Yarrow by J. Zane Walley
'Thou pretty herb of Venus' tree, Thy true name it is Yarrow;
English folklore has it that an ounce of Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) sewed up in flannel and placed under the pillow before going to bed brought a vision of the future husband or wife after the above rhyme was repeated.
In eastern counties, it is termed Yarroway, and there is a curious mode of romantic divination with its serrated leaf, with which the inside of the nose is tickled while the following lines are spoken. If the operation causes the nose to bleed, it is a certain omen of success:
'Yarroway, Yarroway, bear a white blow,
Quixotic soothsaying aside, Yarrow assuredly has an abundant history as a healing herb. It grows throughout the world and has a history of medical usage wherever it is found.
Yarrow was much esteemed for treating wounds, and its old names of "Soldier's Wound Wort" and "Knight's Milfoil" testify to this. The Scottish Highlanders still make an ointment from it, which they apply to wounds. Herbal historians tell us it is the same plant with which Achilles stanched the bleeding wounds of his soldiers, hence the name of the genus, Achillea. Others say that Chiron, a disciple of Achilles, discovered it. The ancient Greeks called it Herba Militaris, the military herb. Another popular name for it is "Nosebleed," from its property of stanching bleeding of the nose after the leaf is rolled up and inserted in the nostrils. It has been employed as snuff, and is called "Old Man's Pepper," because of the pungency of its foliage. Both flowers and leaves have a bitter, astringent taste. In the seventeenth century, it was an ingredient of salads. It has the historic reputation also of being a preventative of baldness, if used as a shampoo.
It is employed in Norway for the cure of rheumatism, and the fresh leaves chewed are said to cure toothache. In Sweden it is called "Field Hops" and has been used in the manufacture of beer. Linnaeus considered beer thus brewed more intoxicating than when hops were used. It is said to have a similar use in Africa. The English herbalist Culpepper spoke of Yarrow as a profitable herb in cramps, and recommends a decoction to be drunk warm for chills and fevers.
American Indians used Yarrow for a tremendous variety of aliments. The Cherokee used it to stop bleeding, for hemorrhoids, as a respiratory aid and sedative. The Cheyenne applied the friendly plant as an analgesic, cold remedy, cough medicine, and as an aid in curing Tuberculosis. The Gosiutes and Iroquois further used it as an anti-diarrhea, gastro-intestinal aid, and anticonvulsive. The Micmac, Paiute, Mendocino, Navaho, Menominee, Ojibwa, Mohegan, and other tribes reflected like uses in their respective cultures.
Pharmacological science has made several successful forays into the investigation of Yarrow’s uses. Recently, Shionogi Research Laboratories in Osaka, Japan, isolated three anti-tumor compounds from the plant. In tests on laboratory mice, the compounds were found active against leukemia cells. The Institut fur Botantik und Lebensmittelkunde, Wien, Austria, found elements from the flowers and leaves to be an effective anti-inflammatory. Dr. Krivenko of Russia found that an herbal tea made of Yarrow was effective against severe acid gastritis when taken three times daily before meals. The University Hospital, Hamburg, Germany, using modern techniques including nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and combined GC-mass spectrometry, found that Yarrow’s active components exhibit a wide range of pharmacological activities.
This historic and modern matrix of Yarrow’s uses, no doubt leaves the reader a bit perplexed as to how the plant may be applied to common medical problems, but was presented to illustrate that this is a very valuable herb in the weed pharmacy. Actually, it is a simple and straightforward plant to use.
The whole plant, stems, leaves and flowers may be collected from the wild when in bloom, usually August through October. Yarrow grows prolifically in America’s mountains from about 6,000 to 9,000 feet elevation. Your local heath food store will also stock this good herb. If collected from the wild, hang upside down in a shady place and store in paper bags when tinder dry.
Yarrow tea is a good remedy for severe colds and flu, being most useful at the start of fevers, and in cases of obstructed perspiration. The infusion is made with 1 ounce of dried herb to 1 pint of boiling water, drunk warm in cup doses. It may be sweetened with sugar, or honey, adding a little Cayenne pepper to each dose. It opens the pores, purifies the blood, and is recommended in the early stages of colds, and in measles and other eruptive diseases. The tea is also useful in relieving intestinal cramps and excessive menstrual bleeding.
A decoction of the whole plant is employed for bleeding piles, and is good for kidney disorders. An ointment made by steeping the fresh herb in lanolin or lard is good for hemorrhoids , and is considered excellent for skin disorders. The salve is an invaluable remedy for the healing of cuts, bruises, and burns.
Yarrow is a friendly herb with no history of adverse reaction except some people may be allergic to the plant. (Cases of allergic contact dermatitis have been described since 1899.) So, as with all medications, synthetic or natural, contact your physician before using.