What is Yarrow?
Yarrow or Achilleah millefolium is an herb which originated in Europe before spreading to other parts of the world including North America. The plant’s scientific name is interesting and may give some clues to its health uses.
‘Achilleah’ comes from the ancient hero Achilles who is said to have used the herb for his own benefit as well as his soldiers. Millefolium refers to the many fine, feathery leaves the plant produces. As well as its common name, yarrow is sometimes referred to as bloodwort, carpenter’s weed, noble yarrow, knight’s milfoil and my personal favorite – old man’s popper.
This herb has a very long history of traditional use and there is evidence that the Greeks were using it to treat skin wounds as many as 3,000 years ago. Yarrow was also made into a tea by using both its leaves and flowers. Fresh leaves have been used through the ages to heal wounds, stop bleeding, fight fever, improve circulation, reduce menstrual bleeding and treat various gastric issues. People also chewed on the fresh yarrow leaves to relieve toothache and gum problems.
The Native Americans have been using yarrow to treat infected wounds and reduce bleeding for centuries. Chinese practitioners have used it to support many of the body’s major organs including the liver, kidney and spleen.
There is a certain amount of modern scientific support for these traditional uses of the herb. Animal studies appear to demonstrate that yarrow is an effective treatment for wound cleansing and reducing bleeding. Studies have also showed that yarrow has uterine qualities and can help support female uterine health and menstruation.
The Health Benefits of Yarrow
1) For Wounds
One of the most popular uses of yarrow throughout the ages is to treat wounds naturally. The reason that it works so well on wounds and helps prevent bleeding is a chemical present in yarrow called achilleine. Achilleine is known for being able to stem the flow of blood naturally. Powdered achilleine extracts can be sprinkled over a wound to stop the bleeding and also to dull the pain of the injury.
Yarrow also has natural antiseptic properties meaning that it can help protect the wound from infection. Yarrow is actually used as an ingredient in many commercial skin ointments. One study into the incredible wound healing effects of the herb even showed that it could be used to heal burns caused by napalm. Little surprise then that yarrow has also been called ‘herba militaris’ because of its wartime wound healing function.
2) To Stimulate Menstruation
Given how effectively yarrow works to stop bleeding, it is surprising to learn that it has also been used traditionally to stimulate bleeding when it comes to menstruation. Amenorrhea is a condition characterized by the complete absence of menstruation. Yarrow has emmenagogue properties similar to other herbal herbal emmenagogues like partridge berry, motherwort and rue. This means it can be used to stimulate the flow of blood to the pelvis and uterus which encourages proper menstruation.
Bear in mind that its use as an emmenagogue has no scientific basis to back it up but that does not mean it is ineffective. Women through the ages in many countries have used yarrow for this very purpose.
3) For Inflammation and the Skin
Yarrow has been used for a very long time by traditional Chinese and European practitioners in their magical bag of herbs to treat inflammation. It has been used to treat internal inflammation of the intestines and reproductive systems and modern research has confirmed that it has anti-inflammatory properties.
The ability of yarrow to calm down inflammation is because it contains sesquiterpenes and flavonoids but as well as its ability to calm inflammation, yarrow also has astringent qualities. Because of these two excellent actions, yarrow is the perfect topical solution to a range of inflammatory skin conditions including eczema, psoriasis and acne.
4) For Anxiety
Numerous herbs can be used to treat stress and anxiety because of their mild sedative effects. A study published in 2012 set out to examine the effects of the herb on anxiety in animal models. The researchers used hydroalcoholic extracts taken from the herb’s aerial sections which they then fed to the animals.
The research indicated that the yarrow extract had both long and short term anti-anxiety effects. They also found that the yarrow extract had effects very similar to the popular prescription drug ‘Valium’. (1)
5) For Mastitis
Mastitis is a fairly common and painful infection that typically affects women while they are breastfeeding. One of the best ways to treat mastitis is to alternate the use of cold and warm compresses made with herbs like yarrow or comfrey since the warmth improves circulation and the cold helps to soothe the pain.
As well as having soothing actions on the breast, yarrow contains both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties which can help relieve pain and treat any lingering infections.
6) For High Blood Pressure
Because of its natural ability to dilate the veins and arteries, yarrow may be just the natural help you need to keep your blood pressure levels under control. Research has found that not only does yarrow help dilate the arteries and reduce the stress that causes high blood pressure, but it can also help dilate the bronchial tubes leading to improved breathing. (2)
The results suggest that yarrow could be used as a natural treatment for high blood pressure and also respiratory conditions like asthma.
7) For Digestive Troubles
Yarrow is known to have antispasmodic properties making it a suitable natural treatment for a range of gastrointestinal issues including bloating, cramping, flatulence and diarrhea.
Several animal studies indicate that yarrow can help relieve digestive issues and promote smooth muscle actions. (2) Experts believe that taking yarrow internally offers relief because of the presence of certain flavonoids.
How to Use Yarrow
- Yarrow can be used as a cooking ingredient. It has a sweet but rather bitter flavor with a scent reminiscent of anise. Bear in mind that much of the herb’s flavor can be destroyed by heat.
- You can use fresh leaves in savory dishes like soups and stews or use it dried in the same way you would use a herb like tarragon.
- Fresh leaves are perfect for inclusion in salads or infused oils and vinegars.
- As well as fresh yarrow, it is also available in tincture, capsule or tablet form and you can also use it to make a healthy tea.
There are no precise guidelines on dosage but for inflammation a dose of around 4 grams a day is considered effective. Make sure that you read the labels carefully and also consult your doctor if you need extra advice.
Precautions and Potential Side Effects
- Yarrow is generally considered to be safe when taken internally but there are a few precautions that need to be observed.
- Yarrow may cause drowsiness.
- Taking yarrow can lead to an increase in urination.
- Some people may experience skin irritation from using yarrow and people who are allergic to ragweed need to exercise more care.
- Essential oil made from yarrow contains a compound called thujone which can be toxic in large doses.
- Yarrow contains coumarin which has natural blood thinning properties. Do not take yarrow in conjunction with prescription blood thinners.
- Pregnant women and those who are breast feeding should not take yarrow.