YarrowLatin Names: Achillea millefolium
Other Names: Milfoil (English); Brinjasif (Arabic); Bashniz (Persian); Millenramas (Spanish)
Taxonomy: Vegetable Kingdom, Compositae family
Part Used: Above ground portion, or the herb; the essential oil distilled from the herb
Basic Qualities: Cold and Wet in the first degree (Avicenna)
Other Qualities: Aromatic, blood thinning, slightly binding. Loosening, balancing, harmonizing.
Taste: Pungent, bitter, aromatic
Humoral Dynamics: Sanguine – improves blood circulation; both thins and nourishes the blood, optimizing its consistency. Phlegmatic – its aromatic nature can help loosen and decongest phlegm. Choleric – a bitter tonic that stimulates the flow of bile; also valuable in treating intermittent and bilious fevers. Melancholic – eases nervous tension in the gut, harmonizes the liver and the spleen.
Tropism: Yarrow has an affinity for the cerebral and peripheral blood vessels, the skin and pores, the liver and spleen, the stomach, the hepatic portal veins, the uterus and the female reproductive system.
Constituents and Pharmacology: A dark green volatile oil; Achillein, Achilleic acid, flavonoids, resin, tannin, gum and mineral ash / salts, consisting of calcium and potassium nitrates, phosphates and chlorides.
Medicinal Properties: Bitter tonic, cholagogue, stomachic, diaphoretic, febrifuge, antiperiodic, astringent, emmenagogue, aromatic, antispasmodic, hemostatic, vulnerary.
Cautions and Contraindications: With caution in pregnancy, and in small doses only.
Medicinal Uses: As a diaphoretic and febrifuge in colds and fevers, and bilious and periodic fevers. As a bitter tonic to stimulate and harmonize the appetite and digestion, and to promote the flow of bile. As a blood tonic to optimize the flow and consistency of the blood, and promote its circulation. As a hemostatic and vulnerary, to stop bleeding and promote the healing of wounds, by topical application in poultices and fomentations. As an emmenagogue and female tonic to regulate the menstrual cycle, stabilize mood and appetite swings and ease menstrual cramps. As a cleansing tonic in kidney and urinary tract infections.
Preparation and Dosage: Yarrow is typically taken in tea form, either infused or decocted, in the ratio of one heaping tablespoon of the herb per cup of water. It can also be combined with other herbs, usually in equal parts, in formulas, either in teas or powders. Alcoholic tinctures of Yarrow can also be prepared. Yarrow can be used either by itself or in combination with other herbs in medicinal wines and digestive bitters, usually with red wine. The herb is quite gentle, mild and nontoxic. Use in standard doses.
Herbal Formulation: Yarrow is a quite versatile herb that can be used in many different kinds of formulas. It combines very well with other bitter tonic herbs of a similarly bitter and pungent character in digestive bitter formulas, where it improves digestion and assimilation, increases the flow of bile, and relaxes nervous tension held in the gut. It also combines well with pungent or aromatic digestive herbs and spices to add a bitter principle. In combination with other female tonic herbs, Yarrow’s ability to regulate the menses, relax menstrual cramps and treat premenstrual symptoms and tension comes to the fore. In combination with other vulnerary and wound herbs, Yarrow’s ability to heal wounds and stop bleeding is emphasized. Yarrow not only works well in herbal formulas, but it is also a great herb to take by itself, as an herbal simple.
Classic Combinations: With Blessed Thistle in digestive bitter formulas, and also as a female tonic combination. With Sage to strengthen, balance and harmonize liver and stomach function, and as a digestive bitter combo to increase the flow of bile; both herbs relax nervous tension. This combo can also be used as a female menstrual tonic. With Lavender as a stomachic and carminative combination, to relieve intestinal gas, distension and bloating; this combination is also good to stuff into a pillow case to promote sound, restful sleep and brighten the dreams, as both herbs are aromatic and have relaxing fragrances that balance out the nervous system. With Calendula flowers to relax portal hypertension and improve portal circulation, and to treat hemorrhoids; this combination also has good healing and vulnerary properties to treat wounds. With Motherwort to treat premenstrual tension, nervousness, mood swings and cramps, and to benefit the uterus. With Corn Silk as a tea or infusion to treat urinary tract infections. With Peppermint as a diaphoretic combo in colds and flu; the Peppermint neutralizes or masks the bitterness of the Yarrow. Elder Flowers can also be added to this diaphoretic combo. With Hyssop and Blessed Thistle to improve peripheral circulation. With Elderberries to treat colds and flu, and as a blood tonic in anemia and poor circulation. With Olive leaves as a general tonic to improve circulation and immunity.
Yarrow’s Latin name, Achillea millefolium, comes from the legend that its healing and medicinal properties, primarily as a wound herb, were discovered by the great warrior Achilles at the battle of Troy. Legend has it that Achilles was a pupil of the centaur Chiron, and learned the art of medicine from him. And so, Yarrow’s first medicinal use was as a wound herb; however, this amazing and versatile herb does so much more. Yarrow grows wild, and can be found almost anywhere. Its wavy stalks and overall form resemble that of a miniature tree, with its flowers and buds at the ends of the branches, like the leaves on a tree. When Yarrow is in bloom, it has beautiful white flowers, which then become the fragrant buds of the herb. Harvested in its prime, Yarrow exudes a wonderful fragrance and aroma. The whole above ground portion, or the herb, can be used medicinally, with the leaves being more bitter than the rest of the herb; its frilly leaves, which seem to have a thousand leaflets, have given Yarrow its botanical second name, millefolium. And so, another common English name for it is Milfoil.
The key to understanding Yarrow’s medicinal properties, as well as its versatile and manifold therapeutic uses and applications, is to recognize that it has a dual aspect to its basic nature: it has a mild binding astringency, from whence its properties to heal wounds and stop bleeding arise, as well as a relaxing, dispersing aromatic nature that eases tensions. Nicholas Culpeper, a 17th century English herbalist and medical astrologer, considered Yarrow to be an herb of Venus, since it had a pleasant fragrance and aroma, and had a balancing and loosening nature that dispersed or relaxed nervous tension in the body, and promoted circulation, patency and flow throughout the organism. Yarrow is a true tonic in that it has the ability to treat multiple symptoms or syndromes of disharmony in multiple bodily systems and bring them all back into balance. And the root of Yarrow’s incredible balancing and mediating abilities lie, I believe, in its paradoxical balance between two seemingly contradictory qualities: its binding astringency and its loosening and harmonizing aromatic nature.
The dual binding and loosening nature of Yarrow really comes to bear in its beneficial tonic actions on the blood. Applied topically to a wound or a cut, Yarrow is very effective at stopping bleeding. As a hemostatic, Yarrow is particularly famous for stopping nosebleeds. Just roll a bit of the fresh herb into a ball and stuff it up the nostril that is bleeding and the bleeding stops. Even Yarrow charred black and powdered will stop bleeding; an herbal secret is that just about any vegetable matter charred black will stop bleeding – even your morning toast burnt black. At the same time, Avicenna considered Yarrow to be a great attenuator or thinner of the blood, to improve its circulation. Modern research has shown that Yarrow has the ability to improve or enhance blood circulation, especially in the peripheral and portal circulatory systems. The dual binding and loosening nature of Yarrow seems to have an optimizing effect on blood consistency and flow; it is also a mild tonic and restorative of the blood in cases of anemia and poor circulation. Certain herbalists, like Matthew Wood, have called Yarrow the Master Herb of the Blood. And Yarrow’s beneficial action on the blood also makes it a great female tonic.
In addition to its beneficial effects on the blood, Yarrow has a beneficial balancing and toning effect on the entire circulatory system. Its high flavonoid content tones the blood vessels, especially the peripheral capillaries and venules. Yarrow also improves venous circulation in the hepatic portal system, which not only relieves congestion and stagnation in the digestive system, but also improves appetite, digestion and the assimilation of nutrients. Improved circulation in the hepatic portal system also has a beneficial action in reducing hemorrhoids. The toning and balancing effect of Yarrow on the entire vasculatory system also gives Yarrow a beneficial tonic effect in treating circulatory disorders like hypertension.
Besides being a blood and wound herb useful to warriors like Achilles, another of Yarrow’s legendary claims to fame is as a diaphoretic in colds and flu, and as an herb to break fevers. An old herbalist’s proverb goes something like this: When the pestilence comes around, the house that has Yarrow is a house in which death will never visit. As a diaphoretic or sweat provoking herb to release the pathogenic factors of colds and flu, it is best to drink Yarrow tea as hot as you can stand it. Yarrow also has a great reputation, through its diaphoretic properties, to break difficult and deep seated fevers and bilious fevers, especially those characterized by mixed or alternating chills and fever. Such types of fevers also characterize malaria, and Yarrow was sometimes called the Englishman’s Quinine because English colonists often took it with them to the tropical climes of colonies like India as a remedy for malaria instead of Quinine. Drawing a parallel with Chinese herbal medicine, the overall taste and energetics of Yarrow is very similar to that of Bupleurum, which is the primary Chinese herb used to treat deep seated fevers in the Shaoyang stage, which are neither internal nor external, with mixed fever and chills, and which are associated with the bile and the liver and gall bladder meridians.
Digestively speaking, Yarrow is a great bitter tonic that stimulates the digestive secretions and bile flow. Perhaps its most remarkable property is its ability to disperse and relax nervous tension held in the gut, and balance or harmonize the functioning of the stomach, liver and spleen; in this sense, Yarrow would definitely be considered, in terms of Chinese herbal medicine, as an herb to regulate liver Qi and harmonize the digestion. Modern research has shown that Yarrow improves the circulation of venous blood in the hepatic portal system, which transports nutrient laden blood from the intestines to the liver for processing into the Four Humors; in this manner, Yarrow relieves congestion and stagnation in the digestive system, and stimulates appetite and digestion. By improving the hepatic portal circulation, Yarrow also has a beneficial effect in treating hemorrhoids, especially in combination with Calendula flowers. In its ability to regulate liver Qi and harmonize the liver and spleen, Yarrow also closely resembles Bupleurum.
Yarrow is a Venusian herb not only in its tonic ability to mediate and balance the functioning of the chief digestive organs, but also in its tonic effects on the female reproductive system. The famous Austrian herbalist, Father Sebastian Kneipp, once wrote that women could be spared a lot of troubles if only they would drink Yarrow tea from time to time, and in my own clinical experience as an herbalist, he was spot on. Not only is Yarrow’s ability to loosen and relax tension extremely beneficial for treating menstrual cramps and premenstrual tension, but its beneficial optimizing effect on the blood will regulate and optimize the menstrual flow, whether it be too heavy or too light, or whether the periods be too short, too long or irregular in length. If the taste of the Yarrow tea is too bitter, it can be sweetened with the addition of a little honey, or with Fennel and/or Anise seeds, which are also female tonic herbs. I have personally used Yarrow in formulas to take a woman with very painful menstrual cramps to totally painless and symptom free periods, all within one month, to the point where she couldn’t even feel the period coming on.
Due to its mild toning astringency, as well as its aromatic and antiseptic essential oil content, Yarrow can be a useful herb in treating kidney and urinary tract infections, and is even beneficial in treating nephritis or Bright’s disease, according to the American herbalist Jethro Kloss in his classic herbal, Back to Eden. I have personally known women who drank the tea for recurring bladder infections, with reliable results. The mildly astringent toning action of Yarrow increases the overall tone and resiliency of the entire urinary tract, which tends to decline as one ages. For treating urinary tract infections, Yarrow, with its mild astringency, is best combined in equal parts with Corn Silk, which has a soothing emollient action on the urinary passages; the lukewarm or room temperature tea can be drunk liberally, instead of water.
In aromatherapy, the fragrance of Yarrow is very soothing and relaxing, and diffuses nervous tension held throughout the body. Magickally, Yarrow also has a reputation for being able to awaken the psychic senses and perceptions, and lucid dreaming. And so, Yarrow can be combined in equal parts with Lavender, an herb whose fragrance is also soothing and balancing to the nervous system, and stuffed into a pillow case to promote sound and restful sleep, and to brighten the dreams. Try it and see how your body reacts. The soothing effects of Yarrow essential oil are quite similar to those of Lavender, Nutmeg or Jatamansi, and can be rubbed into the temples in case of headaches, or sniffed up the nostrils to clear the mind, awaken the psychic senses and brighten the dreams.
As the above paragraph illustrates, the incredible versatility of Yarrow as a tonic herb invites us to be creative and resourceful in finding new ways of preparing and using it. In teas, Yarrow will work either as an infusion or as a slowly simmered decoction. Its medicinal properties also extract very well in alcoholic tinctures and medicinal wines, with alcoholic tinctures guiding the medicinal effects of Yarrow to the liver, and red wine enhancing the tonic effects of Yarrow on the blood and circulation. Another way to enhance the tonic action of Yarrow on the blood is not only to combine it with other blood tonic herbs but also to sweeten Yarrow tea with blackstrap molasses, which is a blood tonic in and of itself. Yarrow also powders well, and can be taken as a powder in gelatin capsules, either by itself or in combination with other herbs; powder it or formulas containing it very finely and mix it with enough honey to make a paste and you have a medicinal jam or electuary.
Related Species: In addition to the officinal Yarrow, which is Achillea millefolium, there are also several other closely related varieties of Yarrow, of the Achillea genus, growing wild throughout Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
Sources: The Canon of Medicine, Vol. 2 by Avicenna, pp. 1168 - 1169. Compiled and edited by Laleh Bakhtiar. @2012 by Laleh Bakhtiar. Published by Great Books of the Islamic World, Inc., Distributed by Kazi Publications, Chicago, IL, USA.
Culpeper’s Complete Herbal by Nicholas Culpeper, pg, 280. @1995 by Wordsworth Editions, Ltd., Ware, Hertfordshire, England.
A Modern Herbal, Vol. 2 by Mrs. M. Grieve, pp. 863 – 864. @1971 by Dover Editions, Inc., New York, NY.
Back to Eden by Jethro Kloss, pp. 202 – 203. @1995 by Promise Koss Moffet and Doris Kloss Gardiner, Published by Back to Eden Publishing Co., Loma Linda, CA USA.
The Multiple Benefits and Uses of Yarrow
DISCLAIMER: The information contained on this page is intended for educational purposes only, to inform the reader as to the traditional uses of the herb or medicinal substance, and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease or medical condition. The author advises the reader to consult with his or her physician before use.