How to Use Yarrow Medicinally
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As far as weeds go, yarrow is definitely one you want growing in your garden. It’s a powerhouse of a plant, packed with medicinal properties to help cure everything from fevers and colds to bleeding, bruises and everything in between.
Yarrow grows wild all over the northern hemisphere and can survive in all sorts of different climates and habitats, including meadows, forests, mountains, coastal areas and even some deserts.
Yarrow was first introduced to North America in colonial times by settlers coming from Europe. It now grows wild all over North America and has been used and revered as a medicinal plant by settlers and First Nations peoples alike ever since it was established here.
But yarrow’s use as a potent medicinal plant dates back much further than that. In fact, according to a National Geographic article, Neanderthals used yarrow along with other medicinal plants some 50,000+ years ago!
In more recent “ancient” times, famous Greek hero Achilles was said to have used yarrow to treat his and his soldiers’ battle wounds during the Trojan war. In fact, yarrow’s official, scientific, Latin name is “Achillea Millefolium” which is derived from “Achilles.”
Legend has it that Achilles even covered his whole body with a yarrow tincture to protect him from harm… But he missed his heel, which was left exposed and vulnerable. This could perhaps be how the “Achilles’ Heel” became such an infamous metaphor for vulnerability and weakness.
Yarrow is still used today as a powerful medicinal plant. Although it’s considered an invasive weed by some, anyone who understands just how amazing this plant is knows better than to try to eradicate it.
So if you have yarrow growing in your yard or in the wild near you, consider yourself lucky! Do not try to get rid of it. Instead, harvest it for your home apothecary and use it to prevent and cure all sorts of ailments.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, naturopath, certified herbalist or medical professional. The information in this article is for entertainment and educational purposes only. Please consult a physician or trusted healthcare provider before taking yarrow. For more information on potential yarrow contraindications, please read the section on “Who Should Not Use Yarrow” (below).
Yarrow is pretty easy to identify, especially once you’ve seen it up close a couple times. The plant itself usually grows to about 1 to 3 feet tall but can grow taller. The flowers are typically white but can be pale yellow. They’re small and grow in clusters at the tip of each stem.
The leaves of the yarrow plant are perhaps the most distinct feature. They resemble feathers and look very different than leaves from most other plants. They also grow in an alternating pattern, so instead of having two leaves growing from either side of the stem, you’ll see one leaf, and then a bit higher up there will be another leaf growing on the other side of the stem, and then a bit higher up will be another, and so on.
Yarrow could possibly be confused with Queen Anne’s Lace or (more dangerously) Poison Hemlock if you don’t know what to look for. But once you’ve seen yarrow once, you almost certainly won’t forget it and it will be easy to distinguish from other plants.
For a more in-depth comparison of Yarrow, Queen Anne’s Lace and Poison Hemlock, check out this video.
To harvest yarrow, cut the stem near the base (or anywhere along the stem). The leaves and stem are medicinal as well as the flowers, so you really want to harvest as much of the plant as possible.
Yarrow Medicinal Benefits
Yarrow is a potent medicinal herb that can be used to treat the following illnesses and ailments:
- Wounds, cuts and scrapes
- Bug bites and bee stings
- Cough and cold
- Toothaches and teething
- Menstrual cramps
- Detoxification and regulating blood flow
- Acne and skin irritations
- Indigestion & heartburn
- Muscle spasms
Yarrow is best known for its ability to stop bleeding and heal skin wounds. Historically, the leaves are chewed up and then used as a poultice on top of wounds to help stop bleeding.
If you’d rather not chew your yarrow, you can add a tiny bit of water and mash up the leaves and flowers as well with a mortar and pestle and then apply the paste to the wound. We did this at home when my husband had a deep cut on his hand that wouldn’t heal. We covered the cut with yarrow and secured it with a bandage. Within a day the wound was almost completely healed! That’s when I started becoming a true believer in the power of medicinal herbs.
Yarrow can also be taken as a tea to help fight colds and fevers, and to help detoxify the body. It can be chewed fresh or dry to relieve toothache and can be infused in oil or extracted in alcohol to make solutions that can be rubbed on the body to relieve bruises, burns, rashes and bug bites. It can also be taken orally as a homemade cold medication.
You can also sprinkle fresh or dried yarrow in a bath to ease rashes and burns and help fight fever.
Related: Homemade Elderberry Syrup Recipe
Who should NOT use Yarrow
While yarrow can be used to help treat all sorts of minor ailments, you should not use yarrow if you are pregnant as yarrow is a uterine tonic, which means it has the ability to relax the uterus, which may lead to miscarriage.
Yarrow may also negatively interact with blood-thinning medications, medications for high blood pressure, medications to reduce stomach acid and drugs that induce sleep.
Finally, if you are allergic to any plants in the Aster family (including daisies, chrysanthemums and ragweed), you may also find you are allergic to yarrow and may want to avoid it.
For more information on the medicinal benefits and precautions of yarrow, click here to visit the Mount Sinai Yarrow Information Page.
Adding Yarrow to Your Medicine Cabinet
How to Dry Yarrow
The easiest way to preserve yarrow is to dry it. Just like any other herb, yarrow can be dried by hanging it upside down in bunches from the stems. I just tie a bunch together with some twine or an elastic band and hang it from a hook in my kitchen. You can hang it outdoors to dry as well, but try not to hang it in direct sunlight or anywhere where it might get wet. It should take up to a couple weeks to dry completely.
Once dried, I chop it roughly and keep it in a Mason jar for use later on. Dried yarrow can be used as a tea, dumped into a bath or can be used to make tinctures and tonics later on.
Related: What to Stock In A Home Apothecary
Make a Tincture
Another way I preserve fresh yarrow is I make a tincture. A tincture is simply an extract made by stuffing a jar full of whatever plant you are wanting to extract the properties of, and then covering it with a neutral alcohol like vodka. You can also use glycerin to make tinctures for children or if you prefer not to use alcohol.
You can make a yarrow tincture with fresh or dried herbs. Simply pack a Mason jar about 2/3 to 3/4 of the way full with yarrow and cover completely with vodka (or glycerin).
Make sure that the yarrow is completely covered with liquid as any plant matter that’s exposed to air can mold. If you’re having trouble keeping the yarrow submerged in the alcohol, you could use a smaller glass jar, a jar weight or even a clean rock to help push the yarrow beneath the surface.
Store the yarrow tincture in a cool, dark place for at least 6 weeks before using, shaking the jar intermittently every 2 or 3 days to help infuse it. After about 6 weeks, remove the plant matter by straining the liquid into a a clean glass jar (I like using these dark glass dropper bottles).
Yarrow tincture can be taken orally as a cough, cold and fever medication at first signs of illness. Dosages may vary so always start with a low dose of 1 or 2 drops, especially if using on children.
The tincture can also be applied to the gums of teething babies and can even be used as facial astringent, especially if you’re suffering from acne since yarrow contains salicylic acid (an active ingredient in most over-the-counter acne medications). Just put some on a cotton ball and wipe over the affected area.
Make a Salve or Infusion
You can also infuse dried yarrow in oil and then use that oil to make a salve.
To go the quick and easy route, heat about 1/2 a cup of dried yarrow with about 1 cup of coconut oil on low heat on the stove. Mix together and let simmer for at least 20 minutes to to allow the yarrow to infuse the coconut oil.
Strain the infused coconut oil into a clean jar or container and let cool. Apply to wounds, burns, rashes, bruises, bug bites, etc. It can also be rubbed on gums of teething babies in lieu of alcohol-based tinctures.
To make a salve, you can infuse oil the same way as explained above, or by placing dried yarrow and oil in a jar and allowing it to sit and infuse for about 4 to 6 weeks before using the infused oil to make a salve. When making infused oils to use in salves and other body products, use a liquid oil like olive oil, sweet almond oil or avocado oil.
Related: DIY Dandelion Healing Salve
Once your oil has been infused with the yarrow, strain the oil, discard the plant matter and melt about 1 oz of beeswax (pellets or shavings) for every cup of infused oil you’re using. Melt beeswax in a double boiler on low on your stovetop and then mix in infused oil. Once well blended, pour the mixture into small jars or containers and let cool for at least 24 hours before use. I like to use these glass jars or aluminum tins for my salves.
The finished salve can be applied to wounds, burns, rashes, bruises, cuts, scrapes, bug bites or bee stings whenever you need it. It also make a great gift!
Yarrow the Wonder Weed
Yarrow is truly an incredible medicinal plant and probably has even more uses than listed above. I’m sure if you dig deep into the annals of history, you’ll find entire books written about yarrow and its incredible medicinal properties.
If you’re lucky enough to find it growing in your backyard, be sure to add it to your home medicine cabinet. And if not, then add it to your garden! You can purchase yarrow seeds here.
Yarrow is also a perennial, so you only need to plant once and it will come back year after year.
So, what are you waiting for? Plant or forage some wild yarrow this year and add this incredible healing plant to your home medicine cabinet.
Wishing you homemade, homegrown, homestead happiness 🙂
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