Yarrow through history is a plant shrouded in the mystical, yet well grounded in its medicinal uses. Experiences with yarrow vary with the time period and culture. The Europeans used yarrow to summon demons, or to exorcise evil from a person. The plant became a talisman to many for courage and protection, and also for love in marriage. The Chinese used yarrow stems as a divination tool in the I-Ching. The Native Americans used it to relieve pain and inflammation from tooth, head or earaches, reduce fever and aid sleep. How can we use yarrow to empower and protect us in our lives today?
The definition of a plant in history begins with the name. Achille millefolium, the Latin name for yarrow, defines a part the mythology as well as the physical plant structure. Millefolium is derived from milfoil, meaning million-leaved plant. This refers to the many segments of its foliage. Achille is derived from the warrior Achilles, who is said to have used it to stop the bleeding wounds of his soldiers. As a result, warriors have carried yarrow into battle for centuries for its healing power and the spirit the plant brings, of courage and protection to those who wear it.
The common name, Yarrow, is derived from the Dutch and Saxon word gearwe and yerw. In the herb world, it is said that gearwe means healer. The term gearwe is also used in many Old English stories in the context of war. To translate loosely, gearwe in the Anglo-Saxon Dictionary of Weapons is defined as to arm oneself in some way, be it protective clothing or wrapping weapons for battle. This makes reference to the spiritual use of yarrow for protection.
The protective and healing power of yarrow is not merely for those in battle. In the realm of spiritual and emotional healing, the work of the inner warrior is important for us all. A warrior focuses on the present. The warrior makes a clear decision as to what they wish to happen, objectively assess their own strengths and weaknesses, and moves forward in an effort to accomplish and overcome any boundary in their way, be it personal or environmental. As yarrow is written of historically to be protective and bring courage, my own spiritual work with yarrow has taught me this plant has the ability to transmute negative energy, instill flexibility of spirit and strengthen the heart. The Chinese believe that yarrow brightens the eyes and brings clarity to the intellect. All of these spiritual and physical qualities of yarrow can help us merge with our warrior energy more effectively. To take advantage of these elements of yarrow, drink yarrow as a tea without sweetener 2-3 times daily, or carry yarrow in a pouch in your pocket. Be sure to introduce yourself to the spirit of the plant and let it know what you need support for.
When we think of warrior, we think of the masculine. Yet yarrow is feminine in nature, and finds itself quite at home in the realm of women’s health issues. The German Commission E Monographs indicates yarrow as a remedy for menstrual cramps. This is attributed to the high content of flavonoids, which stimulates the body to produce prostaglandin, a chemical that controls smooth muscle contraction. The high flavonoid content of yarrow also makes it useful in relieving gastrointestinal complaints such as intestinal bloating and cramping. Yarrow is an emenagogue, meaning it brings on the period, as well as an herb to slow heavy bleeding in periods and afterbirth. Yarrow is also an excellent urinary tract tonic. It is effective when urine is suppressed, or for incontinence. Yarrow is most effective as a urinary tonic in pre-menopausal, menopausal, or postpartum women. Yarrow combines well with cramp bark, black haw and motherwort for menstral cramps or postpartum cramping. If bleeding is excessive add shepherds purse. Take 60-90 drops of tincture of the combined plants every 30-60 minutes until relief is felt. If used for postpartum bleeding which is excessive, take 90 drops of shepherds purse and yarrow tincture every 10-15 minutes until desired results are achieved. For use as a urinary tonic drink 3 cups of yarrow tea a day, using 1 teaspoon of dried plant per cup.
Flavonoids, along with having an effect on prostaglandin production, are also anti-inflammatory. Another component of yarrow that is a powerful anti-inflammatory is azuline, which comprises almost half of yarrow’s chemical composition. Azuline is a chemical relative to chamazuline, which makes chamomile the powerful anti-inflammatory it is. With this we find yarrow effective for varicose veins, piles, and to lower blood pressure. As with any herbal protocol, choosing formulas for healing is specific to the client. Varicose veins, piles and blood pressure are symptoms of a greater imbalance and require a formula of plants.
Cold and flu season is upon us. With all the talk of mutant flu strains and anti-biotic resistant bugs, we must arm ourselves with a natural medicine cabinet. Having an arsenal of essential oils, herbal teas and tinctures won’t make winter in Wisconsin pass more quickly, but it will help it pass in healthier fashion. It is the duration and severity of the illness we hope to affect. Yarrow is a wonderful anti-bacterial. Yarrow is a diaphoretic, and being high in salicylic acid (that little chemical that became aspirin), it is excellent for fevers, aches and pains associated with the flu and colds. Because it is astringent, diarrhea is aided by yarrow. Whenever one of my kids gets sick, yarrow is always one of the teas in their formula. When they get sick it is also one of the teas in my formula! It has shown great effect on preventing colds and shortening the duration of them. To prevent and shorten, I love yarrow with some freshly grated ginger (1 tablespoon of each), a teaspoon of honey, and sometimes even a drop of cinnamon essential oil (only do this if your source for essential oils has been tested for purity). There are so many great plants for colds and flu. It is important to pick plants that speak to your symptom-picture as well as target the immune system and the bug itself.
Yarrow is a very busy healer, but one that reminds us to sit and relax as well. Yarrow has an intoxicating and sedating quality to it. There have been many times I or a fellow herbalist tells a story of attempting to harvest yarrow and becoming so intoxicated, giddy and relaxed by the process that time slips by without notice. In the Middle Ages, yarrow flowers were once a part of an herbal mixture known as gruit, used to flavor beer and wine. The gruit formula was said to be a preservative, have a bitter taste, and be slightly narcotic. And it has been said that yarrow was one of the most intoxicating plants of the formula.
Essential oil of yarrow is also good to have around. Yarrow moves blood and reduces stagnation, making it an excellent infused oil or essential oil for arthritis, rheumatism, and muscle aches. Combine 3 drops each of rosemary, yarrow, eucalyptus, clove and wintergreen into 2 oz. of arnica-infused oil for application to affected areas. Yarrow’s astringent and anti-inflammatory action works wonders for piles topically as well as internally. Mix 4 drops each of frankincense, geranium, cypress and yarrow in 2 oz. of calendula and comfrey-infused oils. Apply to the area affected 3 times daily. The astringent and anti-inflammatory actions also make yarrow an excellent plant for skin care. It deflates puffy places on the face, can eliminate scaly dry patches, and tightens pores without being too drying. In 1 oz. of witch hazel, add 3 drops each of yarrow, frankincense and lavender essential oil. Apply to face after washing.
Yarrow comes to teach us something of ourselves, how we relate to our world, and how we accomplish things. It is a plant that helps us see what we need to heal, in order to take action and move forward. It is a plant that earns the name panacea as a spiritual and medicinal healer.