Yarrow, sometimes known as milfoil or plumajillo, is a small drought-tolerant perennial flowering plant in the Asteraceae family that typically reaches about three feet in height. It’s found worldwide in a variety of habitats except for deserts and arctic climates, but typically always in full sun. Although some varieties were introduced to the United States from Europe and Asia, Yarrow is native plant in California. It has a light brown, creeping rhizomatous rootstock that produces smooth upright stems which branch near the top of the plant. The alternate leaves spiral around the stems and are linear lanceolate and bi or tri-pinnately divided into sharply cleft leaflets, giving it a feathery look and it’s namesake – millefolium – thousand leaves. The summer and autumn flowers have 4 to 9 bracts and contain both ray and disk flowers which are an array of colors of whites, yellows, and pinks. The generally 3 to 8 ray flowers are ovate to round, and the disk flowers range from 15 to 40, all forming a flat-topped cluster which fruits in small achenes. It grows easily from seeds or root division, and tends to fill out and spread in the garden. Yarrow can tolerate a wide range of soil types, but typically does the best in well drained, moderately rich soils in full sun. Harvest when the plants are in full bloom and hang to dry.
Yarrow is a diaphoretic, hypotensive, astringent, diuretic, anti-inflammatory, vulnerary, carminative, and antiseptic herb. It’s one of the best herbs you can use to sweat out a fever. It also tones and dilates the blood vessels, which helps lower blood pressure. Yarrow helps relax the smooth muscles of both the uterus and the digestive tract, making it useful for menstrual cramps as well as stomach complaints, flatulence, diarrhea, and sluggish digestion. It’s also useful for tempering heavy menstrual flow. It’s antiseptic and diuretic properties make it valuable in treating urinary tract infections as well as other internal infections and mild hemorrhaging. It’s also useful as an anti-anxiety herb, as it contains the biochemical constituent thujone, a substance sometimes compared to marijuana. While yarrow doesn’t have a potent enough amount to achieve euphoric effects, it can sometimes help counter insomnia, anxiety, and act as a mild sedative. Externally, it’s chemical constituents achilleine and achilletin aid in blood coagulation, stopping bleeding and heal wounds. Several other of it’s constituents act as anti-septics, analgesics, and anti-inflammatories, making it a good external poultice or wash. The flower extract is said to be helpful in treating hayfever. It is considered a neutral to cooling herb and good for Pittas.
Yarrow’s other latin namesake, Achillea, comes from the Greek legend of Achilles stopping the bleeding of his fellow soldiers during the Trojan war using the plant as a poultice. It was later used in Roman times up to the Middle Ages to stop nosebleeds and the bleeding of other small wounds. The leaves can be used culinarily, cooked or eaten fresh in salads, and the flowers are often used to flavor liquors and beers. Around the time of Achilles, Chinese physicians were using yarrow to treat snakebites, inflammation, bleeding, menstrual complaints, and dog bites. In India, Aryuvedics were using yarrow to treat fevers. Early American settlers used yarrow for menstrual cramps, diarrhea, dysentery, hemorrhaging, and bloody urine. Cahuilla Indians use yarrow as a mouthwash for toothaches and to strengthen muscles. Yarrow has a long history of use in the occult; it was used in ritual practice by druids and in China for divining the I-Ching, a way of predicting the future, by asking questions and casting yarrow stems to read the answers. In the west, Yarrow was once thought to be a witches herb, and was often brought to weddings to ensure seven years of love.
As a tincture, 2-4 ml three times daily; As an infusion, 1-2 teaspoons of the dried herb infused for 10-15 minutes, drunk hot three times daily. During a fever it should be taken hourly. For fevers, it combines well with elder flower, peppermint, cayenne, ginger, and boneset. For high blood pressure it combines best with hawthorne, lime blossom, and mistletoe. For nerves or conditions needing an astringent, combine with sage. Overuse can lead to photosensitivity. Pregnant women should avoid this herb.
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