Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Common names: Yarrow, Common Yarrow
Taxonomic name: Achillea millefolium
Uses: Divination, compost, bleeding with bright red blood, fevers, cold and flu, stomach ache
Area of origin: Asia, Europe, North America
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is as interesting as its botanic name ‘Achillea millefolium‘ suggests.
‘Achillea‘ refers to the Greek Hero, Achilles who is reputed to have used this herb on the battlefield to heal the wounds of both his soldiers and his self (though not, apparently, the one that made him famous).
‘Millefolium’ means, literally ‘thousand leaves’. If you take a look at a Yarrow plant, it will appear to have thousands of leaves, each divided to look like more leaves. There can be a bit of a difference between the leaves of varieties of Yarrow, for instance, those of the white and yellow varieties on this page, but the overall trend is there.
If you look at the flower head, you might wonder why it isn’t named ‘milleflora‘ because it seems to have thousands of flowers too. The more traditional, white flowered plant is best for medicinal uses. There are many other colours cultivated now, from yellow to purple.
Yarrow is a first aid herb. When you see fresh, red blood, think of Yarrow. It excels at those arterial cuts that spurt blood. Crush it up and apply the wad of crushed material directly to the wound and it will help it a lot. Compare this to Shepherd’s Purse which is indicated in wounds that have dark, sluggish, oozing blood.
In Germany, Yarrow is named ‘Bauchwehkraut‘ or ‘Belly Ache Weed’. It has long been indicated for gastro-intestinal complaints and digestive disorders. It is also used for menstrual problems.
Like Elder Flower tea, a couple of hot cups of Yarrow tea will kick up a sweat and help in getting rid of colds and flu. That property is called ‘diaphoretic’ in herbalism. The same tea can help with internal bleeding (though you should see your GP about that as well). This makes Elder and Yarrow a great combination in teas for colds.
Another interesting use is the one that the Chinese put Yarrow too. Besides being a useful herb, dried Yarrow stalks are used when casting for the I -Ching, a form of divination. Interestingly, European tradition has that if you hold Yarrow against your forehead, it can give second sight.
Yarrow is also a key garden plant because some of the goodies it contains promotes the growth of microbes and positively affects other processes in composting, speeding it up and enriching the final product. I used to like I to grow a plant or two, along with Comfrey near to our compost bin so that I could throw a few leaves in when I’m making a batch of compost.
With its nutritional and medicinal properties, Yarrow makes an excellent fodder and first aid plant for livestock. When allowed, they will forage it as they need it.
When you gather Yarrow from your garden, it is best to do so in the dry weather (something we’re not short of here in Australia!). That’s when the oils are at their strongest and most therapeutic.
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