniacal sense of driven compulsion...perhaps I'll wrap yarrow around the handles. Thank you so much!



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